Loyalists yesterday pulled out of talks with Martin McGuinness just hours after this newspaper publicly revealed their plan to meet.
The Deputy First Minister had been expecting a four-man delegation at his Stormont office yesterday afternoon, including the paramilitary ‘brigadier’ Jackie McDonald.
Other senior UDA figures on that organisation’s so-called ‘inner council’ were to join him at the talks, as loyalists arrived back in Belfast after two days of meetings in Brussels.
The McGuinness meeting was to be part of a sequence of background discussions in which loyalists have met the decommissioning general John de Chastelain and First Minister Peter Robinson in recent days.
But at the last minute the UDA took cold feet, apparently angry that the Belfast Telegraph had revealed the talks plan.
One source, however, offered another explanation — a falling out over “egos” at the top of the loyalist group.
Sources have confirmed the Stormont meeting was “arranged”, Mr McGuinness had been expecting to see “four senior people” — meaning senior UDA leaders, but as that historic first meeting approached his office was told: “We want to do a meeting, but we don’t want to do it now.”
Journalists and photographers unaware that the talks had been cancelled waited outside Stormont Castle yesterday afternoon.
This is an embarrassment for UDA leaders and a pullout that points to the personality clashes at the very top of the paramilitary organisation — an organisation of many chiefs.
But none of the group’s other leaders has McDonald’s public profile.
Matt Kincaid, John Bunting, Billy McFarland and a fourth man from east Belfast are the UDA’s other senior leaders — some of whom were expected at yesterday’s talks.
The paramilitary organisation is facing a final decommissioning deadline of February, but has concerns about the dissident republican threat and the future of the political institutions at Stormont.
They also want to talk about loyalist communities and the future for UDA members when that organisation finally steps off Ulster’s “war” stage.
Martin McGuinness had issues to raise with them, including their continuing activities and the work that has yet to be completed with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
Last night one loyalist, trying to put a better face on yesterday’s events, said he was “very confident” a meeting with the Deputy First Minister will take place.
Loyalists just left looking foolish
By Brian Rowan
There are many in the UDA who are not comfortable in the bright lights of the peace process.
And there are some in that organisation, according to the latest report of the IMC, still involved in drugs, robbery and extortion.
The UDA is often last in the peace process — and certainly the last of the mainstream organisations still to complete decommissioning.
A meeting with Martin McGuinness probably means more to the loyalist organisation than it does to the man so identified with the IRA’s war and peace.
The UDA craves credibility in the peace process, but it makes itself look foolish when it pulls out of a meeting at this high level.
Is it really because this newspaper revealed the planned talks, or is there another reason? Journalists have revealed many important moments in this process — and it has survived. A report, a headline should not force loyalists into a retreat.
Either they want to meet Martin McGuinness or they don’t.
There is a jealousy thing and that “ego” thing that is part of the UDA ‘inner council’. Jackie McDonald is often portrayed as the UDA chief, but he is just one of many chiefs. Most of the others are still hiding, not comfortable in that public place called the peace process.