Four arrested in crackdown on drug dealing 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.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Inspector Harry Colgan said: "Our inquiries have also established links to a loyalist paramilitary group."
On Tuesday the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Ulster Defence Association (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, 31, has been taken to a police station in Belfast for interview.
Mr Colgan added: "This investigation has been running for several months. It has focused on the sale and supply of cocaine in and around a number of premises in Newtownards.
"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.
"We are committed to working with communities to combat the threat posed by illegal drugs, regardless of the source of those threats."
In a statement issued at the launch of a new Loyalist Community Council 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."
Tony Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell and Ukip MLA David 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 with violent intent 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."
The Progressive Unionist Party (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.
"If you are a loyalist you cannot be a criminal.
"It is make your mind up time for people who say they are loyalists."
The Strangford MLA added: "Lets see if there are charges and committals."