Northern Ireland's loyalist communities must be freed from the shadow of the gun through the complete removal of illegal weapons, the Church of Ireland has said.
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland the Most Rev Alan Harper welcomed news of the beginning of loyalist paramilitary decommissioning.
His comments followed what is believed to be a substantial act of decommissioning by the UVF and lesser acts of disarmament by the UDA and the Red Hand Commando. But while Rev Harper praised those loyalists who have worked to deliver complete decommissioning — as carried out by the IRA four years ago — he said the process of disarmament must result in the destruction of all illegal weapons.
“I very much look forward to full confirmation of the complete decommissioning of all armaments held by loyalist paramilitaries,” he said.
“It will represent a further and extremely welcome step towards confidence building and the normalisation of society in Northern Ireland.
“I recognise that on the part of the leadership of the paramilitary groups full decommissioning has been a challenging outcome to deliver, therefore, I commend those within loyalism who have argued consistently |for decommissioning over a |considerable period.
“Now full energy and commitment can be devoted to community development and the enhancement of the lives of people in loyalist areas free from the dark shadow of the gun.”
He paraphrased scripture and said Northern Ireland was closer to replacing swords with ploughshares.
He added: “God willing, we shall soon know the day when weapons are never again lifted by one group against another and come to know what it means to learn war no more.”
In what represents a further milestone for the peace process, the UVF is understood to have decommissioned a major weapons cache, with further disarmament moves by the UDA and Red Hand Commando.