From within the bars of the Last Chance Saloon this week, the sound of celebration and carousing as loyalist paramilitaries toast yet another licence extension for the premises. “To Shaun Woodward!” they cry. “Landlord, another round if you please. And some bar snacks. We’re going to be here for a long while yet.”
Another year to be precise.
That’s the new ‘final deadline’ being proposed by Secretary of State Woodward before which the loyalist terror/gangster outfits must have handed over their guns.
Whether the legislation will be passed in the Commons remains to be seen. But the very fact that it is even suggested says everything about our crawling (in every sense) peace process.
It is now over 14 bloody years — over 14 years! — since the Combined Loyalist whatever-they-call-themselves announced their ceasefires. It was so long ago John Major (remember him?) was Prime Minister.
The loyalists’ statement included this line: |“In all sincerity, we offer to the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 25 years abject and true remorse — let us firmly resolve to respect our differing views of freedom, culture and aspiration and never again permit our political circumstances to degenerate into bloody warfare."
In all sincerity the rest of us (fools that we were) assumed that this would entail a wrapping up of the UDA, the UVF, the LVF, the UFF the whole initialled shower of them and the handing over of now redundant weaponry. After all, they got their prisoners out on early release
But no, all these years and years later the Government is still trying to chivvy those fully tooled-up terror outfits into decommissioning.
What possible argument can the paramilitaries have for holding on to the guns? We’ve had all the piffle about how these sensitive macho souls find it difficult to move on. That “conflict transformation” is a slow process.
Then there’s the guff about holding on to the guns in case they’re needed for “defence”. That would be “defence” presumably, as in killing your Catholic neighbours, terrorising and exploiting your own community, robbing banks, extortion, pushing drugs, running brothels, general gangsterism and intimidation.
Ok. You can see why the paramilitaries would want to hang on to their guns. But why, why, why is the Government putting up with this dangerous nonsense? All those final, final deadlines. All those threats about being in the Last Chance Saloon and the train now leaving the station
When, in fact, the only train leaving the station is the funding bandwagon. And it’s the government being taken for a ride.
Their entire strategy is a contradiction. On the one hand you have the government forking out vast sums to encourage the handover of guns which will then be “put beyond use” without basic forensic tests. On the other hand you have the same government handing out even more vast sums to “investigate the past” with the stated aim of providing victims’ families with as much information as possible. And thus “closure”.
But how successful is the latter process ever going to be when valuable evidence is decommissioned along with terrorist arms?
New Labour’s policy on Northern Ireland amounts to throwing money at it. And the application of a dirty, great sticking plaster over the entire, oozing mess that is the past.
Meanwhile, down at the Last Chance Saloon the party goes on. And on. And on. And on .