30 years of Loyalist ceasefires is enough. Time for disbandment – Nesbitt

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30 years of Loyalist ceasefires is enough. Time for disbandment – Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has called for 2024 to be the year Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups finally disband. The call reflects the fact that October 2024 will see the 30th anniversary of the ceasefires declared by the Combined Loyalist Military Command on behalf of the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando in 1994.

Mike Nesbitt said: “These groups declared ceasefires from midnight on the 13th October 1994. That means they have been on “ceasefire” longer that they were active, given the modern UVF dates back to 1965/66 and the UDA was formed in 1971. The question arises, why are they still around? And for whose benefit? I urge all with influence to set this 30th anniversary to be the hard deadline for these groups to fully disarm, demobilise and reintegrate.

“I understand there are individuals and sub-groups who wish to take no further part in these organisations. Their fear is that if they leave the stage, they create a vacuum others will fill to the detriment of their local community. There are others who are inextricably wedded to criminality and lining their own pockets, practising drug dealing, racketeering and coercive control of individuals, families and communities. This must stop.

“My discussions in 2023 convince me the issue extends beyond criminal justice. Indeed, the problem is so large and deep-rooted we cannot reasonably expect the PSNI with current resources to deal with it alone. We must tackle deprivation, dereliction, educational underachievement and a host of societal issues.

“There are many loyalists who have commitment and energy they would like to use for the benefit of their local community. We need to explore if we can offer them pathways to do that. Pathway is not a euphemism for money. To be clear, I mean no cash, no sweeteners, no rewards for stopping doing what you should not have started in the first place. Rather, hope of better.

“What I believe would be a useful start is to identify if there is a common understanding of the much-used term “transition”. Members of the criminal justice system encouraged me last year to engage in loyalism to try to get their definition of the term. It is a matter of regret and annoyance that the Loyalist Communities Council turned down my request to meet to discuss that definition when I made an approach last June.

“I emphasise my intent is to end the harm. I understand many who were victimised in the 1970s, 80s and 90s may be repulsed by my desire to engage these groups. I wish to acknowledge that hurt but state my motivation is to end the creation of more victims today, tomorrow and forever.”