Sunday 16 June 2019

McAleese puts UVF guns out of commission

But UDA is still opposed to plan by the President's husband despite promise of development cash, writes Alan Murray

The husband of President Mary McAleese is understood to have played an influential role in persuading loyalist paramilitaries to decommission weapons under their control.

Martin McAleese is believed to have persuaded some of the key figures in the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) organisations to seriously consider decommissioning weapons.

It is indicated within loyalist circles that Mr McAleese has suggested up to €10m could be made available in deprived unionist areas for developments and job opportunities following substantial acts of decommissioning.

Mr McAleese has established a strong rapport with leading UDA figure Jackie McDonald, who has played golf with Mr McAleese and attended functions at Aras an Uachtarain.

McDonald is seen as the driving force behind the decommissioning argument within the UDA.

However, while the UVF group is widely reported to have decommissioned either all or a substantial proportion of its weaponry, the UDA hasn't fully embraced the initiative.

UDA members in the most northern part of Northern Ireland are understood to have given the thumbs down to the proposals, partly because of the threat from dissident republican terrorists.

It is understood that the brigadier for the organisation's north Antrim/Londonderry area has said that his members won't decommission any weapons and don't trust the British government to deliver on undertakings outlined during discussions.

There is pretty solid opposition throughout the brigade to the proposals. The men don't trust either the dissident republicans or the Provos. How was it that the dissidents got so many IRA guns and explosives and why is it that the Provos haven't whacked any of the leading dissidents? That's what men on the ground are asking and they're not satisfied with the answers so far, one brigade member said.

A promise that millions will be made available to develop loyalist areas hasn't softened the opposition to decommissioning within the brigade, with suspicions that most of the funding will be earmarked for areas within Belfast.

Belfast is more supportive of this generally, but the people in the country are sceptical about the money, about the Government and about the dissident republicans.

The men in the brigade still feel under siege and, with the Donegal border so near to Derry and the brigade area stretching into Fermanagh, say they are well within the range of the dissidents.

As yet unconfirmed reports have indicated that Canadian general John de Chastelain and independent monitors witnessed a substantial decommissioning exercise by the UVF in recent weeks.

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