Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Why there’s no disguising UDA’s history

The death this week of the gangster/paramilitary Ihab Shoukri was sudden — but not entirely shocking. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword is how one veteran community worker put it.

Although in this case, those who live by the pharmaceuticals die by the pharmaceuticals might be closer to the mark.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, Shoukri’s cohorts have denied claims that drug taking had anything to do with it. But whether or not drug abuse was a direct cause, it’s hard to believe the lifestyle of excess for which Shoukri and his younger brother Andre were notorious did not have some sort of contributory bearing upon his passing.

Every death is a tragedy. Shoukri was 34-years-old and in the prime of life. He was good looking, bright, the son of a mother who by all accounts is regarded as a decent, hard-working woman. For a time Shoukri worked for the local civil service. In another time, in another place might his life have turned out entirely differently?

Who’s to say?

The fact is that he and his brother chose — deliberately chose — a path that brought them power and money at the expense of others.

“It is a human loss to the family. People are dismissing how it affects the family,” one of his sidekicks told a newspaper this week.

It is precisely because the vast majority of us can accept how the death of a man can affect a family that the Shoukri brothers and their ilk revolt so many.

The pair rose to prominence in the UDA. Apart from their own specific crimes, this was — is — an organisation which has brought misery and suffering on an industrial scale upon other families in Northern Ireland.

The UDA styles itself as a ‘defence association’. But the people it murdered — apart from one-time comrades ousted in bloody coups — were mainly innocent, defenceless young lads gunned down from behind.

And they were murdered for one reason — simply because they were Catholic.

They were also easy targets. The UDA in common with other paramilitary outfits here has no great record of taking on rival terror gang leaders.

Their sectarianism is eclipsed only by their cowardice. That, and their greed.

For UDA chiefs have profited quite considerably from the drug-dealing, extortion and gangsterism that has been their stock in trade.

In running their crime empires they have leached off and devastated the very community they claim to ‘defend’ — the Protestant working class.

They ply drugs to the young. They rip off legitimate businesses and intimidate anyone who dares speak out against them. With their extortion rackets they have ensured that new businesses which could have brought jobs to those areas have been repulsed. It’s the same with housing — any project in fact that wouldn’t fork up for their protection scams.

The Shoukris and their cohorts have been part of all that. But they have not been alone.

There is a move — shamefully accepted in parts of the media — to make some sort of distinction between loyalist ‘renegades’ and what we are now asked to accept as ‘mainstream’ loyalists.

The sort that these days gets a hug from the President of Ireland.

Even dressed up in suits (or golfing gear) they are all just different faces of the same vile gangster outfit. What they have been responsible in the past does matter. What they continue to be party to is relevant.

It may not be fashionable but there are still very, very many of us in Northern Ireland who refuse to see a delineation between renegade (or dissident) paramilitaries on all sides and the ‘mainstream’ rest of them. They are all the same. The whole rotten shower of them.

But far from being ostracised by ‘the process’, their very methods have been adopted and officially endorsed.

Is there really all that much difference between the ‘protection’ money extorted at street level — and promises of funding from a compliant, arsenal-licking British government?

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