15 March 2006

DUP weighs up possible talks with UDA chiefs

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
15 March 2006

DUP officers are to meet in the next week to decide on moving closer towards potential talks with loyalist paramilitary groups, it has been revealed.

The officers' board will debate the issue following a meeting between party deputy leader Peter Robinson and North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds with Loyalist Commission member the Rev Mervyn Gibson last week.

Party officers sanctioned the meeting with Mr Gibson, who chairs the commission. It is an umbrella group which includes loyalist paramilitaries, clergy and community workers.

East Belfast MP Mr Robinson described the talks as "useful" but said he would first be reporting back to party officers.

A spokesman said officers were due to meet in the next week or so and there was no need to refer the issue to the party's executive. Mr Robinson said his party wanted to encourage those within loyalist paramilitary groups who want to move away from criminality and violence.

He told the BBC's Inside Politics show there was a "fair idea" of how some further progress could be made - but what form any contact will take would be a decision for officers. Mr Robinson also accepted talks with the UDA would bring the party under criticism for refusing to hold direct talks with Sinn Fein.

"There would be those who would say that and that's why the party officers will consider all elements of the issue before they take a decision," he said. "Possibilities might be plentiful."

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