Belfast Telegraph

Bully-boys of loyalism must be taught PSNI only law here

The ink was scarcely dry on loyalists' promise to renounce violence when the UDA battered a community worker in Bangor and ordered another out of the country. Paramilitary godfathers cannot be allowed to thumb their noses at the police or society, writes Henry McDonald

In Clint Eastwood's follow-up movie to his detective classic Dirty Harry there is a set-piece confrontation between him and David Soul - the future Hutch from Starsky And Hutch. In Magnum Force, Eastwood's character has been investigating a secret unit of cops who are carrying out shoot-to-kill operations against criminals and Mafia-types.

When Eastwood's character 'Dirty' Harry Callahan finally tracks Soul's character down as the leader of this vigilante cop murder unit, the pair argue the bit about summary justice.

Soul tries to excuse the slaughter by telling Eastwood that "the people have spoken", while Eastwood issues a warning against Magnum Force, predicting that if they continue their vengeful ways they will end up "executing people for jaywalking".

For Magnum Force in California in the 1970s read units of the UDA from south Belfast and north Down in the second decade of the 21st century.

Over the last few weeks individual UDA members have been involved in vigilante-style "justice" and punishment beating thuggery that pose serious questions for the organisation's leadership.

In one instance UDA activists targeted a respected community worker in Bangor, Aaron McMahon, over his opposition to ongoing paramilitarism on the Clandeboye estate. In the most recent incident a young man was forced to flee Northern Ireland just before Christmas by UDA men in south Belfast over unspecified - and unproven - allegations.

Such incidents actually demean some of the great work certain UDA veterans have been engaged in across Northern Ireland.

While there are some within that disparate, federally structured group that are still trapped in the politics of the past (think of the heartless extremists demonstrating against a small number of Syrian refugees outside Belfast City Hall last week), a large number of UDA members are involved in the politics of progressive community transformation.

The best example of this is in Lisburn, where former UDA activists - including ex-prisoners - run a community initiative that has, on a very practical level, combated racism and helped to welcome and absorb immigrants into the city's housing estates.

Their work in areas like Old Warren has become a template of community integration, and even their former republican enemies - including ex-INLA and ex-Official IRA members - have expressed admiration for the way these former UDA men have countered racism and xenophobia.

Which is why the reports of other UDA-influenced areas being blighted by the bad old ways of the bad old days are all the more depressing.

Moreover, these developments are also embarrassing for those who are trying to help the overall largest loyalist paramilitary group continually evolve towards peaceful, progressive politics.

Back in October Tony Blair's former chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell joined a number of loyalists in Belfast to support their moves to "address criminality, encourage renewed confidence and widen the democratic process".

Mr Powell has lent his support to the UDA and UVF's "national" leaderships in their bid to transform their movements into community-based political organisations.

The former Prime Minister's secret negotiator during the peace process is absolutely correct in his decision to aid the Ulster loyalists on their road away from the gun and the balaclava.

It is essential for Protestant working-class areas that the militants who sprung from these district become further politicised and direct their energies towards helping their neighbourhoods, rather than enriching themselves through criminality.

As the Lisburn example proves, many ex-UDA activists - just like the majority of retired IRA volunteers in nationalist/republican areas - appear to be more concerned with the welfare of others around them than their own pockets.

However, a minority on both sides of the paramilitary divide continue to use fear, muscle and their reputation as "made men" to exploit the very communities they come from.

Think, for instance, of south Armagh and the horrendous legacy of smuggling and the toxic by-products it has left behind - as well as the sense of being above the law that allowed the killers of Paul Quinn to believe they were untouchable.

Until their self-belief in being not only above the law, but in certain areas "the" law is fatally undermined, such incidents that occurred in Bangor and south Belfast will be replicated.

The biggest favour Powell can grant the leaders of the ex-UDA, ex-UVF and ex-IRA is that, if someone in your community is accused of a crime, then there should be only one place you can go. The St Andrews Agreement was based on the key foundation stone of Sinn Fein's acceptance of the primacy of policing and justice systems in Northern Ireland.

Only the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be allowed to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute those accused of crimes in this society. No organisations are beyond the PSNI - no matter how much local popular support they claim to have.

No one has the right to be judge and jury - or even, as in the past, executioner. Otherwise, we will go backwards in time to a scenario where, as Clint Eastwood warned, anybody can be a target even those accused of merely jaywalking.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph