A loyalist terror group linked to scores of sectarian killings is believed to be planning to march hundreds of its members through Belfast next year.
The UVF plans to make the show of strength under the cover of marking the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant.
The shocking claim is made in a letter sent to the Belfast Telegraph written by disgruntled UVF members who argue that the loyalist ‘war' is over and that they should be allowed to leave the organisation.
The plan could mean hundreds of uniformed loyalists marching through leafy south Belfast in the first mass paramilitary demonstration in three decades.
Serried ranks of masked paramilitaries were a familiar sight in loyalist areas at the height of the troubles.
The UVF plan would see a phalanx of hundreds of its members marching along the mixed Lisburn Road — a middle-class shopping thoroughfare in the south of the city.
The demonstration would require Parades Commission approval, but it is inconceivable that the application would be submitted in the terror group’s name.
The most likely scenario would see permission being sought in the name of a loyalist ‘cultural’ front organisation, but giving the go-ahead would inevitably spark a political firestorm.
The letter sent to the Belfast Telegraph describes a number of recent “road shows” — the internal meetings that are part of the latest UVF debate on how to wind up the terror group.
The organisation is currently working on an exit strategy and plans for ‘civilianisation’.
Today’s UVF retains the historic motto ‘For God and Ulster’ that can be traced back to 1912 — the year of the Ulster Covenant and the emergence of the original Ulster Volunteer Force.
The Ulster Covenant pledged to use all means necessary “to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland”.
A senior loyalist said he could not confirm the march plan, but spoke of preparations for “a big 100th anniversary thing”.
He added: “There is work going on behind the scenes but what it consists of, I don’t know.”
The letter to the Belfast Telegraph claims UVF leader John ‘Bunter’ Graham revealed details of the plan during “a number of road shows”.
“He [Graham] started talking about marching hundreds of volunteers up the Lisburn Road next year in uniform to mark the signing of the Ulster Covenant,” the letter reads.
“[He said] we will take it to Londonderry and all over Northern Ireland. Talk about giving the dissidents a free one.”
The letter does not give any more detail, but at Easter in 1912 a mass rally at the Balmoral Showgrounds in south Belfast called for the Covenant.
If any march plans emerge for next year, the detail will be scrutinised to see who exactly is involved and in what role.
The letter contains other significant detail on the internal UVF debate, and the thinking of the organisation’s leadership on current issues — including the dissident republican threat.
It was written before the recent murder of police constable Ronan Kerr.
“If a loyalist is murdered the CLMC (Combined Loyalist Military Command) will meet within 72 hours to discuss what to do,” it reads.
A senior paramilitary leader confirmed that such an arrangement exists.
The combined command covers the leaderships of the UVF, Red Hand Commando and UDA.
The letter says if members of the security forces are killed “the police have to deal with it”.
In 2009, loyalist leaders suspended preparations for decommissioning after the dissident republican attacks that claimed the lives of two soldiers and police constable Stephen Carroll.
The letter reveals that at the recent road shows, it was Graham who did most of the talking.
It claims he spoke of “reconnecting with the community, getting them to phone the police on drug dealers”.
It also poses the question: “What happens if they are UDA or UVF drug dealers?”
Brian Ervine, leader of the PUP, the political party linked to the UVF, told the Belfast Telegraph there were events being planned by the Ulster Centenary Committee to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.
Mr Ervine added there are no plans to “glorify any particular paramilitary group or paramilitarism full stop”.