It said in a statement on Saturday that its units “have begun to observe a 12-month period of military inactivity” with reviews every three months. It also pledged to end drug dealing.
The announcement came within 48 hours of Northern Ireland’s new anti-corruption and organized crime squad, the Assets Recovery Agency, beginning its work.
The UDA’s political front, the Ulster Political Research Group, made the announcement and said the move was motivated by its wish to go down a political path. Its previous political front, the Ulster Democratic Party, led by Gary McMichael, was dissolved 18 months ago.
The UDA declared, in part: “As from Feb. 21, 2003, all units of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Young Militants in mainland Britain and in Northern Ireland have begun to observe a 12-month period of military inactivity. . . . An agreed, acceptable and equitable final settlement will produce even greater peace and stability within the confines of our beloved Ulster. We would urge the Dublin Government and the British Government to be less dictatorial during any new negotiations.”
It also claimed that it would be submitting a new name to the international decommissioning body in Belfast to enter into discussions on disarmament but added, “On decommissioning our stance remains the same, whenever we are confident that the Republican Movement have decommissioned fully, we will then fully respond.”
Entitling its proposals the “John Gregg Initiative,” in memory of the UDA’s leader who was killed earlier this month in a bitter feud with supporters of Johnny Adair, the UDA said it would become a “faceless” organization.
UPRG member and Castlereagh councilor Frankie Gallagher said the UDA hoped that by taking “the bomb, the guns, the pipe bombs and even some of the verbal attacks out of the whole environment,” it would put republicans on the defensive.
British Northern Secretary Paul Murphy said the UDA statement was a “positive move” but one that must result in a permanent end to paramilitary activity in all of its aspects.
The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, said it was a huge step forward, although he would rather the UDA had “gone the whole hog” and disbanded forthwith.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan gave a “qualified welcome” to the announcement. “If it means saving lives, then people will welcome it,” he said. “A qualified ceasefire from a dubious group can only get a qualified welcome from a skeptical community.” The UDA statement came after months of feuding, with renegade Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair finally being sent back to jail and his supporters, including his wife and children, being forced out of the Shankill Road to Scotland.
Last week, the UDA also handed over to the police and the British army 15 pipe bombs and the components for more, saying it wanted to remove the potential threat to Protestants of even more feuding.
The pipe bombs had been in the control of Adair’s faction and it was also feared they were unstable and could explode spontaneously.
Loyalist sources have insisted it was not an act of decommissioning, claiming that General John de Chastelain’s international disarmament group was not involved to oversee the move.
The British government agreed, saying that the move, while welcome, could not be seen as an act of voluntary decommissioning. John Dallat, the SDLP assembly man in East Derry, said: “This would bring some reassurance to the countless Catholic families who have been the victims of a sustained campaign over several years.
“This should not be a cosmetic exercise to improve the UDA’s shattered image in the Shankill, but the beginning of the end of all paramilitary violence from every terror group.”