UDA name-change may mark end of era

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THE UDA has begun using the name Ulster Defence Union (UDU) – which it has previously said it planned to use when officially standing down as a paramilitary organisation.

The UDU name appeared yesterday in death notices for north Belfast loyalist Sammy Duddy, who died last week.

Messages from England and North Ayrshire, where the Ulster Defence Association has branches, were inserted under the UDU banner – believed to be the first public use of the new name.

The notices in the Belfast Telegraph will fuel weekend speculation that the UDA could announce it will be officially re-modelling itself as the UDU from Remembrance Sunday, November 11, becoming an old boys' association and community-based grouping.

Senior UDA sources last night confirmed that the UDA "will still make a significant statement on November 11".

But they advised the News Letter: "Don't get carried away with speculation at the moment".

UDA members have been asked to buy UDU ties for Remembrance Sunday – at 5 each.

But at this stage, there will certainly be no disarmament announcement in the Remembrance Day message, and it is unclear if rumours that the murderous Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) wing of the UDA is to be stood down.

All of these moves have been known to be coming for a long time. They were due to have happened last November, until the St Andrews Agreement talks got in the way and unionists became preoccupied with republican support for policing, the Irish language proposals and other issues.

A UDA source said: "Weekend reports of how the UDA will proceed are not far off the mark but the time and timescale are not necessarily on the mark.

"There will be a very major Remembrance Day statement but its contents can only be speculated on because we are in a developing situation right now given the Margaret Ritchie/Conflict Transformation Initiative situation.

"People need to be satisfied there's a will among the governments to assist the loyalist community and that is not the feeling right now.

"If the CTI was sustained, that might be enough to make the moves you've talked about possible. But it is still up in the air."

The UDA moves away from paramilitarism were discussed and consulted upon widely within the organisation, with a series of detailed presentations in 2006.

Loyalists in England, Scotland and Wales were also consulted and briefed and are on message, in terms of the move to the UDU name.

The idea is to defend the Union peacefully and to support loyalist areas through community initiatives and different means of empowerment, such as improving the skills and employment bases.

The 1.2 million CTI emerged from these plans to move away from the UDA's paramilitarism, wind down the organisation and break with criminal associations.