Taoiseach to meet UDA go-betweens tomorrow

 

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, will meet loyalist paramilitary representatives in Dublin tomorrow.

Mr Ahern will meet the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), which speaks on behalf of the Ulster Defence Association while Northern Secretary Paul Murphy will meet the group in the first week of February.

It is understood Mr Ahern's meeting, at an undisclosed location in the city, will focus on loyalist concerns about the peace process and a dispute concerning loyalist inmates at Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim.

The UPRG delegation will be Mr Frank McCoubrey, Mr Frankie Gallagher, Mr Tommy Kirkham and Mr Jackie McDonald.

Mr McCoubrey said the agenda for the talks would be open, but of particular concern would be the prisoners issue and the lack of recognition given to the work the UDA was doing in the community.

"These meetings show that people are starting to take us seriously and they will help us put across the concerns felt in loyalist communities," he said.

"As the political representatives of the largest paramilitary organisation in the province, we are part of the community, we are part of the problem and we are going to have to be part of the solution to that problem."

Mr Murphy said he would use his meeting with the group to put the message across that pipe bombs and politics do not mix.

Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy met a UPRG delegation last week and claimed the UDA could not seriously be considered to be on ceasefire.

She blamed the organisation for recent hoax bombs across Belfast and attacks on prison officers' homes.

The UDA said the incidents were linked to the situation at Maghaberry where loyalist prisoners campaigning for segregation from republicans were behind serious disturbances.

The UDA ceasefire has not been recognised since October 2001 when the then Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid declared them over following a series of sectarian pipe bombings and murders.

PA