DUP delegation has talks with loyalist paramilitaries


DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST Party leader Peter Robinson has led a party delegation in separate talks with the main loyalist paramilitary groups.

The talks, held in Belfast on Thursday, involved senior figures in both the UDA and UVF/Red Hand Commando. Mr Robinson was joined by deputy leader Nigel Dodds and MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson.

Mr Robinson later claimed the talks were aimed at assisting loyalists to make a successful transition from paramilitary activity to normal democratic politics.

The meetings were held amid controversy around the proposed devolution of policing and justice, and the publication on Wednesday of an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report on the status of the IRA's army council.

Senior Sinn Féin leaders used that occasion to criticise what they said was unionist preoccupation with the IRA's structures while ignoring the activity of loyalist paramilitaries. The DUP was also criticised by Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister, who said yesterday that his former colleagues in the DUP should never agree to the devolution of policing powers while Sinn Féin was in government.

Speaking after the talks with the loyalists, Mr Robinson said: "There was a clear and very positive tone from the people that we spoke to on Thursday.

"There was an indication that they thought it beneficial if there was support and assistance for the transition that they themselves have decided to engage in. It will not come about because we decide that it should, but because they decide it's the right thing to do and we want to support them in completing that process," he told UTV.

The UDA later confirmed it met the DUP. It said the meeting was positive and wide-ranging, and its members looked forward to meeting the DUP again.

Mr Robinson said: "These meetings represent an opportunity to engage and discuss the process of transition from paramilitary organisations to people playing a full part in a peaceful and democratic Northern Ireland, with violence and criminality being firmly a thing of the past."

He added: "The DUP has always been of the view that Northern Ireland needs to move forward without paramilitary structures, and where future intentions are firmly rooted in exclusively peaceful and democratic pursuits.

"The response from both the UDA and the UVF/RHC has been positive, and there was a commitment to an ongoing engagement. Where needed, the DUP will assist in developing and completing this process."

He concluded: "All participants in these discussions acknowledged that the priority is to strengthen political stability, create economic and social prosperity and improve the wellbeing of the unionist and loyalist community.

"For our part, we are determined to give leadership and encouragement to all those who want to play a part in a peaceful and prosperous future Northern Ireland, and who are working to leave the ways of the past behind."