UDA ‘still in existence’ and won’t be leaving stage

Loyalist paramilitary group will remain ‘whilst republicans of any faction still exist’

A masked member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) colour party at a Remembrance Day service  in  north Belfast, in  2004. Photograph: PA

A masked member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) colour party at a Remembrance Day service in north Belfast, in 2004. Photograph: PA

 

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) has asserted that it remains in existence and has no intention of disbanding while any republican paramilitary threat remains.

As political talks dealing with the issue of paramilitarism continue at Stormont the UDA in south Belfast issued a statement insisting that it “won’t be leaving the stage”.

The warning is contained in the magazine ‘The Loyalist’ which addresses the political fallout from the PSNI chief constable George Hamilton’s assessment that the IRA still exists and some of its members were involved in the murder of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan.

The UDA said in the article it would wait to see which way the talks panned out. “But rest assured the UDA are still in existence and won’t be leaving any stage whilst republicans of any faction still exist,” it added.

“The organisation was set up with the protection of their community at its heart and this we will maintain,” it said.

In 2007 the UDA, using its cover name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, said it was standing down and putting its weapons beyond use, although the weapons would not be decommissioned. In 2010 it said it had put its weapons “verifiably beyond use”.

Notwithstanding such statements, it is generally accepted the UDA is still in existence and it is heavily involved in drug-dealing and other forms of criminality.

The latest edition of The Loyalist, which is published intermittently, appeared on Monday as the Northern parties entered their third week of talks aimed at resolving the impasse over the status of the IRA and paramilitarism, and also of welfare reform.

Later this month a special three-person panel appointed by Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers will provide the talks with a current assessment of the IRA and other paramilitaries. The status of the UDA and other loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando is also likely to feature in that assessment.

“The exchange of views on the continued existence of paramilitary organisations was open and candid,” said Ms Villiers after Monday’s talks which focused on paramilitarism.

“While significant differences still clearly exist between the parties on what the right answer is, there is an acceptance that we need a broad approach which engages right across society if we are to see an end to paramilitary activity and an end to the control these organisations seek to exert over parts of the community,” she added.

The parties are on Tuesday discussing the issue of welfare reform. The deadlock over welfare has resulted in the Northern Executive facing an impending shortfall of £600 million which could leave the Executive financially unsustainable.