Belfast Telegraph

Brian Rowan: Loyalist group must look to change

What has Margaret Ritchie achieved? Just look at what has developed since early August when she set that 60-day deadline on decommissioning.

The UDA has met the de Chastelain Commission. It was, we are told, a " meaningful engagement", named interlocutors have been appointed and the line of communication is open.

No weapons have been decommissioned. The Ritchie deadline was not met.

But listen now to the suggestions of a significant statement planned for Remembrance Sunday on November 11, and look how quickly the UDA has moved to distance itself publicly from the mess that is the loyalist infighting in Carrickfergus.

There is now a political focus on the question of loyalist weapons - a pressure that was missing until Margaret Ritchie intervened.

The UDA has always been treated differently than the IRA.

Loyalist guns, for all their killing, have never been as important.

Will pulling this grant for a conflict transformation initiative bring forward decommissioning?

The answer is no.

But as part of changing conflict into peace is it right to demand decommissioning?

The answer is yes.

The UDA has failed the conflict transformation initiative - failed it in the language of decommissioning "not being on the radar screen", failed it in the street confrontations in Carrickfergus and in its part in the rioting in Bangor.

It is used to being treated differently.

But Margaret Ritchie has changed that.

What is the November 11 statement about?

Is it about decommissioning? About the drugs and extortion and the general gangsterism that still characterises part of the UDA?

Is it about a leadership giving orders and setting a direction?

Is it about the UDA changing, or is it just more words?

That organisation has been given plenty of space and time.

And, now, under pressure, there is this talk of this significant statement.

But in the security world there is a questioning about whether the UDA leadership has the capability to change that organisation - to take it away from drugs and extortion and criminality, to make decommissioning happen.

So, there is another question. Who is in charge?

Is it the inner council or is it those with the guns, the money, the drugs and the influence at another level of the UDA?

There are those who want to make it different, who want to make a difference, but, inside the loyalist organisation, they have not been heard.

So, what has Margaret Ritchie achieved?

She has sent out a political message that the UDA will no longer be treated differently.

That decommissioning is important, that all that criminality and street fighting has to stop.

And when the minister comes to make her statement, the UDA has only itself to blame. It is no one else's fault.

Conflict transformation means change - and in so much of what it does, the UDA still looks the same.

Belfast Telegraph


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