Yesterday the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) announced at long last that it would no longer use terrorism in pursuit of its aims.
Veteran loyalist Gusty Spence read out a statement (which also applies to the Red Hand Commando) yesterday morning. From midnight (on 4 May) the UVF would " assume a non-military, civilianised, role". All recruitment and training would cease, all active service units would be deactivated and all weapons put “beyond reach”. (beyond reach means it gives up no weapons. This is an issue that will have to be resolved)
The statement also addressed criminality among its members: " we state unequivocally, that any volunteer engaged in criminality does so in direct contravention of Brigade Command and thus we welcome any recourse through due process of law."
The UVF had declared a ceasefire in 1994 but but since then its members have been blamed for more than 20 murders. In 2005, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain ceased to recognise their cease fire following rioting in which shots were fired at the police.
The statement has been welcomed: Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd said: "This is a welcome statement if it signals a recognition of the new political reality where there is no room for armed or violent actions." Peter Robinson of the DUP said: "The decision that the UVF is moving to a civilian mode is undoubtedly a major development and it is critical that all paramilitary groups follow this clear path."
At the same time yesterday, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were in Scotland to meet Chancellor Gordon Brown to push the case for a generous "peace dividend" for Northern Ireland. Gordon Mr Brown had promised major investment if a stable power-sharing Executive was re-established at Stormont.
It is high time the UVF has finally renounced terrorism. Republican and loyalist violence achieved absolutely nothing but creating several thousand dead. On the other hand watching Paisley and McGuinness (seemingly and certainly against all expectations) working together within a political framework shows what should have been happening all along.