Four arrested in crackdown on drug dealers linked to loyalists
Four men have been arrested as part of a crackdown on drug dealing linked to loyalists - 24 hours after three loyalist paramilitary groups denounced criminality.
The men, aged in their 20s and 30s, were detained as part of a long-running police operation targeting the illegal sale and supply of cocaine in Co Down.
Ammunition and suspected cannabis were also found when detectives swooped on six properties in Newtownards.
PSNI Detective Inspector Harry Colgan said: "Our inquiries have also established links to a loyalist paramilitary group." On Tuesday the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando issued a joint declaration pledging to "eschew all violence and criminality".
Three of the men, aged 25, 27 and 31, have been taken to Bangor police station for questioning. A fourth suspect, aged 31, has been taken to Belfast for interview.
Mr Colgan said: "Police are determined to remove dangerous and illegal drugs from our communities. We will deploy the full range of resources and tactics at our disposal so that we can bring offenders before the courts and keep people safe."
The PUP, which provides political advice to the UVF, has so far declined to comment on the four arrests. Regional Ukip leader David McNarry, whose constituency includes Newtownards, said no one was above the law. "We need society to be clean of criminality and that includes drugs," he said.
At the launch of a new Loyalist Community Council which aims to address disenfranchisement from the political process and education underachievement among the loyalist working classes, the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando vowed to move away from crime.
"If there are those who attempt to use current or past associations with our organisations to further criminality they will be disowned and should be aware that they will not be permitted to use the cover of loyalism," a statement said.
Tony Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell an Mr McNarry were involved in efforts to facilitate the loyalist move.
Mr Powell said he did not believe the loyalist paramilitary groups should disappear, because others could fill the vacuum.
He said: "Some may argue that these organisations should just disappear. The experience from around the world suggests that would be a mistake. Other violent groups would simply take over the names UVF, UDA and the Red Hand Commando and carry on with paramilitarism.
"We really don't want to see a Real UVF and a Continuity UDA. It is far better the groups continue but there is no criminality; there is no violence; they continue in a civil fashion."