Belfast Telegraph

UUP quizzes police over ‘well-maintained guns’ at paramilitary displays

Engagement: Robin Swann
Engagement: Robin Swann
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said he held "positive and constructive talks" with senior PSNI officers on recent paramilitary shows of strength in west Belfast.

Mr Swann yesterday met temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin and temporary Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray to discuss shots being fired after the deaths of two west Belfast republicans.

"We had an excellent engagement with police. Intelligence-led operations supported by the local community are the best way forward," he said.

Mr Swann was accompanied by UUP MLAs Steve Aiken, Andy Allen and Roy Beggs, and the party's Policing Board representative, Alan Chambers.

The PSNI last night said that a 41-year-old man arrested by detectives investigating shots being fired at the wake of INLA member Martin McElkerney last month had been released unconditionally.

Masked men also fired shots after the death of former IRA member Pete Rooney in May.

Mr Swann said his party had sought the meeting with police chiefs after growing public unease about the incidents.

"The sight of well-maintained and modern looking weaponry in the hands of terrorist groups supposedly on ceasefire raises a number of questions which we posed," the UUP leader said.

"Are these weapons from the hides where they should have been decommissioned?

"Have these hides been compromised? Are they new weapons that have been sourced and brought into Northern Ireland illegally after decommissioning was supposed to have been completed?

"We have asked for an updated assessment of the capabilities of these terrorist organisations, and in particular want to know if they are regarded as still being on ceasefire or are they in the process of re-arming and restructuring? We also need to know where these weapons are coming from."

Mr Swann said his party had also raised the New IRA's killing of Lyra McKee in April and the attempted murder of a PSNI officer last week.

A bomb was discovered under the officer's car at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast.

"The UUP is very clear that the type of society we are trying to build here is one in which there is no space for anyone who uses, threatens or condones violence," he said.

"We are very clear that terrorism was as wrong in 1969 as it was in 1989 and as wrong as it is today in 2019.

"It is madness that 21 years after the Belfast Agreement, these people are still treated as politically motivated offenders and able to avail of a separated prison regime.

"I commend the police and the security services for all the work they do to combat the terrorist threat, from both republicans and so-called loyalists.

"Our bottom line is that no community should have to endure the sight of masked men on their streets firing weapons and disrespecting law and order."

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