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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Who are the loyalist paramilitaries?
UFF/UDA members in Belfast
Members of the UFF/UDA in a display of strength in Belfast
There are three main loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

The UFF/UDA

The Ulster Freedom Fighters/Ulster Defence Association is the largest loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland.
A UFF emblem

The UDA remained a legal organisation until 1992 when the then Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew proscribed it as it became increasingly clear to security forces that its members were carrying out killings but using the name of the UFF as a cover.

Formed in 1971, the UDA was an umbrella organisation for loyalist "defence" groups and had tens of thousands of members at its peak.

The UDA initially drew its support and membership from traditional Protestant working class areas such as Belfast and Lisburn and organised itself along military lines.

The group was part of the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire announced in 1994 and its spokesmen said that it was pro-talks and pro-Agreement - something that made its jailed members eventually eligible for early release.

However, its political wing the Ulster Democratic Party won no seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The ceasefire was breached in January 1998, when the UFF carried out three killings following the murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison.

The killings shook the peace process and resulted in a historic meeting between the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and UFF/UDA leaders in the prison.

Two of its most notorious members eventually benefited from early release: Johnny Adair, the only person ever convicted of directing terrorism in Northern Ireland, and Michael Stone, who killed three in a lone gun and grenade attack on an IRA funeral.

The Ulster Volunteer Force

The organisation's name dates back to a Protestant force formed to oppose Home Rule in 1912.
A UVF emblem

The name was revived in 1966 as loyalists came together to oppose liberal unionism and its rapprochement with the Catholic population of Northern Ireland and the emerging civil rights movement.

Its first stated mission was to kill members of the IRA. Many historians attribute the beginning of the modern period of political violence in Northern Ireland to killings conducted by the UVF in 1966.

It was soon proscribed, though in 1974 the then Secretary of State Merlyn Rees lifted the ban, hoping its members could be persuaded to turn to politics. Just over a year later it was once again banned amid a spate of sectarian killings.

One of its most senior figures during the 1970s was Gusty Spence, the man chosen to announce the combined loyalist ceasefire in 1994. Despite his influence among loyalists, the UVF has long been thought to be smaller than the UFF/UDA.

The UVF is linked to the Progressive Unionist Party which was founded in 1978 in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

Two of its most prominent members sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force

Loyalist Volunteer Force is a splinter group which was led by Billy Wright, until he was murdered by republicans in the Maze prison at Christmas 1997.
An LVF emblem depicting its murdered founder, Billy Wright

Wright, a former UVF commander, formed the organisation from among loyalists dissatisfied with the other paramilitary organisations and their response to the annual stand-off and crisis over the Orange Order's Drumcree march in Portadown.

In March 1998, the group threatened Protestants who colluded in the peace process but two months later it declared an "unequivocal" ceasefire to encourage people to vote No in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

Its members became eligible for early release, though a handing-in of a small number of weapons as part of the decommissioning process was dismissed by some politicians as little more than a gesture.

Dissident members of the LVF and the UFF are thought to have been behind attacks carried out by the Orange Volunteers.

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