Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

DUP meets loyalists over weapons

UDA flag

Senior figures from the DUP are to meet loyalist paramilitaries in the coming weeks to discuss decommissioning.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson told a committee of MPs in Westminster the meeting would be between party members and UDA and UVF representatives.

The government has agreed to give loyalists more time to decommission their weapons.

The amnesty period has been extended for one year, but will be reviewed in six months.

Mr Donaldson said it has to be the "last chance" for loyalists.

"We're engaging with paramilitary organisations, not for the purpose of giving them credibility in the democratic world, but to make sure that they take the steps that are necessary to end violence and criminality, to remove their weapons and to enter into a fully democratic society," he said.

Progress

Security Mininster Paul Goggins said loyalists must begin the process of decommissioning now.

He told MPs that if significant progress was not made after six months, the amnesty period would be halted.

The move was welcomed reluctantly by the Conservatives. Lawrence Robertson MP said his party would support the extension with a "heavy heart ".

However, South Down MP Eddie McGrady of the SDLP, opposed the extension.

"With parliament not returning until October, little action can be taken until after the six month deadline, effectively allowing criminal gangs to continue their reign of terror in their communities for another year," he said.

"It is extremely disappointing that 14 years after their ceasefire the UDA are still to begin this process."

The plans will go to the House of Lords next week and if passed will then come into force.

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