The importance attached to America in the Irish peace process was never more apparent when Loyalists, after they announced decommissioning last weekend demanded as their first item access to America.

It was access to America for Gerry Adams in 1994 that moved the Irish peace process forward powerfully at a critical phase. The Loyalist learned that trick well after they saw the incredible success that Adams had.

Helped by Irish American stalwarts like Bill Flynn and Tom Moran the Loyalist established their own niche in the years that followed – very valuable links for them at a time when they were still essentially isolated back home.

This time it will certainly help those Loyalist leaders who many years after the IRA decommissioned, struggled far more to get their wild men under control.

Now they have succeeded and they will look to America for affirmation of what they have achieved.

Many Loyalist leaders became very popular figures in America. David Ervine was as frequent a visitor as Gerry Adams and became very popular in some places.

Loyalist mixed far more easily with Irish Americans than their far more stiff-necked unionist colleagues. They were unafraid to confront and be confronted and exuded that working class Belfast charm that was equally popular in Dublin circles as well. Now they will be back and a new generation of leaders along with them. Once again we can report great progress on the continuing path towards a long-term peace in the North.

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