Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Gusty Spence tells the UVF: Put your guns completely beyond use

Keeping weapons in a bunker means nothing, says veteran loyalist

Gusty Spence says it is his dream to announce the UVF has given up its guns.

Former UVF boss Gusty Spence has challenged the terror group’s current leadership to put its guns completely beyond use. Spence, who helped found the modern day UVF in 1966, said he believes the organisation’s statement last year that it was putting its weapons “beyond reach” meant “nothing” because it did not amount to full decommissioning.

In the statement — which was read out by Spence on behalf of the UVF — it was declared that the organisation was renouncing violence and ceasing to exist as a terrorist organisation.

The UVF statement said its weapons would be stored in a number of arms dumps “under the control of the UVF leadership, but not accessible for use by members”.

Spence has now revealed, however, that it had “galled” him to read the statement out as he had wanted complete decommissioning.

“They said a thing in the statement. It even galled me to read it out, but I read it out anyhow, that the arms had been bunkered — beyond reach — and the General (de Chastelain) had been contacted.

“I told them, I said, that means nothing,” he said in a new book on the Northern Ireland peace process — How The Peace Was Won — by security writer Brian Rowan.

In the book, the PUP politician also revealed that just days before the statement was delivered he had urged the UVF leadership to “take the ultimate step” and completely decommission.

“I said, why not take the ultimate step? It wouldn’t only add to the statement.

“It would make the statement. The weapons are finished,” he said.

He said it is now his dream to announce that the UVF has put its guns beyond use.

“Now I look forward, if I am still living, to stand on some podium to say that the UVF have decommissioned their weapons. That would be my dream — that would be, I suppose, the icing on the cake.”

Spence also said that the UVF leadership must have confidence to make an order that all weapons are to be put beyond use.

“If you are the leader, you lead from the front — perhaps maybe after consultation — you have to have the confidence in yourself, the confidence in your men (to say), ‘I’m making a direct order here that UVF arms will be dispensed with — decommissioned, call it what you want. I expect every man to obey that.”

Earlier this month Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness accused loyalists of "rank hypocrisy" on the issue of decommissioning.

Mr McGuinness was speaking at a debate in west Belfast where PUP leader Dawn Purvis said there was no pressure from within the loyalist community for groups like the UVF to destroy their weapons.

He said loyalists were quick to focus on the issue of IRA weapons, but needed to turn their sights within their own community.

The British Government recently warned loyalist paramilitary groups that they would be treated as criminals and would face a police crackdown if they failed to decommission their weapons.

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