Belfast Telegraph

Now all guns must fall silent - loyalists must pay for crimes too

If there is to be a balanced approach in dealing with 'hangover violence' from the Troubles, all the parties will have to address continued loyalist criminality, says Henry McDonald.

Internal housekeeping - that notoriously cynical phrase invented by one of Dr Mo Mowlam's Northern Ireland Office officials back in the day - doesn't only apply to the activities of the Provisional IRA and other republican paramilitary groups.

The notion that keeping your organisation quiet and anti-social elements in your community under control by effectively "killing for the peace process" has for the last two decades been prevalent on the loyalist side of the divide.

While unionist politicians point to the chief constable's admission that the IRA in some form still exists (hardly a major surprise for those who study paramilitarism), there appears to be little focus on the way the UVF and UDA have remained "busy" in certain working-class communities across Northern Ireland.

Among ordinary nationalists such lack of attention to murder, maiming, arson attacks, extortion and blackmail by loyalist terror groups smacks of hypocrisy. Indeed, this perception is only heightened when nationalists look on at the case last week of Sammy Tweed, the 74-year-old who spent four decades on the run after escaping court in 1974.

While there is a strong argument against jailing an elderly man for offences committed so long ago - especially given the legions of killers and bombers released under the Good Friday Agreement's de facto amnesty - the families of UDA victims are at least entitled to point to double standards.

As some unionists call for licenses to be revoked and certain IRA prisoners put back in jail due to recent alleged IRA actions, including the Kevin McGuigan murder, some of these same unionist politicians were lobbying the court not to jail Tweed over the arms charges he faced in the mid-1970s.

Perhaps those who petitioned on the loyalist fugitive's behalf can argue that Tweed is today a changed man who regrets his violent past and, therefore, nothing is to be served by putting an old man into prison. Yet such an argument undermines the clamour from the likes of the DUP that a response to alleged IRA murder is to scoop up republican ex-prisoners and dump them back behind bars as some kind of sanction against Sinn Fein.

The UVF alone has killed 32 people since the October 1994 loyalist ceasefires - 29 of them Protestants. A number of these victims lost their lives in feuds with the UDA and the LVF, although quite a few were shot dead because of personal disputes with the organisation.

For the majority of the last two decades, once the Drumcree disputes petered out and the IRA ceasefire finally bedded down after the Canary Wharf hiatus, all the loyalist paramilitaries have turned their gunsights away from the republican/nationalist community and onto perceived internal enemies within their own.

Of course, it has to be acknowledged that the loyalists did listen to reason and did not react at times of grave instability - most notably following the 1998 Omagh bomb massacre.

Clearly, the leaderships of the UDA and UVF made a strategic calculation that it would be more politically astute to leave the battle against the disparate forces of dissident anti-peace process republicans to the PSNI as well as the beefed-up ranks of MI5 in the province rather than re-engage in sectarian murder and mayhem.

Like so many of their IRA - and indeed INLA - counterparts/old enemies in republican redoubts, some former loyalists have moved into benign community activism, such as the ex-UDA members in Lisburn who run one of the most innovative anti-racist integration projects anywhere in Northern Ireland.

Just as it is in areas from where the IRA and INLA emerged, some of these loyalist ex-prisoners and former armed operatives appear happy to have put their violent days behind them and are moving on with their lives.

Yet even those committed to peace building cannot deny that within the ranks of the organisations they once belonged to there are also those who terrorise their neighbours and enrich themselves using the three capital lettered names of their "movements".

These elements are prepared to go as far as murder to maintain their authority and protect their positions as "made-men" in their respective areas.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and former First Minister Lord Trimble is not alone in suggesting the resurrection of the Independent Monitoring Commission as one means of restoring confidence among those, not only within the unionist community, who are deeply troubled over alleged ongoing Provisional IRA activity up to and including murder.

He - and now it seems the DUP - believe the "son of IMC" might also act as a deterrent to any further breaches of faith and ceasefires in the near future, so long, of course, as the IMC Mark II has the ability to impose sanctions on those who cross the line.

Inevitably this crisis will ultimately bring in the two key power-players of the peace process from the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 onwards - the British and Irish governments.

If there is to be a balanced approach in dealing with "hangover violence" from the conflict, including morally revolting revenge-motive murders likes those of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan, then the two governments, as well as the parties, have to finally address continued loyalist paramilitary intimidation and terror as well.

One way to deal with that particular problem is to revive yet another body which was made redundant towards the latter years of the peace process. This organisation didn't so much monitor but rather targeted something that continues to oil the paramilitary machines: criminal assets.

As well as IMC Mark II, maybe the only way to counter the stubborn refusal of some (though definitely not all) loyalist paramilitary "commanders" to move away from serial violence and criminality is via ARA Mark II.

A revived Assets Recovery Agency, which goes after the ill-gotten gains of those making a fortune out of terrorising their own people, is arguably the ultimate deterrent in loyalist working-class communities living under their yoke.

Political sanctions, or the threat of political sanctions, have brought republicans to their senses in the near past, whereas going after the money is surely a far more potent weapon to finally loosen the grip of those loyalists who still think they have a divine right to rule their mini-fiefdoms.

Because, if nothing is done in relation to the latter, then "internal housekeeping" will go on in deprived loyalist districts - even long after the hardest of hardline DUP, or UUP, politicians eventually agrees that the IRA has finally gone out of business.

Belfast Telegraph


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