Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Men bringing UDA in from the cold

A group of loyalist politicos are currently involved in talks with both the British and Irish governments while also trying to steer the UDA away from crime and violence.

A group of loyalist politicos are currently involved in talks with both the British and Irish governments while also trying to steer the UDA away from crime and violence.

Frankie Gallagher, the Ulster Political Research Group's negotiator, believes the UDA is ready to move forward, following the removal of notorious crimelords from leadership positions.

He was joined in Dublin earlier this month by UPRG colleagues Davy Nicholl, Billy McQuiston and Colin Halliday.

Gallagher believes political stability in Northern Ireland will help the UDA move away from violence.

All four men have been providing political analysis to the UDA for the last 20 years.

Said Mr Gallagher: "The UPRG has been talking to the governments for the last three or four years but things have steadily moved on in last year or so.

"The basis of the talks has always been to seek a way forward and how we can all work in a peace process, and also in a political process.

"The problem in the past was that people like the Shoukris and the Grays, who held leadership positions in the UDA, were not interested in ideology.

"The only thing they were interested in was making money and defending their own position.

"But these barriers have now been removed and we can now focus on achieving a peaceful society.

"This aim is apparent, especially because of the position the UDA has taken in relation to the expulsions of the Shoukris from the north Belfast leadership.

"We have been telling the governments that if we can achieve political stability in this society, then I think we can achieve an end to all paramilitarism and deliver peace."

Londonderry based Mr Nicholl also confirmed the recent talks would lead to the UPRG meeting with the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) over the coming weeks.

Added Mr Nicholl: "There has already been a sequence of meetings and more will be held in the future, including talks with IMC to discuss the activities of the UDA.

"We are trying to move beyond conflict.

"I would also like people to know that no demands have been made by the UDA for money.

"We are trying to move loyalism away from conflict and to leave the past behind."

Although the men who provide analysis to UDA leaders have so far failed to persuade the terror group to hand over its weapons, hopes are now rising of a positive outcome to the ongoing talks.

Many believe it is the senior members of the Ulster Political Research Group who will eventually persuade the UDA's ruling inner council to abandon violence.

The Government will be watching to see how the UDA can deal with the expelled north Belfast leadership.

And with notorious terrorists such as Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair exiled and Jim 'Doris Day' Gray dead, the UPRG feels it can now complete the work of its predecessors in the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP).

But failure to oust the Shoukri faction bloodlessly in north Belfast would be a major setback.

sbreen@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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