Loyalist paramilitaries make joint pledge denouncing criminality

Freedom Corner on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast comprised of four murals and are some of the most instantly recognisable in Northern Ireland
Freedom Corner on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast comprised of four murals and are some of the most instantly recognisable in Northern Ireland

The three main loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland have issued a declaration denouncing criminality and pledging to make a “meaningful contribution” to improving the lot of their communities.

As part of the initiative, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando are supporting the formation of a “Loyalist Communities Council” to help deliver the goals.

It will focus on “law abiding responses to criminality”, as well as addressing loyalist “disenfranchisement” from the political process and increasing educational standards in loyalist communities.

“We eschew all violence and criminality,” said the joint declaration. “If there are those who attempt to use current or past associations with our organisations to further criminality they will be disowned and should be aware that they will not be permitted to use the cover of loyalism.”

Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell and Ukip MLA David McNarry have been involved in efforts to facilitate the loyalist move.

It comes amid a political crisis at Stormont prompted by a police assessment that structures of the Provisional IRA still exist and some of its members were involved in a murder in Belfast.

While the main loyalist paramilitary organisations called a ceasefire over 20 years ago, the outlawed armed groups continue to exist.

While no longer engaged in direct conflict with republican paramilitaries, feuds and turf wars among rival loyalist factions have led to numerous murders in the intervening decades.

Some paramilitaries have also continued to be involved in criminality, including extortion, racketeering and drug dealing.

The groups have also been blamed for orchestrating serious public disorder amid disputes related to loyal order parades, flags and the arrest of members over historic Troubles crimes.

The declaration was made on the 21st anniversary of the 1994 loyalist ceasefire. Mr Powell played a key role in the peace process negotiations during the time of the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Since leaving politics he has headed up a negotiation and mediation charity that works in conflict zones around the world.