By Jack Holland
The Loyalist Volunteer Force has offered to begin decommissioning at once if the British government recognizes its cease-fire, called last July, and includes its prisoners in the ongoing release program, according to a reliable source. This would make the LVF the first paramilitary organization to decommission its weapons.
The move is unlikely to be welcomed by the other paramilitary groups, since it will be seen as putting pressure on them to follow the LVF’s example.
The LVF was formed in 1996, after Portadown loyalists, linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force, became unhappy with their organization’s involvement in the peace process. But the group soon attracted support of restless members of the other main loyalist group, the Ulster Defense Association. Its leader was Billy Wright, also known as King Rat — a notorious loyalist gunman based in the Portadown area whose name has been linked to a series of sectarian killings over the years. The Irish National Liberation Army murdered Wright while he was imprisoned in the Maze, last December, sparking off a series of reprisal killings involving both the LVF and the Belfast UDA.
In its brief but bloody two-year history, the LVF is thought to have been responsible for about a dozen murders, most of them in the North Armagh area. Its first victim was a Catholic taxi driver, Michael McGoldrick, murdered in July 1996, during the confrontation between Orange marchers and local Nationalists at Drumcree. The following year, it murdered a teenage Catholic girl as she slept at the home of her Protestant boyfriend near Lurgan. It was also responsible for the killings of two members of the GAA in 1996 and 1997, one of whom was severely beaten before his death.
The LVF brought widespread condemnation on its head in March this year after it gunned down two friends, one a Protestant, the other a Catholic, as they shared a drink in a Catholic pub in Poyntzpass near Newry in South Down. It declared a cease-fire four months later, after three young boys were burned to death in a sectarian attack on their home during the Drumcree stand-off.
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It is difficult to arrive at a precise figure for the number of deaths attributable to the breakaway group, especially in Belfast, where UDA members became involved in many sectarian attacks that the LVF often claimed.
After Wright’s death, the LVF came under the control of a former UDA man who later fled to England.
It is believed that if the British government accepts the bona fides of the LVF’s offer, it will arrange to have its weapons transported under escort to Dublin where they will be disposed off in a foundry, said to be the only facility suitable for the job in Ireland.