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26 July 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

The UDA: Extortion by another name

In his book, The Point of No Return, the renowned journalist Robert Fisk wrote of “the 15 unprecedented days in which a million British citizens, the Protestants of Northern Ireland, staged what amounted to a rebellion against the Crown, and won. During those 15 days, a section of the realm became totally ungovernable”.
Fisk was referring to the loyalist workers’ strike of 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Assembly. That section of society which Fisk claims became totally ungovernable was the UDA, the private army of unionism, supported by many of the politicians now in power. The outworking of the 1974 strike was being played out in a Carrickfergus housing estate last weekend, when the so-called UDA brigadiers faced each other down in a confrontation between various factions.
A community was held to ransom, families were intimidated out of their homes, a policeman was shot, a person stabbed and weapons including CS gas, a crossbow and baseball bats were seized after this seemingly ungovernable faction of the UDA took control of the housing estate and held the community to ransom.
The power struggle within the UDA’s inner council erupted when ‘brigadiers’ called a press conference to announce the ending of criminality in South East Antrim and a “crackdown on drug peddlers”.
Nowhere else in the world would the leaders of an illegal organisation, which by their own admission have been up to their necks in criminality, never mind their long history of brutal sectarian murders, be paraded before the media as legitimate community representatives.
It’s not the first time that the UDA have used their muscle to take over unionist estates while the police looked on. Indeed, the reluctance of the PSNI to take on the UDA, despite Hugh Orde’s demands for tangible changes from that organisation, will scarcely cause any surprise in the nationalist community. The close encounters between unionist paramilitaries and police agents involved in murders and all sorts of criminality is well recorded.
The armed UDA men who appear on the streets with their weapons have no intention of decommissioning and know that they can expect a bye ball from the PSNI, who, according to their spokesperson, are reluctant to get involved.
That the UDA have turned their guns on the police is nothing new. The first policeman to die at the beginning of the current conflict was shot by the UDA.
The events of last week are part of a familiar saga of infighting within the UDA for political control of the organisation and its lucrative drugs and extortion rackets.
That the Dublin and London governments are bankrolling this illegal sectarian organisation that last week brought terror to their own community is a scandal. The Assembly Social Development Committee is also considering a further injection to the millions the UDA has already received to fund community transformation in unionist areas.
With a multi-million money pot at their disposal and with immunity from prosecution practically guaranteed, the UDA have found a more ‘honest’ means of extorting money.

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