Loyalist leaders should make the most of their opportunity to spek with the First Minister.
This could be the last chance for the current loyalist leadership — indeed some believe it should be their last chance. The talks that have just begun with a senior DUP delegation are part of the dialogue first signalled in a Belfast Telegraph story back in July.
It features Peter Robinson, DUP leader and First Minister, talking directly to the paramilitary leaderships, the Inner Council of the UDA and the Command Staff of the UVF and associated Red Hand Commando.
Both issued endgame statements last year — neither decommissioned a bullet or a gun.
On the question of transition, they are far behind the IRA.
The report delivered by the Independent Monitoring Commission last week could not be copied across to tell the story of the loyalist world.
But the UDA and the UVF have now been brought to the front door of the political and peace processes.
The talking, this time, is given extra weight and significance because of the position Peter Robinson holds in the Stormont Executive.
It is right that the detail of the talking is private, but that the dialogue has been publicly acknowledged, particularly by the DUP, is progress.
This is something the political leader of loyalism Dawn Purvis has welcomed — “that the DUP have at last recognised that dialogue is crucial for conflict transformation.”
More than 20 years have passed since John Hume, then SDLP leader, in much more difficult circumstances began talking to Gerry Adams.
It was a dialogue that delivered significant change. Can Peter Robinson, in this project, now achieve similar results?
Can Peter Robinson, in this project, now achieve similar results?
The men he is talking to are of the highest rank in the loyalist paramilitary structure — the UVF’s most senior leader John Graham, the UDA’s brigadiers, including Jackie McDonald, and the leader of the Red Hand Commando.
But are they still a leadership of authority and with an ability to deliver real change?
They will have to prove they are.
There is a battle for the destiny of loyalism between “cause” and “criminal” loyalists.
This is why this may be this leadership’s last chance to prove itself, to show its authority, to do something on the arms issue before the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning is scrapped.
And to do something that begins to restore some respectability to a loyalist world — sullied and tarnished by those criminals still using a paramilitary cover to make themselves rich.
This cannot be talking for the sake of talking. The end is not the talks themselves but what they need to deliver.
I am told Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde recently — and reluctantly — agreed to meet the UDA leadership as part of talks with the Secretary of State.
I am also told he took the opportunity to dismiss the nonsense that loyalists are not involved in criminality.
The issues of loyalist criminality, loyalist guns, the existence of loyalist organisations and their leaderships are every bit as important but have not had the same political attention that has been applied to the IRA.
There has been an obvious double standard and that now needs to change.
The DUP — even within its own thinking — should apply a time limit to this dialogue. Otherwise the loyalists will talk forever and do nothing.