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It's time for the UDA to go away

(Editorial, Irish News)

The Ulster Defence Association, in all its sinister forms, has been given every possible opportunity to quietly leave the stage.

Events of recent days have demonstrated that neither the mainstream UDA nor its breakaway elements have any intention of voluntarily ending their activities.

Indeed the disgraceful weekend gun attack on a police officer in Carrickfergus provided clear evidence that the risk to the public posed by the UDA dissidents in particular is increasing rather than declining.

The officer is believed to have been shot in the back when he arrived at the scene of a confrontation between rival factions, although his life is not said to be in danger.

A civilian was also stabbed during the prolonged disturbances, and weapons, including CS gas, a crossbow and baseball bats, were seized during follow-up operations.

It appears that the shooting was part of a response to the veiled threats which were publicly issued by the so-called 'brigadiers' of the UDA on Friday.

They strolled around the car park of a Co Antrim hotel to announce that they were totally opposed to law-breaking and would not tolerate any criminality within their membership.

They seem to have forgotten that the UDA itself is an illegal group and belonging to it – never mind controlling it – is a criminal offence.

In fairness to the UDA leaders, they have not exactly been hunted down ruthlessly by the authorities over recent years.

A polite understanding has been maintained that the main loyalist and republican groups were moving to disbandment and needed to be given some time and space to complete this process.

This has worked reasonably well in the case of the IRA, which thankfully has to all intents and purposes disappeared from view.

The UVF has retained its structures to date but its key figures at least have had the wit to keep a low profile while they consider what is hopefully their exit strategy.

In complete contrast, UDA commanders call press conferences, present themselves as legitimate community representatives and demand additional funding for the areas they regard as being under their control.

There is no serious evidence that the UDA is preparing to follow the IRA along the road to full disarmament.

This is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs which deserves to be highlighted by senior unionist politicians with much more force than has so far been the case.

What we must achieve is a society which is completely free from the malign influence of all paramilitary organisations, whether loyalist or republican.

This is a message which will have to be firmly impressed on the UDA in the days and months ahead.

July 25, 2007

This article appeared first in the July 23, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

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