BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — The imprisoned leaders of Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British paramilitary group insisted Tuesday they can no longer support peace talks — and, by implication, threatened more violence.
The move came as a string of killings already threatens the stalled talks on Northern Ireland’s political future. It was also a rebuff to the pro-British politicians who sought the prisoners’ support for continuing negotiations.
David Trimble, head of the pro-British Ulster Unionists, took the unusual step of entering the high-security Maze prison outside Belfast on Tuesday to try to convince Ulster Defense Association members inside not to resume a campaign of terror against Catholics.
But the UDA prisoners had already rejected the arguments of a delegation from their own legal political party, the Ulster Democrats.
“We were unable to convince the prisoners to give us their support to participate in the talks process. We’re afraid that may have severe consequences,” Ulster Democrats negotiator John White told reporters outside the prison.
White — who spent 18 years in prison for the 1972 knife slaying of a Catholic politician and his Protestant girlfriend — said the prisoners’ verdict would be weighed “heavily” by UDA commanders in Belfast.