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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
The minister who offers to mediate

Magee has offered to mediate between feuding factions
By BBC News Online's Jane Bardon

Presbyterian minister the Reverend Roy Magee helped to broker the 1994 ceasefire of Northern Ireland's main loyalist paramilitary organisations under the umbrella of the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC).

The ceasefire, which followed the IRA's cessation of violence, was crucial in paving the way for the peace process which led to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement on which Northern Ireland's devolved government is based.

Roy Magee has again offered his services to the loyalist paramilitaries, but this time to try to calm tensions between the different loyalist factions.

The loyalist paramilitaries know that if I can assist the situation and prevent the killing of people I'd be glad to

Roy Magee
The Dundonald minister, originally from north Belfast, has traced his history of mediating for and between the loyalist paramilitaries to his ministry at Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church in the Docks area of Belfast during start of the present troubles in 1969.

But his influential meetings with the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters were not made public until nearly two years before their October 1994 ceasefires.

Widely respected in Belfast's Protestant community for his work with the young unemployed, Mr Magee said that he first made "loose" friendships and contacts in the early 1970s with people who became key figures in the CLMC.

'Extension of my pastoral work'

He said that since Sinclair Seamen's had members in all parts of Belfast, he was asked to mediate between vigilantes from the north, south, east and west of the city.

Roy Magee was quite regularly in contact with the loyalist groups who, he said, were first set up "as bone fide community organisations doing stirling work for the unionist people" before the 1969 Troubles broke out.

Who are the UDA/UFF?
The Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters make up the largest loyalist paramilitary group in NI. It called a ceasefire in 1994, but recently threatened to break it by shooting Catholics. It is linked politically to the Ulster Democratic Party.
But it was when the loyalist paramilitaries officially decided to carry out "active rather than reactive" attacks against Catholics that Roy Magee felt it was his duty to intervene.

In an interview he said: "As a minister of the gospel I see myself as a spiritual policeman, encouraging people to live in accordance with the Law of God."

He added: "What I do is nothing more and nothing less than an extension of my pastoral work."

Born the son of a fitter in 1930, Roy Magee was brought up in the Ballysillan estate in north Belfast.

He worked in churches in some of the roughest Protestant areas of Belfast before settling in the Dundonald parish near Belfast in 1975, where he was renowned for his "fire and brimstone" style oratory.

Assurances of reciprocation

In the early 1990s Roy Magee started to work in earnest towards achieving assurances from loyalists, that if the IRA called a ceasefire, they would reciprocate.

Who are the UVF?
The Ulster Volunteer Force is a loyalist paramilitary group which became prominent in the late 1960s at the beginning of the present Troubles. It called a ceasefire in 1994 and is linked politically to the Progressive Unionist Party.
By 1992 Mr Magee was meeting regularly with UDA and UVF leaders to urge them to consider calling off their campaign of violence against republicans and nationalists.

In 1993 it was apparent that he had helped to encourage Combined Loyalist Military Command interest in the peace process.

The CLMC issued a statement warning that any peace agreement must not undermine Ulster's position within the Union.

In 1993 and 1994 he publicly gave a number of assurances that if the IRA called a ceasefire, loyalists would make a reciprocal move.

Mr Magee was also rumoured to have facilitated contact between the Irish government and loyalist paramilitaries.

When the loyalist ceasefire was announced by former Maze Prison UVF Commander Gusty Spence in 1994, Roy Magee did not court the limelight.

More recently Magee has offered his services as a mediator to help stop violence within the loyalist community.

Loyalist feud

As mainstream attacks by loyalists on nationalists and republicans on loyalists all but ceased, tensions between the different loyalist factions grew.

Splinter groups including the Red Hand Defenders and Loyalist Volunteer Force broke away from the main organisations as local loyalist groups competed to keep control of their own areas and lucrative criminal interests.

In March 1999 Magee offered to mediate between the UVF, the Red Hand Defenders and the UFF following the murder of loyalist Frankie Curry.

The UVF denied carrying out the murder.

In Portadown, after the murder of local UVF commander Richard Jameson in January 2000, accusations and counter accusations were thrown between the UVF and LVF that each organisation's main interest was gaining control of the illegal drug trade.

In May, John White, chairman of the Ulster Democratic Party which has links with the UDA and UFF, suggested that a mediator could be called in to try to end feuding between the UVF and LVF.

Magee offered to mediate between the two organisations after Martin Taylor was shot dead in Ballysillan in June 2000. The LVF denied carrying out the murder.

The early release of a new wave of loyalist prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement has contributed towards bringing new tensions between the mainstream loyalist groups onto the streets.

Convicted UFF commander Johnny Adair was in close contact with members of the LVF in Portadown during this July's Drumcree marching dispute.

Further offers to help

And violent events in recent days in the Shankill area of west Belfast suggest the dispute between the larger UVF and the splinter LVF has now blown up with Northern Ireland's largest loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA/UFF.

The shooting dead of two men outside a north Belfast bookmakers in broad daylight on Monday, one of whom was Jackie Coulter, a prominent member of the UDA, has signalled that the developing feud is threatening to escalate.

Mr Magee has again offered his services, but he has said he is not hopeful that anything can be done to calm tensions while the current campaign of attacks carries on.

Speaking to the BBC on Monday he said: "The call went out some time ago and I responded to that, but it didn't appear to be the appropriate time for any form of mediation.

"But the loyalist paramilitaries know that if I can assist the situation and prevent the killing of people I'd be glad to.

"Sanity needs to be brought to bear on the prevailing situation. All the leaders of the loyalist organisations need to call a halt forthwith to whatever campaign is taking place and they need to leave space for each other."

However, it is unclear, with deep divisions between the members of the CLMC and the political parties they are linked to, whether even Roy Magee, with nearly 30 years of experience talking to the loyalist paramilitaries, would be an acceptable go-between.

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See also:

22 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Mediation call after Belfast murders
21 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Two killed in 'loyalist feud' shooting
21 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Mediation call in loyalist feud
24 May 00 | Northern Ireland
UVF linked to shooting attempt
25 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
UFF demands end to loyalist feuding
13 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
'No revenge' plea as UVF man buried
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