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£1 million won't go far in weaning UDA off crime

(Tom Kelly, Irish News)

To both parts of the UDA leadership: Like many people I am struggling to understand the point of your organisation. It is clear that you have impressed some of the 'chattering classes' in both Dublin and London but this is not so surprising as the smell of sulphur and criminal activity has always had a lingering appeal to the middle-class dining fraternity who are enthralled by the gory and grisly stories of criminals.

To your new-found friends whether it's the East End or south-east Antrim does not make much difference – it's the thrill of being close to a sub-stratum of society that is as mysterious as it is murderous.

Is it true you once had a motto which said 'Law before violence'? Or is it in the UDA's Guide to Paramilitarism – as 'Our law before violence'. Maybe it means orchestrating violence like that in Bangor whereby you actually get the 'law' in front of your thugs before you commit the violence. Perhaps it never existed at all.

In the aftermath of such violence there is the usual hand wringing from your apologists in the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). There is nothing new in this approach. You aped it well from your counterparts across the peace wall. It's better known as 'Teflon Terror-speak!' We know the routine: "It wuz everybody but us, Guv." This well-rehearsed phraseology includes such gems as "the police were heavy handed" or better still "it was just kids involved in a bit of recreational violence to which the police over-reacted". But then again the UPRG exists to give political analysis to your actions and analysing criminal activity and wanton violence requires the type of in-depth political knowledge that the ordinary decent citizen just does not possess.

To its credit the UPRG has learned a few tricks from the UDA and convincing the British to provide more than a £1 million towards conflict transformation within loyalist communities is an illusion worthy of Derren Brown.

But then, you have enjoyed an air of mystery with the British government who regularly turned a blind eye to your sleight of hands, such as the murder of innocent Catholics and extortion rackets. Maybe the problem is that without your RUC handlers the temptation for freelancing is just too much for the more industrious souls in the UDA struggling to make a living in the post-conflict era.

Perhaps, the UPRG is right and the UDA is in transformation but transformation into exactly what?

Forgive me for the cynicism but it would take more than a couple of gins and crudités to reassure me of your bona fides and I certainly would not be too enthusiastic about sharing a taxi home from a dinner party with any of your members.

Maybe my cynicism is well founded because I can still remember people like the notorious John White being courted, wined and dined by the very same establishment who in 1996 told me and the rest of Ireland that the UDA was in transformation.

Of course, that was the kind of transformation that ultimately unleashed the wayward Shankill 'C' company and the South East Antrim Brigade; those well-known reformists who always put 'law before violence'.

It is little wonder that Mr White, your one-time leading UDA thinker (if that is not an oxymoron), once studied criminology.

I suppose that is a requirement for the analysis bit.

I am aware that Mr White, like many of your erstwhile colleagues, has parted company both voluntarily and involuntarily with the UDA. While the objectives are laudable the methods of exile are somewhat questionable.

Is it not possible to just retire your members? Is it not possible to pension them off with the proceeds of crime already amassed? Who are you defending these days? And as for the guns have they already been decommissioned by privatisation?

Too many of us in the slow lane believe that many in your organisation are still too wedded to criminality for their perma-tans to be decommissioned or for the machetes to be stored in the roof space.

As for the £1 million offered by the Department for Social Development, come on, you know too well that will hardly pay for the monthly flights to the Costa del Crime, let alone wean them off racketeering, prostitution and extortion. Why not give the government £1 million instead and apply for charitable status – that's about as credible as transforming into community activists.


Incredulous, Newry.

August 7, 2007

This article appeared first in the August 6, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

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