Republican splinter group eirigi has vowed to stage further protests after it was revealed high-profile loyalists are on the official guest list for the Queen’s landmark visit to Ireland tomorrow.
Two of the UDA’s so-called brigadiers have said they will be in Dublin on Wednesday.
Other members of the paramilitary leadership — the so-called inner council — are also understood to have been invited, including Matt Kincaid, Jimmy Birch and Billy McFarland.
The loyalist leaders are among dozens of people from their communities invited to a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge.
“It's a privilege and an honour to be there, and I hope everything goes well,” said UDA leader Jackie McDonald.
“It's recognition for all the effort made during the years we have been working with Martin (McAleese),” he continued.
Mr McAleese is the husband of Irish President Mary McAleese.
Meanwhile, the UDA's north Belfast leader John Bunting said: “I'm delighted to be invited.
“I know there's a lot of people from our community going — right across the spectrum,” he added.
“We're invited by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“It's an honour to be there.
“It's our Queen, and it's a recognition of the progress that is being made.”
The invitation reads: ‘On the occasion of the State visit to Ireland by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, the pleasure of the company of (name) is requested at the wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial Gardens Islandbridge, Wednesday, May 18 at noon.’
In its violent history, the UDA was responsible for scores of sectarian killings.
Years later, in the developing peace process, it issued an ‘endgame’ statement in November 2007 and then decommissioned weapons.
Frankie Gallagher of the politically-linked Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) will also be in Dublin on Wednesday.
“It's historical. It rubber-stamps the peace process between the people of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he said.
“And more significantly, it allows a space to be created where the people of these islands can begin to deal with the hurt and the pain of the past,” he said.
He insisted it was right that loyalists were invited. “It has to be fully inclusive,” he said.
“Because making the peace was a fully inclusive process.
“And it's an opportunity for the common man and woman to carve out a new future for our children.”
Speaking to this newspaper, McDonald said: “The war is over as far as the ex-combatants from the past are concerned.
“All dissident republicans are doing is ensuring there will never be a united Ireland when Ulster people are under attack.”
The invitations have sparked an angry reaction from eirigi, which is preparing to mount significant protests against the visit.
Brian Leeson, chairman of the organisation, branded the move insulting and said additional protests would now take place at Islandbridge on Wednesday.
“This is an outrageous decision,” he said.
“Those organising this entire visit are intent on heaping insult after insult on the people of this city, and indeed the entire country.”