Loyalist paramilitaries should just “go away”, Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer has warned.
Although George Hamilton welcomed a so-called statement of “transition” from the Red Hand Commando, Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association, he has questioned the need for their existence.
The PSNI chief constable said: “We shouldn’t be having statements about how they are going to be slightly less bad in the future.
“They should just go away.”
Loyalists were responsible for dozens of sectarian killings during the Troubles and have been behind drug dealing, racketeering, extortion and prostitution in more recent years.
However, in a joint statement issued on Monday, the three paramilitary groups announced an intention to endorse the rule of law and expel members engaged in crime.
Mr Hamilton added: “They don’t have legitimacy and I don’t really understand why they exist in any shape or form, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.
“The CLMC (Combined Loyalist Military Command) statement of 1994 wasn’t that far removed from what we have seen in this statement and we probably had more optimism around that because it was the start of something new. It was a political process, political parties were engaged.
“Now we have this statement - it has been in the making for many months - but it is coming out to coincide with the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and it is sort of shame on them that they still exist.”
Tackling the scourge of paramilitarism and transitioning communities was a key element of the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement.
Up to £50 million has been ring-fenced for programmes over five years.
Last year, a new taskforce involving the PSNI, National Crime Agency and HM Customs and Revenue was set up to target those involved in illegal activity.
To date, 47 people have been arrested and 44 have been charged with a range of offences.
There have been almost 200 searches with drugs, cash, illicit tobacco products among the items seized.
Mr Hamilton said police would continue to pursue those involved in criminality.
“I think the pressure that has been brought to bear in the last year has been significant,” he said.
“I don’t want anybody to be under the misapprehension that because of this statement the pressure will come off. We are flat out at this, it is ring-fenced Fresh Start money and we are going to continue along with colleagues in the National Crime Agency and HMRC to enforce the law, to disrupt and dismantle these paramilitary organised crime groups.”
There are “no grey areas”, the senior officer added.
“It is not a case of us taking the pressure off, because this statement has been made.
“We will actively pursue and investigate any individual involved in criminality - whether they belong to a paramilitary group or not.”