The Ulster Defense Association (UDA) has been warned that it will lose $2.5 million in government funding unless it begins to decommission its weapons within 60 days.
Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie, whose government department funds the UDA-linked Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI) project, warned she would stop the finances in October unless there were clear signs that the UDA had ended all criminal activity and begun decommissioning.
Ritchie’s ultimatum came after the UDA was blamed for orchestrating recent loyalist violence, including gun attacks on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde had said that he would not even give 50 pence to the UDA following the attacks on his officers.
Issuing her ultimatum to the UDA, Ritchie said, “The funding will end 60 days from now unless there is clear and demonstrable evidence that the UDA has engaged meaningfully with the IICD (Independent Inter-national Commission for Decommissioning) and has started to decommission its weapons.
She warned the UDA and its UPRG political wing, that they were now at the “last chance saloon.”
“It is time that the UPRG (Ulster Political Research Group) and the UDA’s actions matched the rhetoric,” she said.
“It is not on to say that decommissioning is not on the agenda.
“Decommissioning weapons, ending criminality and stopping extortion are the agenda.”
However, UPRG spokesman Frankie Gallagher claimed his party had assured Ms Ritchie that it wanted to move the UDA away from paramilitarism during a meeting between the two sides hours before the announcement.
“Conflict transformation was never achieved by ultimatums, nothing ever was,” he said.
“We all want the same thing. I want what Margaret Ritchie wants. The paramilitaries who are talking to me want paramilitarism ended.
“They want to move into a new dispensation where they can reap the benefits, the same as everybody else. Irish Republicans have done it, they have done it very well, but their community still needs a lot more.
“I want to do that, the UDA is saying they want to do that, we all want to do it.”
However, within hours of the threat to withdraw UDA funding Ritchie’s party colleague John Dallat was warned by the PSNI that Loyalists were planning to kill him.
Dallat said he believes the threat was directly connected to his support for the withdrawal of UDA funding.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence this latest threat has came just as my party colleague announced her decision to withdraw funding,” he said.
“I have of course received threats in the past and on each and every occasion they came from the UDA.”
Dallat said he would not be intimidated into altering his stance.