In actions welcomed the length and breadth of Ireland, it is understood that loyalist paramilitary groups are to begin decommissioning arms.

Three Loyalist paramilitary groups are thought to have either started or about to start the process. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has apparently already begun to give up its arms, while similar moves are expected from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Red Hand Commando (RHC).

While qualifying that he was waiting for the report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) before both governments could make a final assessment, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen was hopeful about the news coming out of Northern Ireland.

“I welcome the reports that there seems to be movement in this issue, I think it very much would improve public confidence,” the Taoiseach told RTE News. “I know that work has been ongoing with loyalist paramilitary organizations for many months, and I hope that the outcome of this engagement will see the decommissioning of weapons."

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward, who was also hesitant to comment too much before receiving the IICD report, told the Irish Times how important such a development would be to Northern Ireland. “If these reports were to be confirmed, what we would see would be a seismic transformation within loyalism,” he said.

On the Sinn Fein party Web site, Gerry Kelly, Assembly member for Belfast, made the following comments on the news: “The IRA dealt with the issue of arms in a decisive way four years ago. If these reports prove to be true and the UVF have now followed suit then that would obviously be a welcome move.

“It is also important that other armed organizations go down this road. Politics is now working and there is no basis for any organization holding onto arms.”

DUP party leader Peter Robinson, who has been in talks with the UVF and UDA for nine months about the issue, was cautiously optimistic, saying in a statement released on the DUP Web site: "The Party would certainly welcome any move by the organizations  to decommission their weapons and cease from their paramilitary activity. However, we do not want to pre-empt the outcome of this process.

“The party will continue to engage with these organisations in order to impress upon them the need to leave violence and criminality behind and to complete the decommissioning process.”

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