King Rat ultimatum puts peace to test

The Protestant paramilitary death threat against a leading Portadown loyalist yesterday developed into a political controversy which could have far-reaching effects on the Northern Ireland talks process.

Billy Wright, 36, a former Ulster Volunteer Force prisoner, said that he intended to defy the "directive" from all three major loyalist paramilitary organisations to leave Northern Ireland by midnight on Saturday.

A statement from the "Combined Loyalist Military Command" on Wednesday warned him that failure to leave would result in "summary justice". But Mr Wright responded: "I suppose if they don't move, their words are empty, but I think they will find it very hard to justify to the Unionist people, and even their own members, for what this is - a form of fascism."

His refusal to leave means that the issue has turned into a major test of the authority of the UVF, the Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commandos. It could also develop into a test of the state of extreme Protestant opinion, as the paramilitary leaderships favour maintaining their ceasefire while Mr Wright favours ending it.

The affair reached into the political arena yesterday when the two main Unionist parties, David Trimble's Ulster Unionists and the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, opened a campaign to have the two smaller loyalist parties excluded from the multi-party talks due to resume in Belfast next month.

The smaller parties, the Progressive Unionists and the Ulster Democratic party, have close links with the UVF and UDA and are regarded by many as the political wings of the two paramilitary groups. The mainstream unionist complaint is that the two parties should not be allowed to remain at the table while their parent organisations are issuing public death threats.

The PUP's spokesman, David Ervine, made clear in a series of interviews that he did not approve of the "directive" to Mr Wright, but he resisted pressure to issue an outright condemnation of the move. Saying he was "not in the business of the politics of condemnation", he added: "The word 'condemnation', if you want me to use it, I won't use it. I simply won't use it for one reason because it doesn't work, it hasn't saved a single life in Northern Ireland."

Peter Robinson, the DUP's deputy leader, wrote to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, urging him to suspend the PUP and UDP from the talks process. "Somebody who goes around threatening to kill people if they don't get out of the country is hardly behaving as one is expected to within a democracy," he said.

John Taylor, the Ulster Unionist's deputy leader, said the PUP had to condemn the threat to Mr Wright. "When the UVF and other paramilitaries are threatening murder of a loyalist, we are asking the PUP to condemn it," he said. "If the PUP do not, they would leave themselves in the same position as Sinn Fein."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Teleradiology s...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator - Out of Hours

£19000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Telera...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn