Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Opinion: A report that could open new doors for loyalists

PUP leader Dawn Purvis wants to move the debate on from loyalist decommissioning. But John de Chastelain has his verdict to deliver first, writes Brian Rowan

Dawn Purvis, leader of the PUP, at the UVF and RHC command staff press conference where they said weapons would be be put beyond use. Below: decommissioning supremo General John de Chastelain who has witnessed the process taking place

When General John de Chastelain of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning arrives in town next Monday the Stormont politician Dawn Purvis believes it could be a liberating moment for the loyalist community.

She hopes that community will no longer be a prisoner because of the question of paramilitary guns — there will now be an opportunity to discuss and debate other important matters.

“When you complained about housing, education, a lack of investment, you were asked: what about the guns?”

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party is describing the political battle to be heard on any issue other than decommissioning.

“Now it’s time for the loyalist community to move on,” she said — the loyalist community and others, she means.

“I expect and I hope that General de Chastelain will confirm exactly what both the UVF and Red Hand Commando stated: that they have completely decommissioned and the significance of that cannot be underestimated,” she said.

“The act of decommissioning opens up opportunities for the loyalist community. I think it is a liberating event.”

Attention will now switch to the report and the words of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

The UVF and the Red Hand Commando have already had their say.

In a joint statement on June 27 they said they had “completed the process of rendering ordnance totally and irreversibly beyond use”.

The commission later said that the UVF and Red Hand leaderships had advised the commission that the weapons put beyond use represented “all the arms under their control”.

Has decommissioning really been that complete?

Some loyalists will tell you that the UVF and Red Hand are “nodding and winking” to their own people — the hint being that not all arms have been given to the process of decommissioning.

So, the now imminent IICD report will be read for Gen de Chastelain’s description of events.

He works on a security estimate of the size of the loyalist arsenal.

He and his colleagues will have counted the guns and bullets, weighed the explosives and compared the figures.

And it is his description of the completeness or otherwise of the decommissioning processes involving the UVF and Red Hand Commando that will be taken as the assessment of what has been done and what more if anything still needs to be done.

We know that another of the loyalist groups — the UDA — still has steps to take.

And there is another important assessment to be read — the next report of another of the peace process commissions, the Independent Monitoring Commission.

That is due by the end of October and should include the police and security service assessments of decommissioning.

In late June the UVF and Red Hand Commando gave a context for putting their weapons beyond use: “We have done so to further augment the establishment of accountable democratic governance in this region of the United Kingdom (and) to remove the pretext that loyalist weaponry is an obstacle to the development of our communities.”

There is a chance now that new doors will open for loyalists and a chance for them to be taken seriously inside the peace process, but that depends on a number of things.

It depends on the de Chastelain report — on its detail and description of events so far.

We have not heard from the witnesses who observed the UVF and Red Hand part of decommissioning.

Words from them could help convince people.

It also depends on the next report from the IMC, which will bring to the discussion the assessments of the PSNI Intelligence Branch and the security service MI5.

What do they know about the extent of loyalist decommissioning and what are they hearing inside that community?

And it depends on the loyalists themselves — will their actions match their words and is the silence of the guns now guaranteed?

All of this will take a little more time to assess.

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