16 November 2006

Brian Rowan: Loyalist terrorists prepare for change

Belfast Telegraph

'Significant' statements to follow November 24 political deadline

14 November 2006

Loyalist paramilitary leaders have begun preparing their members for significant statements that will change the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando organisations, it can be revealed today.

A statement read on behalf of the 'Brigade Command' of the UVF last Sunday said Northern Ireland may be on the verge of "finally achieving a durable political settlement".

The loyalist organisation was speaking to hundreds of its 'volunteers' at UVF Remembrance events.

It said the changes taking place in Northern Ireland would place "significant challenges at the doorstep of this movement".

The organisation would have to be "visionary" in its outlook and "courageous" in its actions.

During the week of the St Andrews negotiations, the most senior figures in the UVF and Red Hand Commando met outside the United Kingdom to prepare statements on the future of both organisations.

Those statements will deal with a range of activities including recruitment, training, weapons procurement, targeting and punishment attacks, and are expected to say something on the question of loyalist weapons.

The loyalist organisations are waiting on the outcome of the current political negotiations, before making their statements public.

In recent interviews with this newspaper, the UVF said it would make a statement "on future intent" after the November 24 political deadline - the date now set for the nominations of first and deputy first ministers at Stormont.

The secret talks were to develop that statement - a statement expected to set out a new position on a range of paramilitary activities and to deal with the question of weapons.

The UVF and closely-associated Red Hand Commando are also drawing up a new "code of conduct".

In recent interviews, the paramilitary leadership expressed concerns about the possibility of a political 'Plan B' if the DUP and Sinn Fein failed to reach agreement.


UVF must decide where it sits inside new political context

Analysis

There is only one message to be found in the reading between the lines of what the UVF had to say on Sunday.

This was one of those occasions when the loyalist organisation talked to itself - to its broad membership - hundreds of its 'volunteers' - at the various UVF/Red Hand Commando Remembrance events.

And what it had to say at the weekend was clearly designed to fit with the political backdrop and the possibility of what might yet develop out of the St Andrews Agreement.

We know the UVF position; that it is waiting for the outcome of the latest negotiations, waiting to be sure that Northern Ireland's future is in the hands of local politicians, waiting to be sure that the British-Irish Plan B has gone.

In other words the UVF is waiting for Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to get on with the business of the St Andrews Agreement, and, while it waits, the loyalist organisation is preparing its membership for change.

You can hear it in the words of last Sunday. There was no detail of what precisely is meant by change, but the tone of what was said in a prepared script across Northern Ireland was about setting a new direction for the loyalist organisation.

At the top of the UVF - inside what is called the Brigade Command - there now seems to be a settled view that Northern Ireland is finally on the verge of a durable political settlement.

And the challenge for the loyalist organisation - the challenge for its leadership - is how it places itself inside this new political context.

At the weekend that leadership told its members that the political changes in Northern Ireland will place "significant challenges at the doorstep of this Movement".

And clearly the paramilitary leadership knows that if its response falls short of those challenges, then it could be left behind - left behind in the new politics beyond the St Andrews Agreement.

The UVF leadership message at the weekend was that "it will not be denied a stake in the future of this country".

So, it is suggesting it won't be left behind.

We know that in the week of the St Andrews negotiations, the most senior figures in the UVF and Red Hand Commando leaderships met outside Northern Ireland - outside the United Kingdom.

They were thinking through their responses to the new politics that are likely to emerge in the not-too-distant future, and they were getting their words and their positions prepared - written and ready to be spoken when the right political moment presents itself.

The statement of last Sunday was preparing the ground - and the UVF and Red Hand Commando organisations - for the inevitable next steps.

And, so, the memberships of those organisations were told that they must be "visionary" in their outlook and "courageous" in their actions.

"Genuine volunteers" would have nothing to fear from what lies ahead. The precise detail of what lies ahead will be known to only a small number of paramilitary leaders who sit at the very top of the UVF organisation.

They have spent a long time listening to those who fill the ranks below them - listening in a consultation process that stretched across Northern Ireland and then into Scotland and England.

That leadership will know that the time for talking is over and that the time for doing is getting ever closer.

And that doing will be measured against other things - the new political circumstances and a situation in which the IRA has ended its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use.

It is unlikely. No, it is unrealistic to think or believe that the UVF will match all of that in one statement or in one set of actions.

What is more likely is some sort of phased approach - a statement that deals with activities such as targeting, recruitment, training, weapons procurement, punishment attacks and intelligence gathering and which says something about weapons - something by way of reassurance.

Running alongside this - internally within the UVF and Red Hand Commando - there will be a new 'code of conduct' setting new rules to match the new status of the organisations.

And in the bringing together of all of this, the message that has to be clear is that the loyalist war is also over - that is the part of the loyalist war that the UVF and Red Hand Commando have responsibility for.

I think this is where the paramilitary leadership wants to end up. I think we are getting closer to that point, and I think a confirmation that political business is going to be done by the local parties will bring the new thinking and the new words of the UVF out into the open.

Those words are waiting to be spoken by way of a loyalist contribution to the new circumstances that the British and Irish Governments hope can grow out of the St Andrews Agreement.

If the loyalists say and do all that is being hinted at, then it should be a significant moment.

It won't be everyone's idea of perfect, but it will be better than what we've got, and it will give a more solid foundation to our developing peace.

We are seeing at the moment, in what's happening within republicanism, that it is not possible to bring everyone on this journey.

Loyalists too will lose people - those who can't and won't change. That is another of the inevitabilities of a process that is about making war into peace.

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