03 March 2006

McAleese urged to cut ties with UDA


03/03/2006 - 10:52:22

President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin were urged today to end all further contact with the leadership of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association.

It follows the arrest of 17 men when armed police stormed a Belfast pub where paramilitaries were rehearsing for a so-called show of strength.

Ihab Shoukri, 31, out on bail awaiting trial for membership of the UDA and who was part of a delegation which had talks with Martin McAleese in south Belfast last month, was one of those detained.

The meeting was the latest in a series between the UDA and the President’s husband.

But today the couple faced demands by nationalist politicians in the city to call a halt to the talks.

One said: “I would think he is doing this with the approval of the Irish Government. I can’t see him doing it otherwise, but he is being taken for a ride.”

Police confirmed today they detained 17 men for questioning after armed officers raided the Alexandra Bar at York Road last night.

CS gas capsules were fired as doors were smashed open before police seized the men, who included other senior UDA figures in the north of the city.

All are being questioned about serious crime.

It is understood the so-called show of strength was being planned for some time this weekend.

Shoukri is a brother of the UDA’s north Belfast leader Andre Shoukri, who is awaiting trial on a series of charges including blackmail and money laundering.

Martin McAleese met the UDA leadership in a hotel in south Belfast last month.

Apart from Shoukri, the others included Jackie McDonald who has met the president’s husband several times. They once played golf together at the exclusive K-Club at Straffan, Co Kildare, where September’s Ryder Cup match between Europe and the United States will be played.

McDonald was embraced by President McAleese when she visited the loyalist Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast last September.

The UDA is an organisation heavily involved in extortion, drug dealing, racketeering and blackmail.

Even though nationalist representatives believe Mr McAleese is well intentioned in maintaining a process of dialogue with loyalists, they are clearly of a view that continuing contact is becoming a huge embarrassment for the authorities in Dublin.

None wanted to be publicly identified with their opposition to the talks but one said: “I think it’s time people like Martin should re-think their engagement with the UDA, given what is happening in Belfast in recent times and because of their continuing criminality.”

Ian Paisley Jnr, a DUP member of the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly, also questioned the judgment of President McAleese and her husband.

He said: “Maybe Mary McAleese should be in the dock today. She is not a stupid woman, just as I am not a Nazi.

“She has chosen to associate with people whose backgrounds can only be described as extremely dubious.”

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