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Loyalist splinter threat
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Loyalist splinter threat
• Loyalist ceasefire

• Red Hand defenders
• Orange Volunteers

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Loyalist splinter threat

Although the main loyalist paramilitary groups have maintained a ceasefire since October 1994, break-away loyalist paramilitaries still pose a major threat to a lasting peace settlement in Northern Ireland.

In the run-up to the 1999 Drumcree March, two loyalist paramilitary groups, the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders, said they would not "stand idly by and watch as our culture, heritage and religion are attacked and destroyed before our eyes". Their goal is to end movement towards a political settlement which they see as a sell-out to the nationalist and republican communities.

The Red Hand Defenders, which emerged during the Drumcree crisis in the summer of 1998, have claimed responsibility for several murders and bombing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, including the killing of the prominent human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson and Brian Service, a Catholic who was shot dead in October 1998. Mr Service had no paramilitary or criminal connections.

The Orange Volunteers, a group little heard of since the mid-1970s, also re-emerged in 1998. The group threatened to wage a campaign of violence against Sinn Fein, the IRA and "the enemies of Ulster".

Some security sources believe the group may be just the rump of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which has called a ceasefire and handed over a small number of weapons to be destroyed as part of the peace process.

While continued killings are obviously of great concern to security forces in Northern Ireland and the nationalist community, the splinter groups also worry loyalist paramilitary groups maintaining a ceasefire and the politicians who represent them.

Progressive Unionist Party spokesman David Ervine, whose party has close link to the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, said in January 1999 that splinter groups "undoubtedly" pose a threat because their primary aim was to "try and pull the Provos off their ceasefire".

"There are many within fundamentalist Protestantism who would go into absolute dismay if the Provos did decommission," he said.

The British government has outlawed both organisations. Prisoners associated with the groups are not eligible for early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

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