In the Irish News yesterday (subs needed), Newton Emerson turned his attention to the recent happenings in the Alexandra Bar, and more importantly, the political reaction to it. He argues that in the case of most of the population of Loyalist Belfast, the ordinary citizens will have been perfectly happy to see strong police action against rent seeking (see this blog discussion) activities of Loyalist paramilitaries.By Newton Emerson
Nigel Dodds needs to do some maths. When police raided the Alexandra Bar in north Belfast last week, less than a mile from his constituency office, a crowd of 100 people gathered to express their displeasure. Or at least that’s what the media said. Judging by television pictures the numbers were somewhat smaller and most were simply gawping. Still, let’s assume that this report was substantially correct.
The population of the Duncairn electoral ward is 4,007. What was the remaining 97.5 per cent of its population doing on Thursday night? Might they have been sitting at home thinking “Thank Christ”, by any chance? There certainly wasn’t much of a mass uprising the following morning, when all the protest this densely populated neighbourhood could muster was setting fire to a bin lorry – a rubbish effort by north Belfast’s standards. The turnout was even less impressive on Monday, when 11 men appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court charged with setting up a meeting in support of the UDA. Just 50 supporters appeared in the public gallery – less than five per defendant. Most people could summon up more immediate family members at a moment’s notice.
Yet Nigel Dodds says: “Many constituents have asked me was the high-profile raid justified?” How many constituents, Nigel? Less than 4,007 perhaps? Less than the number affected by paramilitary racketeering, extortion and violence? Nigel Dodds needs to take a walk down the York Road. The entire area from his office to the Alexandra Bar is a building site, with swathes of social housing plus a huge new leisure centre under construction. Billboards for private developments are also beginning to appear. In between stand rows of small shops and other family-run businesses. All represent a potential paramilitary goldmine, whose wealth would be extracted at the direct expense of local people.
If the UDA has been broken in north Belfast then those buildings, businesses and shops can proceed and prosper without the fear of armed robbery or the burden of paying protection money. Doesn’t that justify the raids to Nigel’s constituents? Is it too much to expect their MP to say so? Nigel Dodds claims he can’t say so because he is constrained by “prejudicing any possible legal proceedings”. But this is complete nonsense. Nigel Dodds can say whatever he likes about the UDA without prejudicing anything other than its attitude to the DUP – and vice versa. However, Nigel Dodds feels no constraints over saying: “there are aspects of the police raid that concern me”.
He thinks the tactics were “aggressive” and will be raising his concerns in writing with the chief constable. Nigel Dodds needs to tell us how he would have arrested a bar full of alleged loyalists. The PSNI managed to do so without inflicting or sustaining a single injury. By any measure this was a highly professional operation which anyone who supports the police should applaud. So Nigel Dodds also needs to tell us if he fully supports the police. If not, he needs to tell us why he still expects Sinn Fein to fully support the police.
However, Nigel Dodds prefers to turn this question around and put it back to the chief constable.
“He needs to give us clear answers about whether it is PSNI policy to apply the law as it concerns paramilitaries differently in unionist areas to the way his officers exercise ‘discretion’ in republican areas,” says the MP from the law and order party.
Nigel Dodds needs to explain why this sounds suspiciously like a complaint. Surely it is a good thing for unionists areas to have the parasites cleared from their midst. If the people of Duncairn have received preferential treatment in this regard, aren’t they more fortunate than their Catholic neighbours?
Is it possible that 97.5 per cent of them quietly think so? Might they hold this opinion less quietly if their MP was not so loud in his equivocation?
Finally, Nigel Dodds really needs to have a word with Ian Paisley jnr, who has called on President Mary McAleese to disassociate herself from the Jackie McDonald faction of the UDA. It seems that the DUP is unhappy with political overtures towards some loyalists, yet also unhappy with security clampdowns against other loyalists.
In fact, it almost looks as if the DUP is siding not just with loyalism but with loyalism’s hawks over its doves. Nigel Dodds needs to make it clear that this is not the case. Perhaps he’ll write to us after he’s written to the chief constable.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty