Ford: Legal Red Hand Commando could continue to control communities

Red Hand Commando mural in the Shankill area of north-west Belfast
Red Hand Commando mural in the Shankill area of north-west Belfast

A former Stormont justice minister has expressed concern about the potential for paramilitary groups to use legalisation to allow them to continue exerting control over their communities.

Former Alliance leader David Ford said that the application by the Red Hand Commando to be de-proscribed raised numerous questions and that his party would be writing to both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State about the issue.

The South Antrim MLA made the comments after the illegal terrorist group revealed on Monday that it has made an application to be legalised and said that it had not been involved in terrorism or any other form of criminality for more than a decade.

Mr Ford said: “While there are many questions that need answered, a key issue is why they are now seeking to be de-proscribed, rather than disbanding, especially as a number of other loyalist groups remain in place.

“Described as a test case within loyalist circles, the concern is how this could hinder our progress in ending paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, with groups like these using legal channels to continue exerting control over their communities.”

Mr Ford said that there was a need for a strategy to eradicate paramilitarism by “breaking down the structures that exist, not facilitating ongoing community control and organised crime under a veneer of respectability”.

The former minister also said that there was a need to “remember the victims and survivors of attacks carried out by the Red Hand Commando and other paramilitary groups”.