BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: N Ireland  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Doors may 'reopen' for loyalists
A UDA/UFF mural in Belfast
UDA's ceasefire was declared over last year
BBC Northern Ireland's chief security correspondent Brian Rowan looks behind the story of a face-to-face meeting between senior loyalist figures and NI Secretary John Reid.

In a church hall in east Belfast they came together.

The loyalist paramilitary leaders arrived first, and then the Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid.

Much was made of the presence of the convicted UDA leader Johnny Adair, who was recently released from jail, but this was bigger than him and not just a story about when Johnny met John.


That Reid was prepared to meet them is being viewed as an important first step - maybe the beginning of a dialogue that starts to change things

In October last year, John Reid formally declared that the government no longer recognised the ceasefire the UDA claimed to be observing, and this remains the position.

On Tuesday, however, Reid went face-to-face with its leadership, the so-called brigadiers who make up its "Inner Council".

His message was blunt:

"If you want to work for a constructive political resolution to our problems and a better Northern Ireland, I will work with you.

'In from the cold'

"But If you're wedded to the old ways and you are stuck to the path of violence, I will oppose you by every means at my disposal."

Reid was opening the door to the UDA and offering it an opportunity to come in from the political cold.

Tuesday's meeting was facilitated by the Methodist Church and brought the secretary of state into contact with the Loyalist Commission, which includes not just the UDA leadership but other loyalist paramilitaries along with church, political, community and business representatives.

It became a question-and-answer session with John Reid in the hot seat for two and a half hours.

UDA leader Johnny Adair
Johnny Adair: One of leaders who met Reid
He made his position clear before going into the meeting and, inside, the loyalists took the opportunity to get a few things off their chests.

The British Government was accused of double standards in how it assesses the various ceasefires, the suspected activities of the IRA were pointed up and the secretary of state was told of "loyalist alienation".

In that community, the peace process is seen as something which has been of greater benefit to the nationalist and republican communities, and loyalists feel they have been left behind.

So, there are a number of challenges.

Comfortable

John Reid wants an end to the street violence which has plagued the peace process in recent times and he wants the UDA to restore a credible ceasefire. But loyalists want something too.

They want to feel comfortable in the new Northern Ireland and in the new political order.

John Reid
John Reid: Blunt message
That Reid was prepared to meet them is being viewed as an important first step - maybe the beginning of a dialogue that starts to change things.

"If this Commission is still going in a year's time, the country is going to be a better place. That's how important it is," one paramilitary leader told BBC News Online.

Those looking in from the outside will be watching for visible signs of change and they will judge this dialogue by what happens on the streets.

Will the violence be brought to an end and will the UDA restore a credible ceasefire?

"It depends," said the paramilitary leader, "it's up to others as well."

By others he means republicans and Northern Ireland's acting chief constable, Colin Cramphorn, has warned that republican dissidents currently pose a serious threat.

Dissident activity

Senior unionist politicians have been told an "assassination" or a so-called "spectacular" is being planned.

That republican dissidents may be plotting an attack is no surprise. When the peace process is at its most fragile, the dissidents tend to be at their most active, and Northern Ireland is looking into the jaws of another difficult marching season.

So, what happens in the days ahead will determine the future, but the dialogue has begun and that is progress in itself.

The meeting in the church hall in east Belfast might just prompt something of a re-think on the loyalist side.

But actions always speak louder than words, and the UDA will be judged not on what they say but on what they do - or more importantly, don't do.

Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

31 Jul 01 | N Ireland
13 Oct 01 | N Ireland
12 Oct 01 | N Ireland
17 Jan 01 | N Ireland
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more N Ireland stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes