Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist paramilitary group 'should disband' - victims' group

Victims of the Northern Ireland conflict have urged a loyalist paramilitary group applying for legal status to just "go away".

Sandra Peake said the bereaved and injured would be hurt to the core by any suggestion ex-terrorists from the Red Hand Commando (RHC) should now have their "place in the sun".

But prominent former leading loyalist Billy Hutchinson, who helped bring about Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) arms decommissioning and has embraced politics and community work, said it was a positive step in the right direction which might help change society.

Ms Peake said: "Why do they need to change? Why cannot they go away?

"Why do they need to remain in place? A bigger service for the victims and survivors would be for them to disband."

The RHC organisation was associated with the UVF during the conflict.

The UVF was blamed for around 500 murders and was one of the most deadly and feared terror groups in Northern Ireland during violence stretching from the late 1960s until the formal end of its armed campaign in 2007.

Mechanisms for dealing with the fallout from Northern Ireland's bloody past have not been established amid the political paralysis and Ms Peake, chief executive of the largest victims' group Wave Trauma Centre, said some victims would find the application to the Government asking to be taken off a list of banned organisations hard to take.

"Former paramilitaries wanting a place in the sun will hurt to the core for some people as they are living in the shadow of that bereavement and injury, not only were they grievously impacted, but they continue to be with the use of that language."

She said everybody agreed that paramilitaries needed to disappear off-stage.

But it is two years since the Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015 at Stormont which was supposed to provide greater support for Troubles victims.

Ms Peake added: "The only initiative from Fresh Start was a package on paramilitaries yet we have the injured pension (campaign) and none of the legacy institutions up and running.

"Messages such as today's brings that very sharply into focus and people continue to struggle with what has happened without meaningful redress.

"Injured people are still waiting on a pension to support their practical and financial needs and bereaved families are waiting on the legacy institutions to be put in place."

Mr Hutchinson acknowledged that the application by the umbrella group the Loyalist Communities Council to the Home Office was not what everyone wanted but said it could be turned into something worthwhile.

"I do think it is a step in the right direction," he said.

He added: "It is about how we change society and this is one step that might help change society."

The LCC said the application was made in good faith.

"It is further hoped that this course being taken by the RHC can lay out a road map for the transformation of loyalist groups in general and that this action might be followed in due course by the other two main loyalist groups," the group said.

In 1994 the RHC joined with the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force in declaring a ceasefire.

The RHC repeated its apology from 1994 as part of its application.

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