Groups Linked To Loyalist Winston ‘Winkie’ Irvine Keep Silent After His Gun Arrest

Peace-building initiatives with ties to a prominent loyalist and community worker who was remanded in custody on Saturday over a series of firearms charges have remained silent.

Inston ‘Winkie’ Irvine (46) was charged in court on Saturday with possession of a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of an uncertified handgun and possession of uncertified ammunition .

Detectives from the PSNI’s Terrorism Investigation Unit have also charged a 51-year-old man with a number of criminal offences.

He is due to appear before the Belfast Magistrates Court on Monday.

Police made the arrests Wednesday morning as part of their investigation into a bomb threat in north Belfast on March 25 that had forced Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney to leave a peace event.

Two firearms were also seized following operations in the Shankill area of ​​Belfast and in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

The Houben Center on Crumlin Road was evacuated and a funeral service at nearby Holy Cross Church was also disrupted.

Police said the driver of a van was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive to the church with a device he believed was a live bomb.

The item in the van turned out to be a fake bomb.

Stormont’s Executive Office has so far not commented on the future funding of any of its programs following the arrest of prominent loyalist Irvine, who served as part of the Fresh Start initiative.

A noted loyalist and former press officer for the Progressive Unionist Party, Irvine holds a number of government-funded positions.

The Tackling Paramilitarism and Communities in Transition programs are aimed at removing the coercive influence of paramilitaries.

The Department of Justice is leading the executive-wide program that claims to “support people and communities across Northern Ireland who are vulnerable to paramilitary influences” and said the support is being provided jointly by government departments, legal entities and partners in the voluntary and community sector.

Mr Irvine was paid to work with at-risk groups in South East Antrim. He is also part of a government-funded bonfire program.

Asked about future funding to Mr Irvine, a spokesman for the Executive’s Program on Paramilitarism and Organized Crime said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing police investigation.”

The PSNI said it could not comment on a named person during legal proceedings.

Irvine’s lawyers and his current employers, the Belfast-based peace and reconciliation initiative Intercomm – where he works as a senior project manager and earns around £35,000 a year from peacebuilding initiatives – have also been approached for comment.

Mr Irvine’s salary is funded by the taxpayer and other organizations such as the International Fund for Ireland (IFI).

In March, the IFI launched a multimillion-dollar program to encourage safer community celebrations around loyalist bonfires, encouraging groups to apply for grants.

Irvine was on the panel hearing these requests.

He also represented Intercomm at a Communities in Transition (CIT) event at a Newtownabbey hotel last month.

CIT, a controversial £23m Executive Office fund set up to end paramilitarism, was also approached by this newspaper for comment.

The imposition of arms charges certainly raises questions about the effectiveness of peace initiatives in which Irvine was involved.

The charges will also be hugely embarrassing for politicians who have welcomed Irvine to the table as a peace worker for years.

A prominent spokesperson for the Progressive Unionist Party, Irvine had served as a member of the North Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), during which time he received £60 in public money for each meeting with PSNI chiefs to discuss how crime in the area.

A PSCP statement states that a member of the partnership will not, by word or deed, support a prohibited organization or acts of terrorism.

In 2013, a BBC Spotlight investigation exposed Irvine as a commander in the UVF.

He has also played an important role in the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), an umbrella group representing the views of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, and has gained high-level access to senior figures in government and the civil service . in the past.

His remand on Saturday meant he missed graduating from Maynooth University after completing a master’s degree funded in part by the Irish government.

Mr Irvine appeared via video link in the Belfast Magistrates Court on Saturday in a red T-shirt and asked if he understood the charge. He replied, “Yes, I will.”

A PSNI detective inspector told the court that officers had planned an operation Wednesday to arrest Irvine in connection with “an unrelated case” believed to be related to the bomb alert aimed at the conference attended by Simon Coveney.

The officer said police were observing Irvine’s car in Glencairn Street when a van parked behind it and saw Irvine open the trunk of his vehicle.

The detective inspector said Irvine was then apprehended on Disraeli Street and officers discovered a number of firearms, magazines and more than 200 cartridges in a bag in the trunk.

A further search of Irvine’s home discovered an amount of cash, as well as a UVF plaque and pendants, the court heard.

District Judge George Conner rejected a bail request, saying a “significant amount of weapons and ammunition” had been recovered.

Irvine was remanded in custody to appear in court again on July 1.

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