A clergymen who helped negotiate a loyalist paramilitary pledge to end criminality believes the initiative has widespread public support.
Rev Norman Hamilton said a joint statement from the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, which was issued last week at a press conference in Belfast, will help “uplift” communities and should not be dismissed lightly.
“I think scepticism is overstated,” he said.
“I think people are cautious. The general reaction has been the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I have detected caution, and that is absolutely fine and understandable, but there has been very little hostile reaction.”
The former Presbyterian moderator was one of three church leaders – along with Harold Good, a former Methodist president, and former Church of Ireland archbishop Alan Harper – who helped draft the statement that vowed to expel members of the three organisations who engaged in criminal activity.
Loyalists associated with the paramilitary organisations have been involved in drug dealing, extortion and assaults since the 1994 ceasefires.
Rev Hamilton said: “I’ve only had one negative reaction and the vast majority have been very affirming in saying this has to be done. Personally I have had a very good response.”
Rev Hamilton also rejected any suggestion the statement was linked to additional funding being made available for community organisations in loyalist areas.
Referring to his address at Monday’s press conference, he said: “I was very explicit in terms of investment in these communities – this was not about money. This is about uplifting the communities. If you are going to put money into it you have got to put money into it in the right way, so this is absolutely not about money.
“For me, the bottom line is that these communities need uplifting, and wider civic society needs to help that uplift. And I spelt that out in terms of the community partnership boards, the governors of schools, some of the big charities like Barnardos and CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau) is where the effort needs to go so that the needs of the community are met by wider civic society, and that these guys play their part in that.”
Asked if he had any concerns at being associated with paramilitary bosses, in light of the fierce criticism of Arlene Foster after she was photographed with alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt, Rev Hamilton said: “Dee Stitt was in the audience [on Monday], but our dealings were with the guys who were at the front table.”