Senior figures in the loyalist paramilitary leaderships “want to deliver” on decommissioning — but the key question is can they?
Lord Alderdice gave that assessment after yesterday’s publication of the latest report by the Independent Monitoring Commission.
The UDA and UVF have until August to meet a Government demand for “substantial progress” on the arms issue.
Asked did he think the loyalists were going to move, Lord Alderdice responded: “It’s impossible for us to predict.
“It’s clear that there are important figures in the leadership of both the main organisations who want to make progress on this, who want to produce something, who realise the implications politically and otherwise and who realise that the timescale is a very tight one.
“The main question is whether or not they can deliver,” he added.
“And I think there’s a bit of difference between UVF and UDA in that regard, and whether they can deliver in a co-ordinated fashion I would share the view that they wish to do that (move together).
“At a leadership level, I think they do wish to do that.
“I don’t think one organisation is trying to bounce another or something of that kind.
“There may be a question as to whether they can I think that there’s enough significance in this, that it is quite possible that if one organisation felt the other just simply couldn’t deliver, but that it was politically important or expedient for something to be done that they might go themselves.”
The question is not just will the loyalists move, but if they do, what will they deliver?
“They would be very foolish to do it in anything other than a full hearted way because they could end up with the worst of all possible worlds in that situation,” Lord Alderdice said
“The judgment about whether they produce something of significance, of course, is a matter for John de Chastelain’s commission, and they will no doubt report on that.”
Lord Alderdice also spoke on the issue of dissident republicans using Semtex in their bombs.
He made it clear the explosives were not a “gift” from the IRA.
“The concern, I think, that people had was that in the formal decommissioning process that material under the control of the IRA had been held back and was then being passed across,” he explained.
“I found absolutely no evidence of anything of that kind at all.”
Before leaving the IRA in a row over peace process policy in 1997, dissidents stole weapons from arms dumps.
The IRA made that information public in February 1999, adding: “We have recovered some but not all of the stolen weapons.”
Now’s the time to deliver the goods
Brian Rowan scrutinises the latest IMC report on loyalist decommissioning and dissident killings
This time the IMC had two big issues to address.
What did the recent killings by the Real and Continuity IRA groups say about the threat they pose?
And are the loyalists finally moving beyond talking about their guns to the point of some beginning to decommissioning?
That beginning — delivered no later than August — has to meet the Secretary of State’s test of “substantial progress”.
Reading between the lines of this IMC report suggests the loyalist leaderships are seeing that deadline and it has created a focus and pressure that might lead to something.
But there are still doubts and alongside the IMC report Secretary of State Shaun Woodward is stressing his deadline, his demands and the consequences if progress is not achieved — and soon.
He will bring an end to the decommissioning legislation.
If the loyalists continue to wait they will walk themselves into the summer marching season and ever closer to the Woodward deadline.
The pressure will increase as the clock ticks. That is why a Government source talked about “a right time to do this — and the right time is now”.
But decommissioning is only one issue loyalists have still to address.
In the reading of this IMC assessment there are stories of ‘exiling’, continuing criminality, some recruitment and paramilitary assaults.
Some loyalists are still interested in getting weapons.
The groups still have a structure and working leaderships, they have not yet left the stage. The IMC comments on the fact loyalists did not respond to the dissident republican attacks. That has been recognised, but there is more for the loyalist leaders to do, much more, and the unfinished business is set out by the IMC. The dissident killings in March were a shock to the peace process but the commission had previously warned that the threat posed by the Real and Continuity IRA was serious.
Those groups remain highly active and dangerous, but they did not achieve what they hoped for in those killings and there is a fear they will try something different.
You hear that concern expressed both by loyalists and mainstream republicans. So, there will be a continuing watching of the dissidents, and there is also a spotlight that the loyalists cannot avoid.
It looks like something is going to happen on decommissioning.
On this question of loyalist decommissioning, the IMC said: “It will soon be apparent whether it has become a deliverable option.”
Can they deliver?
The answer is they have to.