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Northern Ireland loyalists get rid of their weapons

In a move hailed as momentous, loyalist organisations in Belfast announcedyesterday that they are abandoning the weaponry they used to kill a thousand people in the Northern Ireland troubles.

Although there was little or no sense of celebration in Belfast, the development was generally regarded as an important milestone in the peace process.

The organisations involved, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, are the most important groupings in the loyalist paramilitary underworld.

The UVF declared that all its guns had been rendered "totally and irreversibly beyond use", adding: "The war is over; the weapons have been pitched beyond use and we move on."

The UDA said it had decommissioned some guns and intended to rid itself of the rest. It added: "The struggle has ended. Decent democracy has been secured and the need for armed resistance has gone. The dark days are now behind us. It is a day of hope and joy."

The announcements were welcomed by the British and Irish governments, which for years have been pushing the organisations towards disarmament, and by the Catholic Church and others.

The IRA placed its arms beyond use several years ago, and the loyalists had been urged to follow suit. But progress in this direction proved desperately slow, partly because some loyalist elements have been heavily involved in money-making criminality.

In the end, however, the overall sense that "the troubles" have ceased had its effect, as did government warnings that decommissioning should be undertaken sooner rather than later.