Margaret Ritchie’s ‘last chance saloon’ speech to the UDA certainly sounded tough and unequivocal, but already the details of her ultimatum seem to be unravelling, if the confident assertions of some loyalists are to be believed. In her speech, the Minister for Social Development clearly stated that funding would be withdrawn unless the UDA “has started to decommission its weapons.”
Yet a quite relaxed UPRG spokesperson, Frankie Gallagher, has repeated on numerous occasions throughout the day that the Minister has not called for UDA decommissioning to have commenced within the 60 day period- a point further elaborated upon by our very own loyalist ‘insider’ commenter, Loftholdingswood, on another thread. The confusion has been picked up by Gareth Gordon on tonight’s BBC Newsline.There is a rationale for maintaining the funding programme. For the first time, a pressure lever has been created to incentivise the UDA into moving towards decommissioning and ending their various activities. The Minister could theoretically stagger the funding to create pressure points from henceforward to ensure momentum towards full decommissioning and the ending of all other activities is maintained.
But the price of this programme has been to link dealing with social deprivation in loyalist areas with the activities of the UDA, a cynical move by the NIO which followed logically from the similarly regrettable decision to deal with socio-economic needs of unionist areas as a distinct area of funding, following pressure from unionist political parties. All of which has meant that the work being done through this initiative to address the needs of loyalist communities is being directly linked with the UDA.
The problem with this, of course, is that social and economic deprivation should be addressed objectively by the Department of Social Development on the basis of targeting social need wherever it is required, not categorising and prioritising funding using exclusive- and horridly crude- labels such as PUL (protestant, unionist or loyalist) or, heaven forbid, a CNR equivalent. The problem for the Minister will be that, once such funding initiatives have been commenced and paid employees tasked with improving the social/economic condition of a particular area, to then pull the plug on such a programme because of the actions of individuals who really couldn’t give a damn about the condition of the ordinary working-class loyalist district, will justifiably be regarded as harsh by local people- not to mention staff members.
The answer to the dilemma is, of course, to return to the basic principles of targeting social need in an objective manner so that local communities benefit from government funding regardless of the nefarious activities of the UDA or any other body for that matter.
I wouldn’t be too harsh on Margaret Ritchie because she has inherited a tricky situation and is clearly attempting to turn it to her advantage. But in the long term, it will be vitally important for her to re-assert the principle of objectivity regarding the targeting of social need within her Department. Certainly, in this incident, it would ensure that non-UDA activists residing in loyalist working-class communities with acute social and economic needs would not be punished due to the actions of the UDA.