Loyalist delegation set to visit US

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The Independent Online
A DELEGATION of six senior loyalist figures from fringe parties close to the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association has been invited to the United States later this month, it was confirmed yesterday.

The group is expected to be headed by Augustus 'Gusty' Spence, the one-time UVF life prisoner who this week made the announcement of the loyalist paramilitary groups' ceasefire. They have been invited by the same organisation that brought the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, to the US for the first time in February, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

The delegation is scheduled to fly to the US on 23 October, to carry out engagements in New York, Boston and Washington. These will include attending a lunch at New York City University and a conference in Boston. It is not known whether the group will seek meetings with members of the Clinton administration.

Although the visit has been planned for some time, there will be added interest in it because of the loyalist ceasefire which was declared on Thursday morning and which came into effect at midnight on Thursday night.

The delegation is expected to consist of three members of the Progressive Unionist Party, including Mr Spence, David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson. They are to be joined by three members of the Ulster Democratic Party, led by councillor Gary McMichael.

The PUP is identified with the UVF, and the UDP with the UDA. Four members of the group will require visa waivers since they have been to prison in the course of the Troubles, and it is understood that they have applied for these.

Given the loyalist ceasefire and the fact that waivers have twice been granted to Gerry Adams, it seems unlikely that the loyalists will be prevented from travelling to the US. The expected visit means that many elements of the political and paramilitary spectrum in Northern Ireland will have established relations with sections in the US.

Gerry Adams, who is on his way back to Ireland after a lengthy tour of the US and Canada, said yesterday that his visit had 'enormously exceeded any expectations'. He claimed that there was 'considerable bewilderment and frustration at the negative and unhelpful stance' of the British government.

Welcoming the loyalist ceasefire, Mr Adams called on the British and Irish governments to open talks involving all parties. Sinn Fein yesterday circulated copies of a New York Times editorial which suggested that John Major should announce plans to scale down the British presence

in Northern Ireland and set the stage for talks among all parties.

In Belfast, meanwhile, a Presbyterian minister who has been involved in close contacts with loyalist paramilitary groups praised the Conservative MP Michael Mates for facilitating an important meeting with loyalist prisoners earlier this week.

The meeting in the Maze prison between senior loyalist figures and UVF and UDA prisoners took place on Monday. The Rev Roy Magee said Mr Mates had successfully urged the authorities to allow loyalists into the jail for the talks, which he said had been helpful in the run-up to the ceasefire.

(Photograph omitted)

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