22 October 2005

Loyalists 'must follow' IRA move


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Loyalists are being urged to follow the IRA move on arms

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has urged loyalist paramilitaries to re-engage with the body overseeing the decommissioning process.

Sir Reg said loyalists should respond to the IRA's latest disarmament move.

He also said mainstream unionists could not be absolved of responsibility for some people being drawn into the ranks of loyalist paramilitaries.

Sir Reg was speaking to the BBC as the party holds its first annual conference since he became leader.

He told the BBC's Inside Politics programme on Saturday: "Loyalists should engage with the decommissioning body.

"I think a lot of them now recognise that things have moved on - times have changed.

"It's not possible to sustain their current position and they did say over the years that in the circumstances where the IRA were clearly moving off the field, they would respond to that positively.

"I think the time has come to make that response."

Last month, General de Chastelain, the head of the arms decommissioning body, said the IRA had now put all its arms beyond use.

The general said he was satisfied the IRA had given up all its weapons, and said he hoped loyalists would as well.

Loyalists are said to have an "on-off" relationship with the general.

The two major loyalist paramilitary groups are the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.

A number of guns belonging to the Loyalist Volunteer Force were destroyed in 1998 in a token gesture of decommissioning, but no further arms have been handed over from any of the loyalist groups.

Meanwhile, at the party conference on Saturday there will be a contest for the post of party president.

It will be fought between Martin Smyth, who had challenged the leadership of David Trimble and Lord Rogan who was one of his strongest allies.

There are 16 candidates vying for six new officer posts, including Johnny Andrews whose grandfather and namesake was Northern Ireland's second prime minister.

The former Royal Irish Regiment leader, Colonel Tim Collins, will also speak at the conference about the disbandment of the regiment's home battalions.

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