I think my views on loyalist paramilitaries have been well documented in the past but for any new readers or those with short memories I am totally opposed to all loyalist paramilitary violence. I hope those reading this thread from a nationalist / republican, outsider or non loyalist unionist position will give me a little latitude here as this blog is really addressed to any with a sneaking regard for loyalist paramilitaries.Okay let us get this one out of the way at the start. Some unionist politicians flirted dangerously with paramilitaries on a number of occasions during the troubles. The UWC strike and the 1977 strike are occasions where mainstream unionist politicians were far too close to loyalist terrorists. Of course we also need to mention Ulster Resistance; amongst Paisley’s least glorious hours. Robinson’s “invasion” of Clontibret is no better. I know a number of people who were out with their shotgun licences on Slemish and similar nonsense; as far as I know they all regret it now and none of them committed any crimes.
The purpose of this blog is not, however, for me to pour out apologies for the very minor extent to which unionist leaders were involved with paramilitaries. No doubt the moral relativists will be out in force denouncing unionists in general and me in particular as a hypocrite; that I can bear. Instead what I want to do is take the opportunity to ask in a deliberately amoral fashion whether or not loyalist paramilitarism was ever of any real political benefit to unionism. I will not comment on this thread on the murder by loyalists of Protestants nor their assorted acts of criminality. They are already damned by these acts even if their “war” had been effective or morally acceptable. We will for the mean time, however, leave aside these vast elephants in the room.
The loyalist paramilitaries and their associated political cheerleaders clearly felt that they had a use to unionism. Essentially this perceived use was, I would submit, in at least four areas.
Let us list them and then analyse them one by one:
1). They defended the unionist community from the IRA.
2). They were a bulwark against any sell out by London and could have saved us in a civil war.
3). They provided “muscle” during protests by the unionist community and, hence, gained political victories.
4). By their actions they created such fear in the nationalist / republican community that this community pressurised the IRA into ending its violent campaign against unionists.
Now let us analyse these propositions. Before we do so it is important to note that even if by some chance we find that loyalist paramilitaries were politically useful to unionism, their immoral and evil actions in intimidating, injuring and murdering members of the nationalist community would render any benefit worse than null and void; it would make the “benefit” actually a disadvantage. Such an analysis (based as it is on morality) is of course of no use in debating with a loyalist cheerleader. As such on with the amoral analysis:
1). This is the easiest to dismiss. Let us dismiss it with one name to begin with; my late father in law’s friend Douglas Derring; a Brethern shop keeper in Roslea murdered by the IRA. South Armagh and South Fermanagh Protestants were known to be targeted by the IRA. Some were in the police and army, others such as Derring were not. We can argue about this being ethnic cleansing; that is an argument to be had with republicans. Had, however, loyalist paramilitaries been remotely interested in defending Protestants an extremely good place to start would have been on the border especially in places like South Fermanagh. What do we find: absolutely no defence of the unionist people by loyalist paramilitaries. Indeed in South Armagh we have the spectacle of the Reavey and O’Dowd murders providing a supposed excuse for the Kingsmill massacre. Hence, we see that on the border the loyalist defenders of the unionist people achieved an entirely negative result and merely increased the danger to border Protestants. Turning to Belfast and its environs; I can off hand think of not a single case where loyalist paramilitaries managed to prevent the IRA murdering anyone and since the IRA murdered so many people during the troubles it does not seem reasonable to regard loyalist paramilitaries as a deterrent. According to Sutton: in sum total the loyalist terrorists murdered 1020 people of which 42 were republican paramilitaries and I do not think one was at the time trying to kill anyone.
2). The bulwark or doomsday scenario. Initially it must be stressed that this was, has always and will always be an adolescent fantasy. This supposes that if by some chance the British had suddenly left, the IRA or the Irish army would try to start a war. Whilst it is likely that the IRA would have tried to increase its campaign of murder it is much less likely that the Irish army would suddenly march on Northern Ireland. In any case there was a large and pretty effective armed police force (the RUC) which seemed quite capable of stopping very many IRA activities. Additionally there was the UDR which contained actual trained soldiers. Finally there was the Territorial Army. As such there were more than enough trained people to save Ulster. In addition they would have had a large quantity of modern small arms of mainly the same type, large quantities of high quality, compatible ammunition and even access to a small number of heavy weapons from the TA. What would not have helped would have been a force of untrained, frequently semi literate thugs with a motley assortment of firearms, dubious quantities and qualities of ammunition, no heavy weapons, no proper communications equipment and no discipline. The old 1912 UVF whatever the rights and wrongs of that organisation the alphabet soup never were.
3). The “muscle” argument. This is the most difficult to dismiss. It is undoubtedly true that during the UWC strike loyalist paramilitaries were heavily involved in intimidation. However, the strike was largely supported even in areas with no loyalist paramilitaries, it is very likely that it would have proceeded, gathered momentum and defeated power sharing without any need for criminal activity. Most importantly, however, power sharing was overwhelmingly defeated in the pooling booths. Had there been no UWC strike the unionist population could, and (rightly or wrongly) almost certainly would have voted the Faulkner faction out of power. This would also then have prevented the political problems of allowing the opponents of unionism to point to the loyalists’ involvement in the strike.
In 1977 the issue is simpler as not only was the strike foolish, the involvement of loyalist hardmen wrong but also of course the strike failed ending as it did the career of one Ian Paisley (oh no it did not, I forgot). At Drumcree the story is little different. Even if (and it is no small if; but if) the Orangemen got down the Garvaghy Road due to loyalist paramilitaries (I argue they did not); they no longer do so; hence, again a propaganda defeat for unionism and yet again an example of loyalism failing to effectively help unionism.
4). Pressurising Roman Catholics who then pressurised the IRA. This is of course the favourite hobby horse of the loyalist cheerleaders. It forgets that the IRA campaign failed completely to force unionists to change their position and support a united Ireland. Indeed it drove them away from that proposition. By extension; why would murdering old men in bars or bookmakers shops cause nationalists to oppose people who claimed to be their (the nationalists) defenders. It is completely illogical as well as forgetting that if you hurt a community in that way it will tend to do the opposite of what its assailants want. Rather the alphabet soup’s campaign was much more likely to drive young nationalists into the arms of violent republicans in a desire for revenge.
I could go on and on (as I have) but I think that it is necessary to dispassionately disabuse any loyalist of any shred of logical and intellectual legitimacy for their campaign. Their campaign was immoral, illogical and contributed negatively to the unionist cause.
I accept that some nationalists / republicans will now also come on to denounce me as a bigot. This is a hazard I will happily accept in order to attack a cohort of people for whose views I do believe I have even more contempt than I have for those of the IRA cheerleaders. In regard to IRA cheerleaders I at least do not have the added burden that loyalist cheerleaders give me by claiming to have committed their crimes for my community’s benefit.
Now do any of the loyalist cheerleaders want to come and try to argue their case?