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Monday, January 5, 1998 Published at 13:26 GMT


Loyalist prisoners 'lose faith' in peace process
image: [ Two thirds of loyalist paramilitaries in the Maze have lost faith in the peace process ]
Two thirds of loyalist paramilitaries in the Maze have lost faith in the peace process

The fragile peace in Northern Ireland has been further shaken by a vote of no-confidence in the peace process by prisoners belonging to two mainly Protestant paramilitary groups.

Two-thirds of the loyalist prisoners, being held in the Maze jail in Belfast, say they have no faith in the talks process.

The loyalist convicts, members of the largest loyalist paramilitary organistations, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), voted to withhold their support for the talks process.

The prisoners took a vote on the talks on their return from Christmas leave. But Loyalist sources have emphasised the prisoners are not suggesting that the Loyalist ceasefire should end.

The prisoners' vote is another blow to the faltering peace talks process in Northern Ireland.

The tacit support of the Protestant paramilitary inmates held in the Maze jail was what brought to the negotiating table the small fringe Unionist political parties that reflected their views.

The vote of no faith in the multi-party talks comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam prepares for meetings later on Monday about the deepening security crisis and just one week before peace talk sessions are due to resume.

About 130 prisoners associated with the UDA, the largest loyalist paramilitary group, took part in the cell block poll.

Two-thirds said they had lost faith in the whole process. It seems that many of the prisoners used their 10-day Christmas home leave to reassess their attitudes.

However, sources within Protestant paramilitary circles are stressing that the prisoners are not suggesting an end to the loyalist ceasefire, at present running in parallel with the Republican IRA pledge not to resort to violence.

Despite that, the Protestant paramilitary ceasefire is looking more and more unstable.
[ image: Murdered paramilitary leader Billy Wright]
Murdered paramilitary leader Billy Wright

In recent weeks, there have been several random sectarian attacks in retaliation for the murder of the paramilitary leader, Billy Wright, inside the Maze prison.

Although the tiny breakway group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, claimed responsibility for the tit-for-tat murders, police in Northern Ireland believe the larger Protestant paramilitary oganisations may have had an involvement despite their ceasefire stance.


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