Belfast Telegraph

Top loyalists set to get US visas

Four leading loyalists from Northern Ireland are expected to be granted visas by the US State Department to attend a series of events in Washington and New York.

The group, with links to the Ulster Defence Association, has applied for permission to travel. Among them is UDA leader Jackie McDonald. His organisation murdered hundreds of people during the Troubles.

Because of their backgrounds, special permission is required to allow them to enter the US.

They have developed a working relationship with Senator Martin McAleese, the husband of Irish President Mary McAleese. The Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs has been consulted about the visas.

The loyalists are likely to attend political and business briefings in New York and Washington early next month.

Among the politicians expected to meet them are Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal, two leading Irish Americans, who often talked to the likes of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and former SDLP leader John Hume in the past.

The four loyalists are part of a group that has been involved in dialogue with Senator McAleese.

They were among the guests at Islandbridge, Dublin, during the state visit by the Queen to Ireland in May.

As they left that ceremony, President McAleese and her husband made a point of shaking hands with the loyalists. Mr McDonald has also attended the funeral of Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, who was killed by dissident republicans in April.

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