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NI Election: Some in UVF itching to get guns out - thought of Sinn Fein calling shots won't help the mood

Loyalist paramilitaries' failure to make a political impact is in stark contrast to old foes

By Jim McDowell

I pushed the security buzzer on the front door of the loyalist ex-prisoners' aid and advice centre in north Belfast. They took a long, hard look at me on the security camera inside.

Eventually, one of them came down to the door and let me into the hallway; no further.

It was while another internal UDA feud was rumbling. The albeit grudging greeter-and-meeter told me: "If they get word you've been here to talk to us it'll cause even more trouble."

'They' were the other side in the internal power struggle.

Still, he talked to me. And he described what was happening with the "transitional" faction of the UDA - his faction - as developing into an "old boys' network".

A few weeks later he was lifted and charged with an alleged shooting attempt.

The charges were later dropped.

And as for the UDA morphing into a self-styled old boys' club, that doesn't stack up with the later internecine feud and still unsolved murder of UDA heavy John 'Bonzer' Boreland just six months ago.

But it does show that, as with the IRA - witness the Kevin McGuigan assassination in retaliation for the murder of one-time Provo commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison - not all guns were handed in during the so-called decommissioning acts by both the UDA and, more importantly, the UVF.

There are some in the latter terror gang who have been in hair-trigger mood for some time now, and are itching to put their fingers back on the trigger of sectarian violence - and would have no hesitation in pulling that trigger.

The reason is that the loyalist paramilitaries, for years, have been branded, rightly, as gangster organisations.

They have tried but failed miserably to mimic the Provos, and turn themselves into a slick political machine mirroring Sinn Fein.

They did have a pop at politics: but they proved to be the phantom of that particular popera.

The UDA spawned the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) led by Gary McMichael and David Adams. But they, and the UDP itself, were dumped when the mobsters in the ranks valued the rackets more than realpolitik.

And the political wing of the UVF, the Progressive Unionist Party, effectively died as a meaningful entity when David Ervine passed away.

There were those in the ranks of the UVF who didn't like David Ervine's policies, either. I was in his MLA's office in Stormont talking to him one day when there were a string of phone calls 'summoning' him to a meeting at The Eagle, the UVF's main HQ on Belfast's Shankill Road.

He ignored them all.

But what can't be ignored at the moment is that there are still those in the UVF who adhere to the maxim on that threatening and ugly mural still painted on the big gable wall at Mount Vernon, which reads: 'Prepared For Peace, Ready For War'.

The word on the street - particularly in UVF strongholds like Mount Vernon, the Shankill, and east Belfast, where armed and hooded men murals also still dominate the streetscape - is that following last Thursday's election the UVF mood in some quarters is more ready for another war, than prepared for a lasting peace.

One senior loyalist source in east Belfast said: "The loyalist paramilitaries, particularly the UVF, are in a corner they can't get out of, except maybe through violence.

"The ordinary folk here are looking at the political gains of Sinn Fein and asking what the loyalist paramilitaries have done and are doing for them - except living off them."

Plus, there is growing anger in unionist/loyalist communities about what people there see as Sinn Fein's "reverse triumphalism".

People in those communities are pointing out that Gerry Adams & co once pigeonholed and pummelled unionists and their politicians as being "triumphalist".

Now they're accusing Sinn Fein itself of triumphalism, pointing in particular to statements from Mr Adams claiming that the unionist majority had been "demolished" by his party's showing in the Assembly election.

Said one source on the Shankill: "They're rubbing it in, rubbing our noses in it, and rubbing loyalist people up the wrong way.

"Michelle O'Neill is banging on about 'respect' and 'equality'. They're showing us very little of either right now with their gloating and goading."

He added: "Adams has also called the election result a 'watershed'. He should be very measured in his words; careless talk has, and could still, cost lives."

In other words, emotive blustering in the context of Gerry Adams' and the Shinners' 'watershed' could yet light the litmus paper on more UVF bloodshed.

Politically, the loyalist paramilitaries may be backed into a corner in their own communities, because unlike their republican counterparts, they have become political eunuchs, rather than icons.

And their violence, as has been underpinned in this newspaper in recent days - both in the Editor's Viewpoint and by Malachi O'Doherty - continues unabated, without either police or politicians being able to put the brakes on beatings, shootings and the rest of the painful and evil panoply of what are blandly labelled "paramilitary punishment-style attacks".

Indeed, both of the columns mentioned above asked why so many politicians of all hues veered away from mentioning the continuing violence at the hustings, or in televised or other public debates.

O'Doherty observed that "perhaps politicians don't even notice the level of violence, because they are used to it, or because they are content that the acceptable level of violence is now acceptably lower than it used to be".

There is another palpable reason why there's a thundering silence from some politicians.

Old-fashioned fear; if not for themselves, for their families, many of whom live in communities where paramilitaries rule by fear.

I know of one politician, a good man, who tried mightily to stand up for ordinary, decent people, who didn't run in the election this time.

The reason? The pressure brought to bear and the toll it took on him, both mentally and physically, by loyalist paramilitaries.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the political paralysis in terms of loyalist paramilitaries comes down to what a former minister in the first power-sharing Executive at Stormont way back in 1974 later told me.

"McDowell," the late Paddy Devlin imparted over a pint of stout, "the loyalist paramilitaries turning to politics will never work - because Protestants don't vote for gangsters".

It was a milestone comment from Paddy.

Because the loyalist gangsters, and guns, are still out there... while Sinn Fein runs triumphant - and triumphalist - rings around them.

Results centre - select a constituency - every result as it happened -

North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

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