Why loyalists must give up weapons now

LOYALIST paramilitaries must get wise to the fact that the time for decommissioning of their illegal weaponry is long past and they must heed the signs that if a voluntary handover is not made this year, the police, on Government instructions, will be coming their way.

This is the inevitable consequence of the limiting of the amnesty legislation at Westminster which has been extended for a year, but, significantly, will be reviewed in six months.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward had to concede to pressure from the Northern Ireland MPs and Opposition parties in the Commons for legislative strictures which will effectively place the paramilitary gangs in a “last chance” situation over the relinquishing of their guns.

Conservative MP Lawrence Robertson made a telling contribution in the Commons when he said of the paramilitaries: “They have had 11 years from the Belfast Agreement to decommission and they could do it this afternoon, so what why do they need another year?

“But this is the United Kingdom and there is no place for armed gangs in Gloucestershire, Manchester or in Northern Ireland.”

Law-abiding people, many of whom have lived under the sinister and intimidating shadow of the paramilitary organisations, will totally agree and, for Northern Ireland to move on as a normal, progressive society, all unlawful activity by loyalist and republican criminal gangs must end, for good.

On the back of concerns expressed at Westminster, DUP politicians have now agreed to meet senior figures in both the UDA and UVF and in this dialogue there is only one message that can be conveyed – the violence and criminality cannot continue and the weapons used to sustain the nefarious activity should be handed over, now.

Otherwise, the police, as the sole law-enforcement agency, must be allowed to pursue inquiries that will ultimately lead to prosecutions through the courts.