Senior UDA leaders are to hold separate meetings with decommissioning general John de Chastelain, in a move described by one loyalist as further evidence of a split within the paramilitary organisation.
The group’s inner council leaders from Belfast will meet the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning today, but the north Antrim/Londonderry brigadier Billy McFarland will not be with them. He plans his own talks with the general.
“This is a split,” a senior paramilitary figure admitted.
It is understood the UDA found out about the McFarland talks from a source outside the organisation. Up to this point, loyalists have been attempting to paper over cracks.
Suggestions of a split first emerged after a statement from the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group in north Antrim/ Londonderry, which withdrew support for the police and the political institutions.
And since then sources inside and outside the organisation have been questioning McFarland’s future commitment to the decommissioning process.
General de Chastelain arrived in Ireland yesterday and is due to begin a series of meetings today before making a report to the British and Irish governments.
That is expected later this week — and will detail progress on loyalist decommissioning by the UDA, UVF and linked Red Hand Commando. There are no plans for the general and the other commissioners — Andrew Sens and Brigadier Tauno Nieminen — to speak publicly.
But key to their report will be the assessment of the likely next steps by the UDA.
Last week, Secretary of State Shaun Woodward told this newspaper that February 2010 is the final deadline for weapons to be put beyond use.
Asked last night about McFarland’s decision to meet General de Chastelain, a loyalist source said: “It’s rather complicated.”
It was then he revealed the plan for separate meetings with the IICD — one involving the Belfast leadership of the UDA and the other McFarland’s brigade.
He added McFarland had not expected the UDA to move to put weapons beyond use. “He just didn’t think this was going to happen,” the source said.