Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, yesterday accused the UDA of involvement in three of the eight recent killings which have brought such fear to the streets of Belfast.
In doing so he presented the Government and the others involved in the multi-party Stormont talks with a crucial dilemma. One option is to seek to expel the UDA's political wing, the Ulster Democratic party, on the grounds that its continued presence at Stormont is making a mockery of the political processes.
The other option is to allow its officials to stay in the hope that the UDP might help curb the UDA's excesses by eventually exerting some semblance of political influence over the gunmen. Their ejection, most observers agree, would damage the prospects for a successful talks outcome and might propel the UDA towards violence on an even greater larger scale.
Mr Flanagan said he had no doubt that the UDA had been involved in the murders of Edmund Treanor, Larry Brennan and Ben Hughes, three of the six Catholic civilians to die since Christmas. He cited intelligence reports and forensic and other evidence, adding that he had briefed Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland fully on the matter.
Earlier this month Ms Mowlam went to the Maze prison to meet representatives of UDA inmates who were critical of the peace process. This had an immediate effect in that the prisoners reversed their position and recommended that the UDP stay in the talks.
Gary McMichael, the UDP's leader, remained in denial yesterday, insisting that his information was that the organisation was not involved with the recent killings. "We are hearing internally from UFF [UDA] sources who are saying no, it's nothing to do with them," he said.
Mr Flanagan also said he had established a special team aimed at co-ordinating security force efforts against the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which carried out the other three recent killings of Catholics.
Appealing for public co- operation he went on: "We've re-deployed our resources and we're paying particular attention to the interfaces. We've drafted in additional resources to Belfast where the interface areas provide us with particular problems and provide particular opportunities for the killings such as we've seen."
In relation to republican violence, he blamed the IRA for a recent attempted killing which was claimed in the name of the fictional "Direct Action Against Drugs [DAAD]." He added: "I think the IRA undoubtedly continue to pose us all a serious threat and that has to be worrying. Just examine what they're saying - if we don't get our way we will resume killing and bombing and shooting. What place in any civilised democracy have people who think that way?" He was referring to Wednesday's ominous IRA statement which said the document recently introduced in the talks did not offer a basis for lasting peace. The Chief Constable added however: "I think the cessation in their terms holds and is in no imminent risk of breaking down."
The funerals took place yesterday of two of the victims of the violence. Loyalist Jim Guiney, who was shot dead on Monday, was buried with some paramilitary trappings, the procession marshalled by black-coated stewards.
Across the city the funeral took place of Larry Brennan, the Catholic taxi-driver killed 12 hours later in a UDA revenge killing. The Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, accused politicians of not doing enough to condemn recent killings. He declared: "Over the last few days our elected leaders have all condemned in some words or other what has been happening on our streets. But their voices are fragmented. Surely on this major issue, the issue of life and death, they must now speak out with one united voice."
At Downing Street Tony Blair met Lord Alderdice, leader of the moderate Alliance Party. Lord Alderdice said later: "The two governments, if they take any heed of what the Chief Constable says, have got to haul in the UDP and say to them quite clearly - 'You have two choices. One is that you remove yourselves from any association with such terrorists, or the other that you remove yourselves from the talks'."Reuse content