4 October 2007 Edition
Loyalism : Mindsets as well as guns need to be decommissioned
UDA violence continues in face of Ritchie’s sabre rattling
BY PEADAR WHELAN
THE last week in September was book-ended with the latest instalment in the UDA feud, a bomb attack on a house in Carrickfergus, and news of death threats being issued against leading members of Sinn Féin and a newspaper editor.
These incidents come at a time when Stormont Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie is embroiled in a dispute with the UDA over a £1.2 million grant earmarked for loyalists by former direct-ruler Peter Hain.
Ritchie is warning the UDA that if they don’t surrender their weapons she will withhold the Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI) money which Hain set aside for projects in loyalists areas aimed at weaning loyalists away from criminality and drug dealing.
The UDA, in turn, have warned they won’t bow to the SDLP politician’s ultimatum to decommission by 9 October, next Tuesday.
Ritchie clearly senses that her big political gamble, in taking on the UDA with her ‘guns for money’ strategy, will elevate the esteem of her and her party in the eyes of the Northern nationalist electorate, many of whom believe the SDLP soft-pedalled on loyalist violence over the years.
However, as the sham fight between Ritchie and the UDA is fought out in the pages of our newspapers and on our TV screens, the upheaval and unpredictability that has characterised unionist paramilitarism is swirling below the surface.
Indeed, as Ritchie was meeting Jackie McDonald, leader of the UDA’s South Belfast Brigade and reportedly the most influential figure within the loyalist organisation on last Thursday, 27 September, a package containing bullets arrived at Ulster Television’s Ormeau Road headquarters.
Inside the package, purporting to come from the Red Hand Defenders (RHD), were live rounds of ammunition and the names of six people. Of those identified, Robin Livingstone is the editor of the West Belfast-based Andersonstown News while veteran Sinn Féin activist Richard McAuley has been warned that his life is in danger.
This is the second time in as many weeks that Sinn Féin activists have been targeted by loyalists claiming to be from the Red Hand Defenders.
Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew had threats, which targeted her and other party activists, sent to her Lisnaskea office two weeks ago.
The office itself was burned down in a suspicious fire the previous week.
Gildernew poured scorn on the RHD claim of responsibility saying, “the UDA used that title as a cover name on too many occasions for people to be fooled into thinking that the UDA were not involved in these recent incidents”.
As well as the threats directed at Sinn Féin, the feuding that has seen the mainstream UDA mobilise hundreds of its members in the east Antrim town of Carrickfergus in recent weeks has continued.
The Cairnhill Walk home of a man connected to the breakaway UDA’s South-East Antrim Brigade was bombed on Saturday night, 22 September. No one was injured in the blast. There were also reports of crowds of loyalists gathering in the town in a similar show of strength that preceded serious rioting in the Castlemara estate in July.
During the rioting, a PSNI member was shot in the back. Last weekend also saw UDA gangs descend on Larne.
Also sited in East Antrim, Larne witnessed some of the worst intimidation directed against Catholics during the course of the conflict.
Sinn Féin’s East Antrim representative, Oliver McMullan, greeted the news that UDA gangs had swamped the town with anger and warned Catholics and nationalists to be “careful”. He also called on people within unionism and loyalism to use their influence to stop the violence.
The truth is that the UDA is now in a cul-de-sac. Its raison d’etre, was to be the iron fist to the British Government’s velvet glove in Britain’s sectarian war, but as an organisation with no political ideology other than ‘any Taig will do’, the UDA descended into a morass of criminality that it cannot and, in many cases, does not want to get out of.
The real challenge then is to decommission the UDA’s criminal mentality as much as its arsenal before it ceases to be a threat to society.