Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Painful truths will be bad news for the peace process

The crisis in loyalism is the result of paramilitary-style justice it had sworn to forgo, says Brian Rowan

When the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) hands its latest report to the London and Dublin governments today there will be big questions for loyalists - political and paramilitary.

This is the special report on the murder of Bobby Moffett - the former Red Hand Commando prisoner shot dead on the Shankill Road in May because of a personal feud with other loyalists.

The UVF has been blamed; and the questions now are about sanction, who was involved, who knew and the guns used.

This report by the IMC should provide at least some of the answers.

The Moffett killing was a very public execution during a busy Friday lunchtime on a busy road and came almost a year after the UVF claimed that all weapons under its control had been put beyond use.

The decision to produce this ad hoc assessment came from inside the monitoring commission - in the words of one source, emphasising the 'I' for Independent in its title. What it will have to say won't be good news for the peace process.

More than three years ago on a stage decorated with many flags, the UVF once again brought the veteran loyalist Gusty Spence to the microphones to deliver what was supposed to be an endgame statement.

The UVF would "assume a non-military, civilianised role" alongside the closely associated Red Hand Commando, the group that Moffett had been part of.

Then, more than a year ago there was the decommissioning development. A statement read by the commander of the organisation's 1st battalion, based in the Shankill area, claimed that both the UVF and Red Hand Commando had "completed the process of rendering ordnance [arms] totally and irreversibly beyond use". That statement continued: "We have done so to further augment the establishment of accountable democratic governance in this region of the United Kingdom; to remove the pretext that loyalist weaponry is an obstacle to the development of our communities and to compound our legacy of integrity to the peace process."

It all looked good on paper. Another of the peace process commissions - the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) - said it had been told by the leaderships of both organisations: "That the weapons and materiel put beyond use in our presence includes all the arms under their control."

Then, months later, Bobby Moffett was killed - guns fired on the Shankill Road, the UVF blamed, and the endgame and decommissioning statements undermined.

Within days, Stormont MLA Dawn Purvis had resigned her leadership and membership of the PUP, the party that has political links to both the UVF and Red Hand Commando.

Independent Policing Board member David Rose, a former deputy leader, also left, and, quietly, last week, Stewart Finn, the party's press officer and a member of its executive, also resigned.

In the background a small group of loyalists, including former MLA Billy Hutchinson, Red Hand Commando leader Winston 'Winkie' Rea, Gerry Vinton, Tom Roberts and Jim Wilson, have been assessing the fallout.

And there will be more thinking to be done when the IMC reports.

Already it has been suggested that the commission will report that UVF leaders could have stopped the Moffett killing, but didn't.

The commission's assessment is expected to be published by the middle of next week. It will be a moment of decision for loyalists.

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