Northern Ireland

'All paramilitaries should disband,' says DUP's Foster

UDA mural Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Sinn Féin said Mrs Foster had questions to answer after her meeting with Ulster Defence Association leader Jackie McDonald

All paramilitary groups should be out of existence, the leader of Northern Ireland's largest party has said.

Asked if the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) should disband immediately, Arlene Foster said: "There should be no paramilitary organisations."

She condemned the supermarket car park murder of Colin Horner - a friend of murdered loyalist Geordie Gilmore.

"Let's be very clear, we condemn utterly the murder that occurred on Sunday," said Mrs Foster.

"Such a horrific murder in front of a child who will never be able to get over that.

"That will stay with that child for the rest of his young life.

UDA meeting

"And so I say without equivocation just to be clear that the UDA, the UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] and every paramilitary organisation should be out of existence."

She was then asked if she had communicated that message to UDA leader Jackie McDonald, who the BBC can reveal she met in south Belfast on Tuesday.

"I had no need to say it to Jackie McDonald," she said.

"Jackie McDonald knows my views very, very clearly.

"If people want to move away from criminality, from terrorism, we will help them to do that but anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity should stop, should desist and if they don't they should be open to the full rigour of the law."

But Sinn Féin said she had questions to answer after her meeting with Mr McDonald.

'Failed to face down extremism'

Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd said: "It beggars belief that only two days after the UDA murdered Colin Horner in Bangor that Arlene Foster did not challenge a senior UDA leader to disband the armed loyalist gang.

"The UDA has been involved in murders, pipe bombings, intimidation, arson, drug dealing and extortion over recent years," said Mr O'Dowd.

"There is a responsibility on all in political leadership to challenge the very existence of paramilitary groups.

"However, 20 years on since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, political unionism has so far failed to step up to the plate in facing down violent loyalist extremism."

Meanwhile a UDA-linked group in south Belfast has appeared to endorse the DUP candidate in the constituency, Emma Little-Pengelly.

In the latest edition of its magazine, The Loyalist, the Ulster Political Research Group in the area says: "Realistically Emma Little-Pengelly seems the more viable option due to experience, but people need to make their own minds up and get out to the polling station."

In his column in the magazine Jackie McDonald does not give his support to any particular candidate.