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Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Loyalist decommissioning

Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
The Politics Show Northern Ireland

Shaun Woodward's move to extend the decommissioning deadline for weapons held by loyalist paramilitaries has raised a storm of protest.

At the same time there have been hints that there may be important developments ahead on the arms front.

Gunman
Loyalist paramiltaries still hold many weapons

In reply to a question in the House of Commons on 21 January 2009, the Secretary of State said, "The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has confirmed to me that it is currently making meaningful progress, and I hope to report to the House in future on that progress."

The reaction to the government's strategy was swift and forceful. The DUP, SDLP Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and some Labour backbenchers all rejected the move.

The Shadow Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, stated his party's opposition to extending the deadline.

'Parasitical gangsters'

"By extending the amnesty period, the Government are letting down local communities and the police who are trying to protect them. These are parasitical gangsters, drug dealers and protection racketeers.

"They do not deserve another extension," he commented.

Guns destroyed
LVF weapons were destroyed in 1998

Shaun Woodward has since indicated that he may reduce the extension to six months, at which point he would request an interim report from General De Chastelain's decommissioning team.

This appears to have placated the Conservatives, with Owen Paterson indicating his party is prepared to go along with this compromise position.

One of the main objections to extending the deadline has been threats made by loyalists to the lives of police officers.

Five officers and their families have had to move house as a result of such threats in the past year

Angle grinders

Back in December 1998, amidst a hail of sparks two men with angle grinders destroyed a handful weapons in front of the TV cameras.

This was trailed as the beginning of loyalist decommissioning.

In reality the LVF had handed over nine elderly guns to the authorities.

The decade since that first arms handover has seen some remarkable developments, not least the decommissioning of IRA weapons.

The repeated mantra of "no guns, no government" put pressure on republican paramilitaries in a way that has no parallels in loyalist circles.

Kevin Sharkey reports on the prospects for loyalist decommissioning on this week's Politics Show from Northern Ireland.

Watch Kevin Sharkey's report for the Politics Show


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