the right balance?

While Brian Feeney failed to mention all of the interested parties in his article on Tuesday – which I noted in sketching out the longer backstory here – in yesterday’s Irish News Newton Emerson filled in more detail on the official policy of dealing with the UDA. He asks where the political parties have been, and the two main unionist parties in particular, while the policy has been operating and puts names to those in positions where that policy will have been conducted from.Courtesy of the excellent Newshound

Sir Hugh Orde has expressed frustration with the way the courts handle loyalist cases. Is the PSNI receiving its peace-process signals from the Public Prosecution Service? The PPS is responsible for both prosecutions and bail applications.

Until this year it operated a clear revolving door policy towards loyalists, including the Shoukris – until a mysterious foot was suddenly jammed in that door in the case of the Shoukris alone. The director of the PPS is Sir Alasdair Fraser QC, who demonstrated after the Stormontgate fiasco that he sees no reason to explain himself to anyone.

However, Sir Alasdair does answer directly to UK attorney general Lord Goldsmith, who sits in the cabinet. The cabinet is formally advised on Northern Ireland matters by Jonathan Phillips, the NIO permanent secretary and former NIO political director.

Implementation of peace process policy is handled day-to-day at cabinet level by the prime minister’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, but because Tony Blair has never held a cabinet vote during his entire term in office, ultimate responsibility for loyalist peace processing goes right to the top. The situation in Dublin is much the same. Irish president Mary McAleese is most strongly associated with southern overtures towards the Jackie McDonald faction of the UDA – but whether or not this was her idea, it is inconceivable that she would pursue it without the taoiseach’s full permission. Bertie Ahern has recently confirmed this by meeting the ‘mainstream’ UDA himself.

Perhaps these establishment figures in London, Dublin and Belfast are correct in their cynical approach – but they must still be held accountable for the consequences. Last year the UDA murdered three people, including one Catholic and one Protestant civilian.

Those victims are unlikely to be its last. Is official policy towards the UDA striking the right balance between overreaction and appeasement?

It’s a question that has been raised on Slugger, in various forms, for some time – whether questioning the basis of the policy itself, “First of all, we should not get snookered by their rhetoric..” the perceived outcome of that policy, “the basis of a civilised society?”… as well as pointing to the levels of hypocrisy required to ignore it, “the best we can hope for?”

And, while Newton correctly queries the silence of the two main unionist parties in particular, the other mostly silent voice in this, up to now at least, has been that of the wider media..