Northern Ireland news

Monica McWilliams: Get loyalist dinosaurs out of the picture

Loyalist Jim Wilson (RHC),Retired Archbishop Alan Harper, UDA leaderJackie McDonald, at a press conference at the Linen Hall Library. Picture Mal McCann.

A member of a panel appointed by Stormont to report on the disbandment of paramilitary groups has said a loyalist pledge to end criminality must be exercised "not in words but in communities where it matters".

Monica McWilliams, who was also a prominent figure in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations 20 years ago, was a part of the 'Fresh Start Panel' which made recommendations in 2016.

While welcoming the 'declaration of transformation' yesterday by the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, delivered by former Church leaders Alan Harper, Harold Good and Norman Hamilton, Ms McWilliams said: "It is really important that this is not a repetition".

"Loyalist transformation cannot be based on how long is a piece of string," she said.

"When we wrote the (disbandment) report we recognised it was about a process and not an event, but that process cannot be never-ending

"There are people who are dinosaurs in mindset, if not in age, and it is time for organisations to get those people out of the picture and out of positions of influence.

"There are people I want to believe can make it work and have integrity and that goes a long way. I don't want those men to go to their graves thinking it didn't make a difference when we know, this week of all weeks, that it can."

Read moreAllison Morris - Loyalist transformation cannot be the never-ending story (Premium)

Ian Knox cartoon 10/4/18: The north's three loyalist paramilitary organisations say they fully support the rule of law and suggest that any members involved in crime will be expelled 

Chief Constable George Hamilton welcomed the paramilitary statement but questioned the attendance of Bangor loyalist Dee Stitt, given the recent threat to a Belfast-based journalist from the North Down UDA.

"Twenty years on from the peace agreement it is disappointing that we are still in a place where there are statements about paramilitary violence and criminality", he said.

"Our communities do not want to live in fear of violence. The Loyalist Community Council must support people in giving information to the police."

The statement was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, as leading figures including former US President Bill Clinton and talks chairman George Mitchell mark the peace accord in Belfast today.

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