Loyalist paramilitaries invited to Queen's Ireland visit

14th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

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 Britain.

The UDA, which stood down its armed campaign in 2007, is listed on the website of Britain's Home Office interior ministry as 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 if they will meet Queen Elizabeth, given the ramped-up security operation surrounding her visit.

However, 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 intend 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.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), a paramilitary watchdog, said in its last report in March that the UDA's decommissioning of weapons represented a major step forward and a determined break with the past.

It also found there were no grounds which indicated they were involved in sectarian attacks over the previous six months and the leadership did not want to return to old ways.

However, the IMC said that some UDA members were involved in a variety of illegal activity, some of it serious. Suspected drug dealers had been assaulted or intimidated, it reported.

The IMC added: "We cannot rule out that some weapons were retained in parts of the organisation. We also believe that some elements tried to obtain other weapons."

© 2011 AFP

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