Belfast Telegraph

UVF terror group embarks on process of ‘civilianising’ its members

By Brian Rowan

The UVF leadership has designed a plan to move its members away from paramilitarism, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Details of the end game plan to “civilianise” the terror group was outlined at an all-day conference in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas.

That plan will offer new roles to paramilitaries in what the UVF are terming “departments” — among them politics, education, community, culture, and other work covering restorative justice and prisoner/ex-prisoner issues.

Basically, this means members of the organisation moving away from paramilitarism into activity in areas of normal society.

According to sources, former prisoner Billy Hutchinson, a one-time MLA at Stormont, has a key role in designing and implementing the plan.

It is the latest move to take the loyalist organisation off its war stage and integrate its members into the peace process.

This newspaper understands the Sunday conference was held at Farset on the Springfield Road in west Belfast — a day-long event, including an open session and then workshops.

The most senior figures in the UVF were present — among them John Graham and Harry Stockman, who read the organisation’s decommissioning statement at a news conference in June 2009.

That statement, and the claim |that all weapons under the control of the UVF had been put beyond use, was subsequently undermined by the murder of loyalist ex-prisoner Bobby Moffett.

His killing on the Shankill Road in May last year was described as “a public execution” and the fallout has forced the loyalist organisation to move towards implementing commitments it made as far back as 2007.

The pre-Christmas conference is part of the latest initiative.

Guests at the conference are understood to have included church ministers Chris Hudson and Gary Mason, Queen’s University academic Dr Pete Shirlow, whose research work has covered former prisoners, political violence and conflict transformation, and the former Belfast City councillor Will Glendinning, now co-ordinator of a project called Diversity Challenges.

Members of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has political links to the UVF and associated Red Hand Commando, were also present, among them new leader Brian Ervine.

One of the issues discussed in the workshops was the possibility of funding for political education, but there is no indication at this stage of any such funding being made available.

“All the right show was put on,” one source commented — meaning if it works the latest plan will represent progress.

A senior loyalist told this newspaper the next move is “getting it implemented”.

Work on that continued in a meeting last week, with another due soon.

It is not clear whether the UVF will make another public statement, but sources suggest, that in internal gatherings, its members will be told their future is in the so-called departments.

According to one source, the message to members will be: “This is what you must do. Anything outside the box, you’ll have to answer to people.”

These are meant as the steps to take the loyalist group into that civilianised mode it promised in 2007.

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