Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Loyalist arms and the total hypocrisy

As moves towards a new Northern Ireland continue, BRIAN ROWAN argues that the question of loyalist guns still needs to be addressed.

It was one of those interviews that got in under the political radar — or else it was just ignored. And it was an interview that again illustrated the double standards of the peace process — that said again that loyalist guns don't really matter because, politically, they are not important.

The UDA "brigadier" Jackie McDonald was interviewed on Channel 4, part of a report that reflected on the 10 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

And it came in the same week that Gerry Adams made clear there was no longer a role for the IRA in policing republican communities.

Loyalists have not yet arrived at that point — the same loyalists who have not decommissioned one gun or one bullet.

McDonald's comments followed a predictable line.

As far as the loyalist paramilitaries are concerned, "the war is over with Sinn Fein/IRA".

And then he introduced the usual "but" — the threat posed by dissident republicans and another threat from "criminal gangs".

In that Channel 4 interview, McDonald said the following: "There's going to be dead bodies in the streets here and it's going to be over territory.

"It's going to be over drugs and who owes money to who."

He was talking about the type of gang wars that are part of life and death in major cities elsewhere.

"That is all going to happen here," he predicted, "within the next year or two."

And he continued.

"Loyalist paramilitaries are going to be loyal to the people who supported them for years and do their best to maintain a sense of law and order in their own communities."

His words raise so many questions.

Many of the criminal gangs that McDonald refers to have grown up inside the loyalist organisations — they are the enemy within.

In his recent book, Great Hatred, Little Room — Making Peace in Northern Ireland, Jonathan Powell described the UDA brigadier Jim Gray in these words.

"Jim Gray was a thug with diamond stud earrings, a coke habit and more tattoos than brains." McDonald, he wrote, was different — " quiet and determined and struck me as a serious leader".

Gray was murdered in one of those gang wars over drugs and money and territory and power.

And in his crystal ball, McDonald sees more of it, the new threat after the " war".

If Adams said it in a republican context — if he presented the IRA in the role of defender of the community and said guns were needed for the battle with the crime gangs — what would happen?

We all know the answer to that question.

His comments would not get in under the radar. They would be heard and there would be a political crisis.

But McDonald says it all the time and, it seems, no one hears.

Remember those comments about the guns not being the UDA guns but "the people's guns" and that the UDA "should never go away".

That shooting war he now predicts is the biggest threat to the loyalist community — and the more guns, the bigger that threat.

And who will the guns protect — those in the paramilitary organisations or the ordinary people of the loyalist community?

The threat to the UDA and to their community comes from those who grew up inside the paramilitary organisation

We have seen the pattern — Adair, White, Shoukri, Gray, McClean and the list goes on and on.

There are as many questions about loyalist support for policing as there are about republican support for policing.

Alternative policing in the loyalist community should be as unacceptable as it is in the republican community.

And the question of guns needs to be addressed.

It is almost a year since the UVF said its weapons had been put "beyond reach" and close to six months since the UDA said its guns were " beyond use".

General de Chastelain and his Commission have still not witnessed the decommissioning of one gun or one bullet.

Those are the facts.

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