So, finally, Captain William Johnston has made what looks like his last political act. If only for the sake of history, it should be noted that ‘Johnston”s first victim was not Peter Ward, as is still widely believed and reported, but a young Catholic storeman called John Patrick Scullion – killed two weeks earlier. His death was first thought to have been a result of a hit-and-run accident. There was a considerable degree of shock when responsibility for his killing was claimed only after his funeral by an anonymous caller (ie, “CWJ”) to the Belfast Telegraph offices, who added that war was now declared on the IRA. His body had to be exhumed to discover the true cause of death.
In its forty one year history, UVF gave rise to both the most progressive figures within Loyalism, and the most ruthless. But as Máirtín Ó Muilleoir points out, from a political point of view, it is only two cheers, not three. The question lingers as to why they would not co-ordinate with John de Chastelain? It’s not a huge surprise: David Ervine told Slugger back in February 2003:
“Paramilitarism is dying and will wither on the vine. But I believe in dispersal not disbandment because I think they are too frightened to disband”.
The removal of the name, may in the long term allow the PUP’s new leader to claim that the millstone link with the UVF is now finally dissipated. It remains to be seen whether the party will view any remaining ‘ex officio’ paramilitary activity on the ground in the way Ervine suggested back in 2003: “They are a matter now for the policing service and a society to take on and deal with”.
Adds: The Sun says: “They only renounced violence after Dr Ian Paisley’s courageous decision to sit alongside Republicans in an historic new shared administration. He’s made peaceful politics the only game in town. The UVF may be nasty and brutish, but — like the IRA — they’re not stupid”.
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