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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Loyalist ceasefire 10 years on
By Brian Rowan
BBC Northern Ireland security editor

Thirty years ago, on a tape secretly recorded inside the Maze prison, the veteran loyalist Gusty Spence spoke of putting "fighting aside" and of the prisoners being prepared to "politicise if the politicians give us the chance".

The tape was made in 1974 and - in this the week that marks the 10th anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire - it has been given to the BBC.

"There will come a day when the loyalists of Long Kesh (as the Maze prison was once known) will be freed," Spence said.
Loyalist prisoners parade in their Long Kesh compound
Loyalist prisoners parade in their Long Kesh compound in 1970s

"They don't promise retribution, they don't promise revenge... This is their promise - the promise to contribute towards this country, to work, to engage in society, to politicise if necessary," he added.

Twenty years later, Spence was recorded again - not secretly, but in public this time - as he read the words of a ceasefire declared by a Combined Loyalist Military Command.

The date was 13 October 1994 and the Combined Command was speaking for the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the associated Red Hand Commando.

Many of the former prisoners of Long Kesh had been instrumental in steering loyalism - "combined" loyalism - to this point.

But loyalism did not stay joined up for long.

For a while, the ceasefire was disciplined - surprisingly so when the IRA ended its "complete cessation of military operations" and bombed London in February 1996.

'Deal of all deals'

But there is no longer a Combined Command and, in the past 10 years, loyalists have turned their guns on each other, have been behind a number of sectarian murders, and elements inside the main paramilitary organisations have become identified with drugs and other criminal activities.

Not one weapon has been decommissioned by any of the major groups.

So, the questions now being asked are: Can the loyalist organisations return to that disciplined ceasefire of 1994?

How can they become re-involved in the political and peace processes?

That will be easier said than done because, both inside and outside the loyalist community, the UDA is still viewed through very sceptical eyes

And what role have they to play as efforts continue to put together another deal in Northern Ireland - this time the deal of all deals?

The UDA has an "inner council" leadership of six "brigadiers".

"We are trying to fix ourselves from within," one of those "brigadiers" told me.

"We've lost (the support of) part of our community by some of the activities of individuals - and I'm not just talking about the UDA side," the paramilitary said.

"A lot of people have committed crimes against our own community. We want to get our community back."

That will be easier said than done because, both inside and outside the loyalist community, the UDA is still viewed through very sceptical eyes.

Too much of its activity is still too recent, and its latest ceasefire - announced back in February - is still not recognised by the government.

Arms issue

The Ulster Political Research Group - which gives political analysis to the UDA - wants to talk to the government about the future of the paramilitary organisation.

And one of its spokesmen, David Nicholl, told me the Northern Ireland Secretary needs to tell them directly what he expects "the UDA to deliver".

What Paul Murphy would expect is an end to the organisation's activities and progress on decommissioning.

But David Nicholl told me the arms issue will be the "last" thing addressed in terms of any movement from the UDA.

"In reality, if you are talking about loyalist decommissioning, we are years from that," David Nicholl said.
UVF parade
Many former prisoners had been instrumental in steering loyalism

It was a comment he made in the company of the UDA "brigadier", and it was a comment that was not challenged.

Gusty Spence's past affiliation is not to the UDA but to the UVF, and that organisation is now looking at its future role.

Its members are being consulted and a "task force" will report back to the leaderships of both the UVF and the Red Hand Commando.

It is a process that has only just begun, but one source familiar with what is happening, told BBC News Online: "If the IRA says the war is over and if they make a dramatic decommissioning act and if the political institutions are up and running, then people have to ask: What is our future role?"

That is the question being asked in this latest consultation within the UVF, but no-one is expecting a quick answer.

Loyalism, 10 years after that ceasefire of October 1994, is looking again at the IRA, looking again at itself and looking again at what role it might play in the business of deal making in Northern Ireland.

And while all of that is being thought through, there are others looking at the loyalists - looking to try to re-involve them in this process and thinking about how you begin a dialogue about all of that.

As one senior political negotiator told BBC News Online: "There's no point leaving people behind."




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