John Manley Political Correspondent
23 June, 2023 14:47
The British government has insisted it has no plans to lavish loyalist paramilitaries with cash in a bid to quell opposition to the Windsor Framework.
The rebuttal comes amid growing speculation that a financial package could be put in place, ostensibly aimed at helping the UDA and UVF transition away from paramilitarism.
One unionist source told The Irish News that they believed the recent visit to the north by Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair Simon Hoare was related to a potential “bung” aimed at pacifying loyalists.
Earlier this month, the Tory MP held separate meetings with senior UDA and UVF figures.
It is understood the discussions on June 5 and 6 focused on paramilitary groups “transitioning” and exploring what would be necessary for them to move to support the Windsor Framework.
Mr Hoare also met a women’s group, a community justice organisation, public sector representatives, former Stormont special advisers and Orange Order grand secretary Mervyn Gibson.
The Westminster committee chair said he attended the meetings in a “purely personal capacity” and that the talks were designed to inform the MPs’ discussion on paramilitary activity and organised crime.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna said previous British government funding packages designed to help loyalists move away from crime hadn’t always been successful.
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“Paramilitary gangs involved in the drugs trade, racketeering and the worst kinds of criminality that is coercing and blighting communities across Northern Ireland will never be appeased. Sweetening the pension pots of criminal chiefs doesn’t help us move on – it entrenches the control they have in communities desperate to be free of them,” she told The Irish News.
“I sincerely hope that the UK government would not consider such a move given the experience we’ve had of paying off paramilitaries over the last 25 years.”
Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood said 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement there was no reason for paramilitary groups to exist.
She also voiced concern that public money could be used to appease loyalists.
“Too often in our past, money has been thrown at these groups in order to get them to transition away from violence, often without success – in 2023, there is no need for any new processes, negotiations or financial incentives to get them to do so,” the Lagan Valley representative said.
“Given the current financial challenges facing our society, we should instead be looking to invest money in areas such as education, health and infrastructure, instead of into paramilitaries.”
But the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) rubbished suggestions that it planned any funding related to appeasing loyalists.
It said any claim that a package would be put in place to quell loyalist opposition to the Windsor Framework was “categorically and factually incorrect”.
“The Windsor Framework is the best deal for the people of Northern Ireland and has already been formally adopted by the UK government and the European Union,” the NIO statement said.
The statement also stressed that Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is “entirely separate from the NIO and its chairman has made clear that his recent visit was in no way connected to government”.