Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Will Gusty Spence help kickstart serious consideration of decommissioning?

His comments are not easy to ignore — he cannot be dismissed.

Gusty Spence was one of the first loyalists sent to jail in Ulster’s “war” and, in prison, also the first of the loyalists to argue a political alternative to violence.

There was a time when he suggested the method of decommissioning should be “rust” — that the guns would be left in the ground and forgotten about.

Not any more.

His thinking has changed because of what the IRA did in 2005 in the presence of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the church witnesses Harold Good and Alec Reid.

Spence believes the IRA’s decommissioning, but not that every weapon was put beyond use.

His “dream” now is “to stand on some podium to say that the UVF have decommissioned”.

Only recently there was a verbal exchange between Martin McGuinness and Dawn Purvis on a platform at the West Belfast Festival on the question of loyalist guns.

The Progressive Unionist Party leader said there was no debate in the loyalist community on decommissioning – McGuinness challenged her to start one.

What she meant was there was no pressure being applied inside the loyalist community to force the guns issue. Now, there is a voice — coming from the past but from a man who is significant and credible in the present. Remember, Spence read the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire statement of October 1994, and was brought back to the podium to deliver the words of the UVF’s endgame in May last year.

He was somewhat reluctant to read the second of those statements — because he could see the obvious flaw in it, its lack of decommissioning.

The UVF position was that its “ordnance” had been put “beyond reach” — not “beyond use” and that General de Chastelain had been told.

Spence argued that meant “nothing”.

He understands that decommissioning requires leadership — that it is something that has to be ordered.

I suppose that is his challenge to the UVF’s Command Staff.

There is a policing and a political pressure on loyalists to move on decommissioning.

It has been made clear the IICD is now operating to a short timeframe — that it will not be here for much longer, and that when it goes any weapons discovered will be subject to all the forensic processes.

Now, there is a voice within loyalism — a significant and senior voice — that is making an argument for decommissioning.

It could be the beginning of something — possibly the first serious discussion on the question of loyalist guns.

Brian Rowan’s book How The Peace Was Won goes on sale on Friday

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