Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Viewpoint: Cash on delivery offer for the UDA

Although the clash of UDA factions in Carrickfergus is highly dangerous, with shots fired and a pipe bomb exploding, there is total confusion about what it all means. The "Beyond Conflict" group, representing the breakaway south-east Antrim UDA, said the man whose home was bombed had been warned he was on a death list of the Inner Council - whose political advisers, the UPRG, run their own "conflict transformation initiative" .

If this is how the UPRG's paramilitary associates deal with dissidents, then it is hardly surprising that social development minister Margaret Ritchie has threatened to withdraw £1.2m funding unless the UDA begin decommissioning by October 9. While the money is not going to the paramilitaries - and was a legacy of the direct rule administration - the public is appalled to think that it could be boosting the Inner Council's image in loyalist communities.

The minister has received valuable support from Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, who said he admired her leadership and emphasised that "all sides" must work to help communities remove the shackles of the paramilitaries. Decommissioning has been on the agenda for 10 long years, without any effective progress by the UDA (or UVF) so it is quite legitimate for the minister to use the only leverage she has, by setting a deadline.

She must have known that the UDA would resist the pressure, even though she is only looking for a start to decommissioning, through John de Chastelain's independent commission, not a wholesale handover of weapons. But, although the Secretary of State has backed her stand, she might have expected some support from her executive colleagues, all of whom are nominally in favour of decommissioning.

Instead, Mrs Ritchie has revealed that her request for a discussion in the executive was declined. She wrote to her colleagues, she said, but they clearly saw that her decision to deliver an ultimatum to the UDA was a matter for herself alone.

Is this an indication of the way decisions are to be taken in the power-sharing executive, where ministers are solely responsible for their own departments, and the others declare no interest, even in controversial matters? It might be difficult obtaining a consensus on deadlines for decommissioning, but the public would expect some discussion to take place, at least, and opinions aired.

The executive is still bedding down, with no major decisions taken, but the aim must be to provide the leadership and the joined-up government which has been sorely lacking under direct rule. Under power-sharing, the DUP and Sinn Fein must find accommodation on as many policies as possible - and tell the people so, together - or the benefits of devolution will not be realised.

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