Payout time…

THE PUP is to retain its link to the UVF. David Ervine seemed almost grateful to Bertie Ahern for saying loyalists needed time and space to sort themselves out, and he probably appreciated the sweetener from Tony too. However, it came at more than the cost of funding a party linked to the UVF…The Government’s apparent refusal to follow through on a recommendation of the IMC served to undermine the watchdog’s authority (where is the interim report?).

But if it helps keep those uppity loyalists quiet, the Government will consider the PUP grant of £27,000 money well spent. After all, the debate appears to be going in the right direction, and one of the upcoming challenges for the Government will be to put the right funding into the right hands to develop the right schemes for loyalist areas to prosper peacefully.

But even this is opening a whole Pandora’s box of problems, as Newton Emerson neatly points out here. Are we achieving ‘political progress’ at the expense of democratic principles?

Newt sums it up:

The peace process now operates by appeasing two extreme sectarian parties whose electoral appeal relies on exaggerating tribal division. That appeasement has clearly grown to include collaborating with the exaggerations themselves. Because it would undermine the DUP project to point out that Protestants aren’t marginalised in the community and because it would undermine the Sinn Féin project to point out that Catholics aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the NIO chooses to play along and undermine society instead.

The cynicism required to pull this off is disgusting.

For Stormont, a balanced approach means pandering equally to both sides as they contrive further grievances that everyone knows to be nonsense.

The price of moving the process forward has become the practice of moving Northern Ireland backwards.

If the Government is determined to reward moves by paramilitaries towards peace, that funding needs to be carefully directed. One of the issues that has undermined confidence in the process is the perception (not always correctly, but often enough to raise doubts) that the ‘peace dividend’ has been wasted – either channelled into the pockets of paramilitaries or thrown away on extravagant white elephants.

When it comes to real political issues – like water charges – the Government shows just how ineffective local politicians really are, and how little influence they have where it matters.

There seems to be a sense of growing disillusion and frustration with the repetitive political theatre here in different sections of society – not just militant loyalism.

For example, Lindy McDowell isn’t just pissed off at the paramilitaries on both sides, recently taking the Government to task too:

We rightly get angry at the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. We get angry when we see them at street level strutting around, confident in the knowledge that they are untouchable as they leach off and terrorise the vulnerable. We get angry when we hear of the sordid deals that they lift from a government desperate to keep bombs out of London – amnesty for killers, potential terrorist recruitment into the police.

But taking advantage is what terrorists do. We depend upon the Government to stop them.

That hasn’t happened in Northern Ireland because in order to keep the lid on this place New Labour has reckoned that it will be easier all round to placate terrorists with an endless conveyor belt of sweeteners.

Not so much glorifying terrorism, as ingratiating itself with terrorism.

There are both real and imagined grievances within loyalism, and the challenge for the Government is to identify genuine need and realise that sustaining paramilitarism is part of the problem, not the solution.