Loyalist paramilitaries invited to Queen's Ireland visit
A Northern Ireland paramilitary group said Saturday it has been invited by the Irish president to a wreath-laying ceremony during Queen Elizabeth II's state visit to Ireland.
Five brigadiers from the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) have been invited to Wednesday's event commemorating the Irish soldiers who died in World War I serving in the British armed forces.
Loyalists are Protestants who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The UDA, which stood down its armed campaign in 2007, is listed on the website of Britain's Home Office interior ministry as being a banned terrorist organisation.
It was responsible for many deaths during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, the three decades of sectarian strife which was largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.
The UDA brigadiers and around 30 others drawn from their respective districts have been invited to the ceremony through the office of Irish President Mary McAleese.
South Belfast brigadier Jackie McDonald told AFP: "This represents progress. It is a recognition of work being done. Others could learn from this."
The brigadiers have not been told they will meet Queen Elizabeth, given the ramped-up security operation surrounding her visit.
However, having been invited, it is thought likely that they will meet Belfast-born McAleese, whose husband Martin has been involved in community work with UDA leaders for several years.
Queen Elizabeth's four-day state visit gets under way on Tuesday. It will be the first time that a British monarch has set foot in the Republic of Ireland since independence from Britain in 1922.
The queen and McAleese were to lay wreaths at the Irish National War Memorial Garden in Dublin, which is dedicated to the 49,400 Irish soldiers killed in World War I.
© 2011 AFP