By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has met members of the recently established Loyalist Commission, which includes top loyalist paramilitaries, to discuss their cease-fire.
Trimble met with the group, comprising paramilitaries, Protestant clergymen and loyalist community representatives, on Monday. He says he urged the UDA to reinstate its cease-fire and begin decommissioning.
The Commission includes members of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando group, and the larger Ulster Defence Association. Trimble, who helped create the Commission, said he was just one of a wide range of people invited to provide his analysis of the political situation.
This is understood to be the first time he has met all its members in the same room at once.
It is also understood that more general themes, such as loyalist disaffection from the political process, were also discussed. Last month, Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary of state, John Reid, met with representatives of the same commission.
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Reid declared the UDA and Loyalist Volunteer Force’s cease-fires broken following a wave of attacks in the North Belfast flashpoint last year. The Commission also includes two top UUP men, Lord Laird and David McNarry, who’s also a senior Orangeman.
It seems, however, that loyalist paramilitaries are not ready to begin dealing with their weapons, after the new leader of the PUP (linked to the UVF), David Ervine, said, “I have no evidence to suggest loyalism is about to move on decommissioning.”
Trimble came in for bitter criticism this week from his party’s own president, the MP for South Belfast, the Rev. Martin Smyth, who claimed the party leader’s attitude to IRA decommissioning would make party unity “problematic.”
Trimble had said the IRA’s second act of decommissioning would make anti-agreement unionists “look foolish.” Smyth disagreed, saying this “was an extraordinary way to implement the new-found party unity which our recent council meeting was told was developing.
“The leader may think many of us, including his party’s president, are fools. He is entitled to his opinion. However, those who will take a contrary opinion are also entitled to their view.”
Meanwhile, a Protestant community worker who helped to organize a visit by President Mary McAleese to a loyalist area of Derry has been threatened by loyalist paramilitaries.
Police confirmed they had advised Brian Dougherty, coordinator of the Tullyally District and Development Group, about his safety. Dougherty, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, has been told by police his home could be attacked by petrol bombers.
Graffiti and posters describing Dougherty as a traitor were erected on walls near his home prior to McAleese’s visit. The president was aware of the threats when she visited the group’s center.
“She spoke privately to Brian during her visit,” said Catherine Cooke, the group’s vice-chairperson. “She said she was aware that it was a difficult time for Brian.”
The area’s DUP assemblyman, William Hay, who is a close friend of Dougherty, described the threats as a tragedy. “I just can’t believe it, nor can any of the Protestant people of this city,” he said.
Also, a Catholic businessman was stabbed and beaten in a sectarian attack in Derry late on Thursday night. The incident happened as the businessman sat in his parked car close to the loyalist village of Newbuildings in the Waterside area.
Two masked men, one armed with a knife and the other with a baseball bat, pulled their victim from his car before assaulting him.
“The businessman had earlier distributed business leaflets in Newbuildings and his attackers told him that Fenians were not welcome in the village,” a police spokesman said.