Political and civic leaders give guarded welcome to loyalist commitment

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the referendum result has no impact on the law in Northern Ireland
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the referendum result has no impact on the law in Northern Ireland

Church and political leaders have welcomed the statement from loyalist paramilitaries heralding an end to criminal activity.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the main paramilitary groupings – Red Hand Commando, Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) – pledged to support the rule of law and expel members who engage in criminal activity.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “It is time for those who use criminality to get off the backs of their communities. Their objectives are not political but rather power and profit. I support the police in putting them out of business and behind bars once and for all.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann also welcomed the loyalist declaration, but said it is “long past time that those who continue to threaten and exert control over communities in Northern Ireland were gone. They must pack up and get off the backs of our people, or face the inside of a jail cell”.

Presbyterian moderator Rev Dr Noble McNeely said that when people “genuinely desire to move away from violence and criminality ... that is clearly something to be welcomed and encouraged”.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry gave the statement a “guarded welcome,” but added: “It will be actions that will determine the scope and sincerity of this new commitment.”

The NI Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said: “We particularly welcome the clear statement of support for the rule of law and the rejection of criminality which preys on those working-class communities.”

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the statement “reaffirms the commitment of loyalism to the [Good Friday] Agreement and to the peace process.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said: “The public want an end to their ongoing recruitment, their procurement of weapons and an end to their existence.”

Methodist president Rev Dr Laurence Graham said he was “encouraged” by the declaration and that he commends the “rejection and repudiation of any criminal action purporting to have been carried out by people claiming membership of any of their organisations”.