The Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Alan Harper has called on the UDA to decommission its weapons, but also emphasised that the Community Transition Initiative to help change the mindset of the organisation was " an experiment worth pursuing".
During his first presidential address today to Armagh Diocesan Synod he issued a direct challenge to the UDA and asked them "to believe that the war is over. Whatever justification you may have pleaded for retaining weapons of lethal force, that justification no longer exists".
Archbishop Harper recognised that there were pressing issues facing the loyalist communities, including the future of their families and friends.
He added: "I do not believe, however, that retaining weaponry will make any contribution whatsoever to addressing and solving those problems."
The Archbishop also referred to the current controversy surrounding the Conflict Transformation Initiative following comments from the Socialist Development Minister Margaret Ritchie that funding would be withdrawn unless the UDA decommissioned its weapons. He said that the staff of the CTI had the capacity "to reach elements of the loyalist community who are hardest of all to reach".
He said: "The criticism that the CTI has received focuses upon links with the UDA. These links exist, both in the genesis of the proposals to put the initiative in place and in the personnel, some but not all of whom have associations with the UDA. However the raison d'etre of the CTI was to transform the mindsets and the expectations of members of the UDA and of the communities within which they are embedded, and to offer them some hope of taking their place in society without the motivation to descend into illegality."
The Archbishop said that he thought the CTI "was an experiment worth pursuing".
"It was intended to be a process through which people who have been left behind, or have otherwise resorted to anti-social actions and engagements, can re-establish self respect, acquire life and work skills, re-connect with the true character of their cultural heritage, relate respectfully and peaceably with their Catholic neighbours," he added.