The loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on Sunday delivered a massive boost to the Northern Ireland peace process by pledging to end all violence and to work toward complete disarmament.
Forty-eight hours after the Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy committed the UK government to recognizing the UDA's latest ceasefire, a statement from the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), which provides "political analysis" for the UDA, promised a new direction.
The announcement was witnessed by a crowd of more than 2,000 people, including a group of masked men, on the loyalist Rathcoole estate on the outskirts of north Belfast.
Murphy's decision to recognize the ceasefire was made despite a report by the independent monitoring commission which blamed the UDA for running organized crime rackets and carrying out paramilitary shootings.
The UDA declared a ceasefire last year but the government refused to acknowledge it. The UPRG's Tommy Kirkham said: "From today we are prepared to move into a process. Our commitment to that process will be to work toward a day when there is no longer a need for a UDA and a UFF [Ulster Freedom Fighters]."
He said the new strategy was to begin immediately.
"The strategy of the organization will become one of community development, job creation, social inclusion and community politics," he said.
Kirkham said that the organization would support Unionist leaders securing a lasting peace in Northern Ireland: "We have agreed with our government to enter into a process, a process that will see the eradication of all paramilitary activity."
He said he the organization would engage with the arms decommissioning commission but added that it must be confident that there was no longer a threat to the loyalist community from a republican group.
"History tells us all that whenever the need arises or there is a threat to our very existence, there will always be some form of defense association," he said.
Kirkham said the UDA hoped to persuade people of Northern Ireland that the organization could change tack.
"We recognize the need for change. We will be more effective in our new role but will remain protectors of our community," he said.
While many hailed the announcement as vindication of the government's decision to deal with the UDA, others were more cautious. Alban Maginness of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party said that the UDA continued to cause terror in many parts of Northern Ireland.
"The UDA must be judged on actions rather than words. For nationalists and ethnic minorities who have been repeatedly attacked by the UDA this is the only test that matters," he said.
Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein told the BBC that there was widespread scepticism about the UDA announcement.
"We are faced with a dilemma because in the first instance we want them to stop the kind of activity they have been involved in. We have heard all of these statements before and there is a huge dose of scepticism out there," he said.