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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 12:04 GMT
UDA to make 'significant' move
By Brian Rowan
BBC Northern Ireland security editor

Less than two weeks ago, some of the most senior loyalist paramilitary figures in Northern Ireland walked through the doors at Stormont and into a dialogue with the secretary of state.

Paul Murphy was taking a risk. At the time of the talks, the government did not recognise the Ulster Defence Association ceasefire which was announced back in February and the paramilitary organisation remains deeply involved in criminality, including drugs.

Paul Murphy is expected to make a statement later on Friday
Paul Murphy is expected to make a statement later on Friday
Now, there are suggestions that the UDA wants to change, wants to re-involve itself in the wider peace process and wants to be part of the bigger business of political deal-making.

It is being offered another chance. The political door has been re-opened.

After those talks at Stormont, senior officials at the Northern Ireland Office remained in contact with the political representatives of the UDA - the Ulster Political Research Group.

And, now, we are seeing the beginnings of some choreography between the two.

On the political grapevine there had been speculation for days. We were expecting Mr Murphy to speak first, and we were told there would be a quick response from the UDA.

The detail of that response has not been confirmed - but the hints suggest something very significant - a statement on criminality and its future.

The UDA is the biggest paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland with thousands of men.

Members of the UPRG arrived at Stormont for talks
Members of the UPRG held talks with the government recently
Its leadership is an "Inner Council" of six so-called "brigadiers", and that leadership will have to sell any UDA initiative inside the ranks of the organisation.

That the government has opened its door again to those associated with this most volatile of groups, is something that is full of risk.

But if the UDA follows through with what is being suggested, then Mr Murphy will assess it was a risk worth taking.

That said, there will be sceptics and doubters.

If everything goes to plan, these opening steps in this new relationship should be completed by Monday

In the past, the word of the UDA has not been something that could be relied upon and, before passing judgement on this expected move, there will be those who will want it tested over a period of time.

There is nothing to suggest any early move by the UDA on decommissioning, and that is the position too with the other main loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

But if the UDA is serious about a peaceful future, then that will be a significant contribution to the wider business of trying to reach a comprehensive political deal.

The paramilitary group announced its latest ceasefire back in February, but for more than three years it was a "specified" organisation - meaning the government did not recognise its cessation.

Paul Murphy has changed that, and that decision is what will bring the UDA response.

For years, the government and republicans have negotiated and worked out sequences. Now, the loyalists are doing the same.

And, if everything goes to plan, these opening steps in this new relationship should be completed by Monday.


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