Loyalists cling on to high ground of peace

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The Independent Online
Northern Ireland is holding its breath this weekend as, on the second anniversary of their ceasefire, loyalist paramilitary groups decide whether to respond to the Lisburn bombings.

The UVF and other loyalist paramilitary organisations are yet to issue a response to the "no warning" twin bombings last week at the Army's Northern Ireland HQ, which killed army warrant officer Jim Bradwell.

David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) which is linked to paramilitary organisations, said in his address to the party's annual conference yesterday that he was hopeful that the ceasefire would prevail since loyalists currently held the high moral ground.

Mr Ervine urged a continued push for peace no matter what the paramilitaries decided, but said that he himself was "locked outside the door" of any Loyalist paramilitary decision. It was "unfair" to ask him what decision the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) would take, as he could not speak for them, he said.

Mr Ervine urged his party to "forget about the IRA", describing them as increasingly marginalised and "outside any political philosophy" that could conceivably join a talks process. He stressed that responsibility for moving talks on lay not just with Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume or himself but also other constitutional unionist leaders.

"I know in my heart of hearts that the people want peace, irrespective of where they place their X," he said. He believed the balance of responsibility for peace should be shifted from the loyalist paramilitaries. "They can give us the absence of violence but they can't give us peace," he said. "There must be movement in the talks and, I hesitate to say in case it's misunderstood, there had better be movement in the talks."

Gusty Spence, who was the first UVF member to be convicted for murder and is now an advocate for peace, said the CLMC were "very secretive" people who would be unlikely to make any decision public. But he said the PUP "could go no further" in trying to maintain the ceasefire. He saw hope in "the new level of sophistication" in the loyalist paramilitary leadership, adding: "We can see world opinion, and I think it's important that loyalists hold on."

n Former US Senator George Mitchell, who is chairing the Northern Ireland political talks, may soon leave his post, plunging the ailing "peace process" into fresh uncertainty, writes Paul Routledge.

Mr Mitchell, who kept the warring factions at the negotiating table over the last four months, is tipped to succeed Warren Christopher as Secretary of State if, as expected, President Clinton wins a second term of office next month. His departure would force London and Dublin to find another chairman for the talks, a process that consumed several months in early summer.

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