DUP: We’ll still work with group linked to UDA

The UPRG said on Monday that the UDA still existed and has no plans to dissolve
The UPRG said on Monday that the UDA still existed and has no plans to dissolve

The DUP would still work with a group closely linked to the UDA, despite a declaration that the paramilitary organisation has no intention of disbanding.

A party spokesman said on Tuesday night that while it does not endorse the UPRG’s views, it will not “shy away” from working with such groups.

UDA mural, south Belfast, 2007 (using the cover name of the UFF)

UDA mural, south Belfast, 2007 (using the cover name of the UFF)

The UPRG was founded over a decade ago as the political voice of the UDA, and has various branches around the Province.

Its south Belfast district – where leadership figure Jackie McDonald is based – announced on Monday that the UDA still exists and has no plans to dissolve.

The DUP is currently boycotting almost all activity at Stormont because of suspected ongoing PIRA activity.

The party and other unionists had stood alongside UPRG figures during the “graduated response” to the north Belfast Twelfth of July parade in 2013.

UDA mural, west Belfast

UDA mural, west Belfast

Asked about this, and about whether it could work with the UPRG in the future, a DUP spokesman pointed out that they have been in government with Sinn Fein.

“We know about their position, their involvement and the organisation they’re linked to,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean we condone that.”

Provided a group was “moving in a peaceful direction,” the party would not “shy away” from working with them, he told the News Letter.

He said the graduated response had helped deliver a peaceful Twelfth in 2014, adding: “When it’s the right thing to do, whether it’s going into government with Sinn Fein, which many people found difficult, or working with groups from the loyalist community to deliver a peaceful outcome to a situation, we’ll do that, we’ll keep doing that.”

He added that anyone breaking the law, republican or loyalist, should be prosecuted.

Sinn Fein said unionists’ silence over the UDA had been “deafening”.

It said: “This is the same UDA which murdered Brian McIlhagga earlier this year and which has continued its involvement in pipe bombings, intimidation, arson, drug dealing and extortion over the past number of years.

“This is the same organisation, which nailed a man’s hands to a table in July.

“This is the same UDA whose political wing unionism stood shoulder to shoulder with in an effort to force an Orange march through a nationalist community.”

The UUP, which also took part in the graduated response along with the UPRG, also defended it as helping to ensure a peaceful summer.

A statement said: “The difference between the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin on this issue is that we are not in denial about the existence of any paramilitary organisation.

“When we withdrew from the NI Executive, we explicitly called on the UDA, UVF and the rest to go away, taking their paramilitary flags off our lampposts.

“For the UDA, or any other such grouping, to claim they exist to protect their community is outrageous in 2015, when it is clear members of all these groups are involved in community control and oppression and organised criminality.”

Jim Allister of the TUV said: “I don’t think there’s a place for or a need for any paramilitary organisation, and I think the message to them all is the same.”

He was asked about the fact the TUV had also shared a platform with the UPRG in the “graduated response”.

He said: “I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with a cause. The graduated response was supposed to be about righting the wrongs in terms of the denial of basic human rights in Twaddell.

“It’s that cause that I was very much prepared to associate myself with. I’m not associating myself with others of whatever ilk.”