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Statement by Paul Murphy on the Despecification of the UDA/UFF by the British Government, House of Commons, 15 November 2004

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Text: British Government ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by Paul Murphy, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the despecification of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) / Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) by the British Government, House of Commons, 15 November 2004


"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

I announced on Friday 12 November my intention to despecify the UDA, incorporating the UFF.

I signalled my intention to lay an Order before this House to give effect to that decision and today I have taken the earliest opportunity to do so.

This House will also be aware of the statement made yesterday by the Ulster Political Research Group on behalf of the UDA. I welcome that development which I think is positive and will say more about the detail in due course.

First, I want to explain my actions in terms of despecifying the UDA. I have reviewed the status of all specified and other paramilitary organisations, as I am obliged to do under legislation, and concluded there are sufficient grounds to despecify the UDA/UFF. For some time now there has been contact between my officials and their political representatives.

I, too, have recently met them. I view this as part of an overall strategy to bring final closure to the problems that have hindered progress in Northern Ireland and to set in place an inclusive future for all, based on an enduring political settlement. The UPRG announced a twelve-month period of "military inactivity" by the UDA/UFF, known as the "Gregg Initiative" on 23 February 2003 and announced an "indefinite extension" of the Gregg Initiative on 24 February 2004. I have taken advice from the Chief Constable and others and, as I am obliged to do under the terms of the Northern Ireland Sentences Act 1998, I have reviewed the status of all specified and other paramilitary organisations. It is my judgement, made in the round and having regard to the Act and other relevant issues that the UDA ceasefire is now holding and is genuine.

I appreciate that some may question this decision in light of negative comments in recent IMC reports. I have carefully studied both relevant IMC reports and support the strong language directed against a range of paramilitary organisations. But it is clear, between the first and second relevant reports, that there has been a reduction in UDA activity. Other material provided to me would endorse that view.

I am persuaded by the advice I have received that it is appropriate to despecify the organisation. I have taken this decision cautiously and prudently, considering the full consequences of my actions, and the effect on others, particularly victims. I am only too conscious of the impact on victims of violence and the terrible consequences of both sectarianism and feuding within communities. I would reassure victims that this Government has not forgotten their suffering and that we will continue to support and work with them.

But there is now an opportunity to move forward. The statement made yesterday by the UDA contained a number of important undertakings:

First, there is their commitment to work towards the day when, to use their own words, there will no longer be a need for the UDA or the UFF, their re-affirmation that the UDA will desist from all military activity and their declaration that the organisation’s strategy will focus on community development, job creation, social inclusion and community politics.

Second, there is their agreement to enter into a process with the government which will see the eradication of all paramilitary activity.

Third, there is confirmation that they will re-engage with the Decommissioning Commission, and indeed I understand that has already begun.

These undertakings - which are commitments, not aspirations - are positive ones. The government agrees with the UPRG when it says that the loyalist community’s enemies are issues such as poverty, social deprivation, drugs and crime, and we will work energetically with them and others to tackle those problems.

The other issue is to end paramilitarism, and we will be discussing equally urgently with them how this is to be achieved.

The UDA says that it wants lasting peace and that it can prove to the people of Northern Ireland that it can change. I believe it should be given the opportunity to do so.

However, the Government has always made clear that it would judge paramilitary organisations by their deeds, not just their words alone. So I will be watching the actions of the UDA very carefully over the coming weeks to ensure that they live up to the commitments that they have made. The UDA remains a proscribed organisation and the police will pursue relentlessly any criminal activity undertaken by its members or those of any other group.

In coming to a final judgment on this matter I would wish to acknowledge the work that has been done in terms of political leadership by the UPRG. I also want to recognize the contribution that members of other political parties have made to creating the conditions in which loyalism can take these important steps.

I also want to use this opportunity to call on other groups engaged in violent activity to take similar steps.

I know that the House will agree that the time has long since passed for all paramilitary groups, loyalist and republican, to cease their activities once and for all and to decommission the weapons which have brought so much suffering to the people of Northern Ireland. As my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister said in Belfast in 2002, the Government want to see all paramilitary groups complete the transition from violence to exclusively peaceful means. I believe that yesterday’s announcement by the UDA, together with political dialogue which is currently taking place with other interested parties, constitutes a significant step towards achieving this goal - a goal which unites every member of this House and every decent person in Northern Ireland."


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