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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Q and A: Loyalist ceasefires
BBC News Online explains what John Reid's decision on the UDA/UFF and LVF ceasefires means.

What has John Reid announced?

Secretary of State John Reid has declared the ceasefires of the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Loyalist Volunteer Force to be over.

The decision has come two weeks after Mr Reid warned that he was on the cusp of declaring the UDA/UFF ceasefire over.

He changed his mind after being told that the organisation's leaders had recognised the damage they were doing and would order their members to halt violence. Mr Reid said that he was monitoring the UDA's activities on an hourly basis and they have finally failed his test.

Why does this announcement matter?

The Secretary of State has a responsibility under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 to monitor the activities of paramilitary organisations and judge the state of their respective ceasefires.

Legislation requires Dr Reid to "specify" that an organisation has broken its ceasefire if he believes, based on events and security intelligence, that its members are involved in violence of an orchestrated and planned paramilitary nature. Dr Reid has now "respecified" the UDA/UFF and LVF under the terms of the Agreement.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Irrespective of whether the organisations had been on ceasefire or not, they were both already illegal and would have remained so.

For instance, John Reid believes that the IRA's ceasefire is still valid, but the organisation remains illegal.

Does it make a difference to the members of these groups?

It depends on their activities. The Good Friday Agreement led to the release under licence of all prisoners who were members of paramilitary organisations observing ceasefires at the time of the document's signing.

Prisoners cannot be automatically returned to jail should their organisations be found to have returned to violence.

The rules state that a prisoner can only be returned to jail without a new trial if their release licence has not yet run its course and the security forces have specific evidence that the individual is involved in paramilitary violence.

So if released prisoners are involved in violence, is it going to be difficult to jail them again?

Providing evidence can be gathered, individuals can be rearrested without notice and forced to serve out the full term of their original sentences. This affects all the UDA/UFF and LVF's members still under licence, not just those who had been serving life sentences.

This has already been seen in the case of two members of the UDA/UFF's Belfast leadership, Johnny Adair and Gary Smith, both of whom have been returned to jail in the wake of violence linked to last year's loyalist feud.

Secondly, any paramilitary prisoner charged with an offence will not benefit from the generous remission on sentences laid down in the Agreement.

Thirdly, members of a specified organisation wanted for offences committed prior to the 1998 agreement will not benefit from planned amnesty legislation which would see cases dropped.

In practical terms, this had been expected to only affect IRA members "on the run" and living abroad - but it will affect UDA/UFF or LVF members if the security forces choose to charge them with offences linked to investigations long shelved.

What does this mean for the UDA's political wing?

The Northern Ireland Office has so far been unclear what the implications are for the Ulster Democratic Party.

The small UDP was a party to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 but its role dramatically decreased after the UDA/UFF declared earlier this year that it no longer supported the Agreement.

During the talks that led to the Agreement, the UDP withdrew from talks when it faced a formal exclusion after UDA violence. Sinn Fein were temporarily excluded in similar circumstances.

The UDP does not hold any seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and therefore cannot be excluded from the body, were that to be an option.

But it is unclear what status the party would have in talks if the institutions are suspended for a formal review of the Aagreement, something that could still happen.

What does this mean for the peace process?

This is perhaps the most important and unanswerable question. While the declaration makes little practical difference as the violence has been continuing, nobody knows how the two organisations will react.

In making his decision, John Reid said that the organisations "may lash out" because of their "warped view of reality".

But he added that the people of Northern Ireland were saying loud and clear that they rejected these organisations and the violent history they represented.

Jackie McDonald, a former UDA prisoner who has represented the organisation in talks with the de Chastelain decommissioning body, already warned that declaring the ceasefire over could make a bad situation worse.

The fear is that the two loyalists groups will intensify their violence, in turn prompting a response from republicans and the IRA.


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