Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Loyalist declaration well-meaning waffle, the type we've heard many times before

By Suzanne Breen

Loyalist paramilitaries have long liked their joint statements to be made in places of historical significance.

Fernhill House in Glencairn was the venue for the Combined Loyalist Military Command's 1994 ceasefire announcement.

The UVF had paraded in front of the stately home, which is now a listed building, during the 1914 Home Rule crisis. Its stableyard was used to store guns for the organisation.

And so the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando obviously decided that a community centre or hotel wouldn't have adequate historical reasonance for the second joint statement they were making in the last quarter-of-a-century.

Belfast's Linen Hall Library was the chosen venue with a visible police presence outside signifying to the public that it was just more than students and researchers on the premises yesterday.

But if any library user had wandered up to the third floor event, they would have been hugely disappointed.

Compared to the seismic 1994 announcement, this was a damp squib.

Representatives of the paramilitary groups sat side-by-side with the Church leaders with whom they've been in lengthy discussions to make this "very important step", which they described as a "loyalist declaration of transformation".

UDA leader Jackie McDonald said: "It wasn't written on the back of a beer mat in some club or pub. It's taken a lot of serious soul searching, a lot of thinking about the problems we've had in the past, thinking about the problems we have at the minute."

Let's cut to the chase. It's action, not words, needed to end loyalist criminality. Twenty four years after the ceasefires and 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement the time for talking is long gone.

The community wants results and this statement reads like more well-meaning waffle.

"We further declare that any engagement in criminal acts by any individuals within our organisations will be regarded as placing those persons outside the memberships," the statement said.

If that's the case, there will be hundreds of individuals expelled from UVF and UDA ranks this morning.

The Lisburn UDA is generally regarded as a model of what the organisation should be. But in other areas, members are as involved in drug dealing, extortion and intimidation as some of their UVF counterparts.

Alliance's Stephen Farry pointed out that last week a journalist's life was threatened by the UDA.

TUV leader Jim Allister said by their very nature illegal organisations like the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando cannot fully support the rule of law. He viewed yesterday's statement as those groups seeking "their place in the sun" and he criticised the clerics, whom he claimed had "lent credence" to the paramilitaries' "sham declaration".

It appeared yesterday that loyalist leaders were just trying to join the Good Friday Agreement anniversary circus. The public wants real change on the ground, not more chatter about it.

Belfast Telegraph

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