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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 21:08 GMT
Ahern's loyalist meeting 'amicable'
Police said the UDA was behind a series of security alerts
Police said the UDA was behind a series of security alerts
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has met a group linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.

The UDA ceasefire and the prisoners issue were the focus of Monday's talks in Dublin between Mr Ahern and the Ulster Political Research Group, which speaks on behalf of the UDA.

The loyalist delegation at the meeting included three councillors - Frank McCoubrey, Frankie Gallagher and Tommy Kirkham - the party's prisoners' spokesman, Stanley Fletcher, and UDA leader Jackie McDonald.

Tommy Kirkham of the UPRG described the meeting as "historic, productive and amicable".

"We asked for support for a review of the prison situation and that someone should instigate a prison ombudsman for Northern Ireland to try and alleviate some of the problems for prisoners," he said.

Bertie Ahern held talks with the UPRG
I stress that progress can only be made when there is peace on the streets and that the use of violence, the threat of violence and involvement in criminality is contrary to the interests of everybody, including the loyalist community itself
Bertie Ahern

"It certainly was historic, we came down and voiced the concerns of the loyalist community to the Taoiseach," he said.

"He said he would work with us in the future and today is only the start of a whole series of meetings and we hope to be back in Dublin again to meet the taoiseach in a few weeks time."

Mr Ahern described the meeting as productive and said he would be keeping in touch with the loyalist representatives.

The taoiseach raised his concerns about the UDA ceasefire.

Mr Ahern said he looked forward to building a constructive relationship with the loyalist community through similar meetings.

"I have assured them that the government is ready to assist in any way we can to advance a positive agenda," he said.

"I stress that progress can only be made when there is peace on the streets and that the use of violence, the threat of violence and involvement in criminality is contrary to the interests of everybody, including the loyalist community itself."

Violence isn't part of our society any longer or shouldn't be part of our society
Paul Murphy
NI Secretary

The UPRG is also due to meet Secretary of State Paul Murphy in the coming weeks.

Mr Murphy told the BBC's Politics Show on Sunday that one of the reasons for the meeting will be to ensure the message gets across that "pipe bombs and politics do not mix".

"Violence isn't part of our society any longer or shouldn't be part of our society," he said.

"The trouble is that there is still criminality, there is still gangsterism and the one great central message in the Good Friday Agreement was that politics in Northern Ireland had to be democratic and peaceful.

"That's the message that loyalism must get during the course of these meetings."

Serious disturbances

The developments come after Security Minister Jane Kennedy said on Thursday that the UDA could not seriously be considered to be on ceasefire.

She blamed the organisation for recent hoax bombs across Belfast and attacks on prison officers' homes.

Tommy Kirkham said the meeting was historic
Tommy Kirkham said the meeting was historic

The police said the UDA was behind a series of security alerts which brought parts of Belfast to a standstill in recent weeks.

They said it was in response to the situation at Maghaberry prison in County Antrim where loyalist prisoners were behind serious disturbances.

Last August, the UDA called on the British Government to recognise its ceasefire.

The UPRG said members of the paramilitary organisation were disillusioned by the government's response to its initiative aimed at reducing trouble in loyalist areas.

The UDA said it believed loyalists were being treated more unfavourably than republicans.

The ceasefires of the UDA/UFF and Loyalist Volunteer Force have not been recognised since October 2001 when the then secretary of state, John Reid, declared them over following a series of sectarian pipe bombings, murder and attacks on the police.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Shane Harrison:
"Mr Ahern described the meeting as productive"


BBC NI's security editor Brian Rowan
"The delegation will include the UDA leader Jackie McDonald"


Tommy Kirkham of the UPRG
described the meeting as "historic, productive and amicable"



SEE ALSO:
UDA 'not on ceasefire'
22 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
Security alert declared a hoax
23 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland
Security alerts hit city
30 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
UDA 'disillusioned' over ceasefire
07 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland


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