By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Loyalist Volunteer Force turned in nine guns to be decommissioned Friday, the first time an Irish paramilitary group has voluntarily turned in its weapons.
Though historic in that sense, the timing of the LVF gesture, which took place within five hours of the agreement on cross-border bodies and the size of the Executive, was seen by many as timed to bring maximum pressure on the IRA to follow suit.
On Friday morning, an RUC escort brought the LVF weapons from Portadown, the group’s heartland, to the headquarters of the International Commission on Decommissioning at Dundonald, near Stormont. There, an inventory of the weapons was compiled and the weapons chopped into pieces.
Among the weapons to be destroyed were two sub-machine guns, seven other guns, 350 rounds of ammunition, two dozen shotgun shells, six detonators and two pipe bombs.
Kenny McClinton, a former double-life sentence prisoner and loyalist paramilitary-turned-pastor who acts as the LVF linkman, said if he as a "humble pastor" could persuade the LVF to decommission, then surely Gerry Adams could do the same for the IRA.
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Sinn Fein was skeptical, but the most skeptical of all were David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson, the two main spokesman for the PUP, which is linked with the UVF [from which the LVF split after dissidents, including the LVF’s leader, Billy Wright, who was shot dead in the Maze last Christmas, opposed its cease-fire].
"I think the LVF stuff in recent weeks has been what could be described at this time of year as a Christmas farce," Ervine said. "I think it’s a nonsense. I’m sorry to have to tell you it won’t make a damn button of difference to the larger paramilitary organizations.
"I don’t think that either republicans or loyalists will be affected. They will look at that [LVF decommissioning] as quite a debacle, an absolute nonsense, and I think the whole theory of decommissioning is losing credibility as we speak.
"If we look at the nefarious activities of the LVF. They came into existence to destroy the prospect of coming to an agreement. Is someone trying to tell me that they’re disposing of their weapons in order to help the agreement? I think not."