Northern Ireland

People power at Moffett funeral

Funeral of Bobby Moffett
Image caption Mourners lined the streets for the funeral of Bobby Moffett

The UVF's grip on Belfast's Shankill Road is being challenged by a new weapon - people power.

The huge turnout at the funeral of UVF murder victim Bobby Moffett showed that the days when the paramilitary group could describe itself as the "people's army" in loyalist areas are long gone.

In spite of threats not to attend Mr Moffett's funeral, the crowd was so large that part of the Shankill Road had to be closed to traffic.

Some of the threats were sent by telephone text message.

One teenager who put 'Bobby Moffett RIP' on his Facebook page was ordered by the UVF to take it off immediately.

Nonetheless, it did not stop hundreds of men, women and children turning out at the former prisoner's funeral.

All the shops closed as a mark of respect, from the bakery to the butcher to the bank.

'Anger'

The sea of people on the Shankill Road, most of them dressed in black, sent a powerful signal to the UVF and their gunmen.

One young man said: "Hopefully the paramilitaries will now disband. We don't need them no more."

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said the large turnout could be a turning point for the UVF.

He said: "I believe that the outpouring of grief and anger among ordinary people on the Shankill at what happened to Bobby Moffett is - I hope and pray - a watershed moment in terms of Belfast, the Shankill and Northern Ireland.

"People have said 'enough is enough now, we don't want any more of this violence intimidation and killing'.

"The ordinary people have voted by their presence today for an end to all of this paramilitarism and gangsterism."

During the Troubles, the UVF killed almost 500 people, most of them Catholics.

It called a ceasefire in 1994 and last year it claimed to have decommissioned all of its weapons.

Even though it continues to say it supports the peace process, it remains a paramilitary force.

What it lacks is any political voice at Stormont. The head of its political wing, Dawn Purvis, resigned on Thursday as leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and will now sit in the Stormont Assembly as an independent.

'Hope'

The danger is that the UVF without any political control will lose any sense of self-control.

However, there remains the hope that the public outrage over the killing of Bobby Moffett will now silence the guns.

At the end of the funeral, a middle-aged Belfast woman turned to me and said: "This all has to stop.

"The Troubles are over. We want to live in peace, without any gunmen coming and shooting our own people."

The woman did not want to give her name. She said she was too scared to be identified.

It was a telling moment.

Yes, people are now prepared to take a stand against the UVF.

But there is still a fear factor.

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