Meeting loyalist paramilitaries

A DUP delegation has held meetings with the leaderships of the loyalist paramilitaries. In a statement from the DUP Peter Robinson he said:“These meetings represent an opportunity to engage and discuss the process of transition from paramilitary organisations to people playing a full part in a peaceful and democratic Northern Ireland with violence and criminality being firmly a thing of the past. “

One might regard trying to stop these organisations as laudable; however, to my mind the next sentence betrays Robinson’s error:

“The response from both the UDA and the UVF/RHC has been positive and there was a commitment to an ongoing engagement.”

The idea of a positive response from the loyalist terrorists is utterly specious. They continue to hold onto their weapons and have repeatedly refused to give them up. The problem with the DUP approach exists at several levels.

Firstly there is a simple moral argument: these groups and those individuals with whom the DUP members were discussing have been involved in some of the most unpleasant terrorist murders in Northern Ireland. They are also involved in ongoing criminality and murders such as, it would seem, Thomas Devlin, possibly Lisa Dorrian etc. They continue to exert a malevolent and destructive influence on mainly working class Protestant areas: the same areas which frequently vote DUP (but very rarely for the representatives of loyalist terrorists). As such to entreat with the persecutors of their constituents seems extremely inappropriate.

The DUP will of course claim that these people (the working class Protestants) will benefit from the ending of loyalist paramilitarism. That may well be true and may be an honest position but it exposes a large flaw in their moral argument, and it becomes very difficult for the DUP to criticise the likes of John Hume indulging in discussions with SF, in the aftermath of some of the worst terrorist atrocities of the troubles. It also as Jim Allister has noted undermines the line which needs to be kept to on SF and policing and justice.

The next reason why it is a foolish plan from the DUP is the simple fact that the strategy (entreating with loyalist paramilitaries) has been shown on numerous occasions to be utterly useless: Mo Mowlam went to talk to them, all manner of people with good or bad motives have engaged with them yet as I noted above the paramilitaries continue to indulge in criminal activities: not merely the criminal activity of being in loyalist criminal organisations but also in numerous organised crimes. Discussions with these groups will inevitably centre on what will persuade them to go away. Essentially these groups require some sort of carrot or Danegeld to buy them off and then they may consider starting to do what the rest of us have always done: obey the law; the law which bans owning weapons, the law which bans being in illegal organisations, killing people, robbing people, dealing drugs, etc. etc. They have also repeatedly said that they will not give up “The people’s guns” and similar nauseatingly evil statements: nauseating especially when the “people” they claim to support and help, the working class unionist population, have always been those who most frequently suffered at the muzzles of “The People’s Guns.”

Sadly the DUP is going down the well travelled and utterly ineffective path with these people. All they will do is undermine the very thing most people want; that these people are stopped, preferably by arrest and ideally held accountable for the very large numbers of crimes they have committed. Margaret Ritchie has shown one of the few ways forward in this: stopping their money. The DUP would, I fear, be far better employed in meeting with the police and indeed the Secretary of State and encouraging a much more muscular and aggressive policing response to loyalist criminality. Loyalist paramilitaries have always been utterly useless and as I have discussed earlier it is long past time to stop appeasing them. The only meetings which the leaders of loyalist paramilitarism should be holding are: firstly with the PSNI serious crime squad, then hopefully with their lawyers and ideally many years thereafter with their probation officers.