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Loyalists don't want to face up to the truth

(Susan McKay, Irish News)

A loyalist walks into a pub. He is lavishly draped in gold chains. "Did the UDA give you a promotion?" asks his mate. "Aye," he replies. "I'm T.O. now." "Training officer?" asks his mate. "Naw," he says. "Telligence officer."

Did you hear the one about the loyalist arsonist? This guy walks into a shop, looks around, goes out again. He comes back in wearing a disguise and sets fire to the place. His disguise? A baseball cap.

There are plenty of jokes about loyalist stupidity. This one is on CCTV and it's not funny. Particularly not for the north Belfast shop assistants faced with a ball of smoke and flames and terrified by their encounter with loyalist reasoning.

Sunday's attack marks an escalation of the UDA's latest vendetta against the Sunday World. Staff at this particular shop on the Antrim Road hadn't been warned not to sell the paper.

Heard the one about the loyalists who carried out the threat they hadn't made?

The UDA has, however, threatened other shopkeepers, mostly in Belfast and Portadown. Some have complied. Sales of the tabloid are falling.

So, what are the guardians of God and Ulster protecting us from now? Vilification of our little 'province' and its traditional ways? No. There was quite a bit to provoke loyalist paramilitaries, though, in last Sunday's issue. 'Tapes of Death' warned that a "New York mafia style clearout" might be imminent because a 'loyalist tout' had recorded UDA leaders, in one of their brothels, planning extortion rackets and bombings.

There was a story about the LVF murder of Lisa Dorrian earlier this year and speculation that her killers might have dumped the young Catholic woman's body in the sea. There was a claim that the UVF had been behind the murder last week of 15-year-old Catholic boy Thomas Devlin, in north Belfast. Another story linked a former UDA leader to the 1997 murder of GAA official Sean Brown.

Police were said to be in pursuit of a feud victim who has fled to England, allegedly with an underage girl. The UDA man who was meant to clean up the UDA in east Belfast after Jim 'Doris Day' Gray was deposed, was said to have quit. There was a list of 26 people the UVF and the Red Hand Commando has allegedly killed since its 1994 ceasefire.

But the story which must have riled north Belfast 'brigadier' Andre Shoukri most, claimed he had been "the brains behind a bungled bombing".

Shoukri was alleged to be the 'mastermind' whose orders led to the petrol bombing of the home of a disabled man. The UDA had supposedly meant to target one of its own informers but got the address wrong.

This current vendetta against the Sunday World began five weeks ago, apparently after a story which claimed that Shoukri had blown £10,000 in three betting shops in one day. Shoukri indignantly informed the Sunday World that its informants were all "touts and thugs".

The Sunday World frequently treats paramilitary leaders as if they were malign cartoon characters whose ludicrous antics are to be ridiculed. Some of its stories amount to little more than pub gossip, with headlines that make wildly inflated claims to significance. However, the paper does valuably expose a sordid and thriving gangland culture.

This takes courage. In the 1980s, the UVF shot and seriously injured Sunday World journalist Jim Campbell and forced him, along with his colleague Martin O'Hagan, to leave Northern Ireland. In 2001, the LVF murdered Mr O'Hagan who, believing the war was over, had returned to live in Lurgan. He had continued to expose loyalist crime.

No journalist should have to work under threat from these thugs. No van driver or shop assistant should be expected to take them on. Those who keep on claiming that loyalists are sincerely trying to clean up their act must face up to the brutal reality. Loyalists continue to murder and injure people. They continue to intimidate Catholics out of their homes. They continue to blight the communities they claim to defend. They are corrupting a new generation – one of those who shot a victim of the present feud is aged 14.

A youth at Drumcree once told me that a riot had been "just a bit of fun".

I said it didn't look that way on TV.

He said: "That's because the TV cameras are against us."

Loyalists constantly and aggressively demand of journalists that we "tell the truth". The truth is, they don't want to hear it.

August 18, 2005

This article appeared first in the August 16, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News