So the loyalist criminals have decommissioned: I suppose that has to be welcomed (except of course they have not decommissioned fully but I will return to that). It is pleasing that at least some of the weapons that these people illegally held have now been put beyond use though I would prefer destroyed and that after forensic testing so there would be some chance of that information being put to good use in the prosecution of the criminals who possessed or used these firearms.
Turning first to the Ulster Volunteer Force. Let us initially remind ourselves of the crimes committed by the UVF: here is the briefest of résumés by the BBC. They were formed with the expressed intention of executing “mercilessly and without hesitation” known IRA men. Of course to start this ideal itself was utterly immoral and evil, they had absolutely no mandate to do this, the vast majority of people they murdered had nothing to do with the IRA and self evidently where there were so many murderers such as in Fermanagh they made practically no appearance. Safer and more fun to cut up random Catholics in Belfast than actually protect anyone (except their own criminal enterprises), not that anyone asked for their protection.
When they announced their ceasefire Gusty Spence (murderer of Peter Ward) said “In all sincerity, we offer to the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 25 years abject and true remorse. Indeed Spence asked Mr. Ward’s mother for forgiveness and she appears to have given that. Such an act from Mrs. Ward is deeply laudable: infinitely more so than Spence’s request; what we need to focus on is the fact that he had committed a crime at all. Even taking Spence and co’s apology at face value, it is, however, utterly half hearted: they have defined post hoc their innocent victims and make no apology for the murders they claim to have been of non-innocent victims; as if they, the UVF, held a fair trial and appeals process. If they apologised for all the crimes they committed (murders and others) that might be slightly more laudable. Even that, however, leaves aside the fact that one of the so called political representatives of the UVF, Billy Hutchinson (himself the murderer of two boys in 1974) has been arrested over the Thomas Devlin murder enquiry. Exactly why that has not resulted in the ending of his release on license has always been a mystery.
It is unclear whether or not the UVF wishes to remain as an old boys association. If it does this is of course utterly unacceptable. We all know that these gangsters are behind intimidation, protection rackets, drug dealing and prostitution and their old boys association would no doubt continue these criminal activities. Even if by some chance they did not intend to continue their criminal enterprises their association would still be utterly unacceptable. They murdered over 500 people in Northern Ireland and beyond and for the UVF to continue in any shape, manner or form is an insult to those people’s memories and to the pain of their loved ones. At the risk of offending Godwin’s Law it is actually like accepting an SS old boys club: nauseating and loathsome in the extreme.
The reality is that the only way the UVF could come out of this episode with any semblance of honour would be, after apologising for all the murders, to cooperate with the police to solve their crimes and then disband permanently leaving no trace of their existence save sadly for the gravestones of their victims; an eternal monument to their dishonour and evil. Indeed as an aside I hope more than any other outcome from the next sets of elections that the revolting sight of the UVF cheerleader will be removed from Stormont and indeed from the councils of Northern Ireland.
Turning then to the Ulster Defence association, that organisation which defended with great tenacity its members needs for personal financial gain and their needs to slake their blood lust with any taig will do. It appears that the UDA are not even willing to decommission unless they get yet more concessions: yet more Danegeld. In this case they appear to be demanding more money for their pet projects. Let us, not for one moment, pretend that the UDA want money to help working class unionist areas other than as a strange form of trickle down from the paramilitaries own pockets. In addition this money will be used to enable the UDA to continue to hold its malevolent influence on working class unionist areas. An influence, let us remember, which is only held by fear and intimidation and which working class unionists serially reject in the privacy of the ballot box.
The UDA also seem to want some of their members who have been gaoled released. Thankfully for once our Secretary of State Shaun Woodward (he of the backbone of a cephalopod) has said that this is unacceptable. However, he also needs to state that he regards the UDA’s effort as completely inadequate and that, as such, the decommissioning window for the UDA will close this summer. If that were to happen (and I will not hold my breath) it might suggest that very belatedly some osetoblasts are actually functioning in Mr. Woodward’s spinal column.
Of course all of the above leaves aside the inadequate nature of the loyalist decommissioning. It is overseen by General de Chastelain (a man with an honourable but not unblemished record) and some witnesses. The IRA decommissioned in the sight of witnesses appointed by the IRA (Rev. Harold Good and Fr. Alec Reid) neither of whom were regarded by everyone as both completely independent and adequately sceptical. The question arises who witnessed the loyalist decommissioning, whether they were appointed by the loyalists and how independent they were.
Vincent Kearney’s account does little to allay fears that this decommissioning will be as non-transparent as the IRA’s. On the BBC website he says: “The only people who know exactly what was decommissioned by the UVF are its leadership, the general and his team and those eyewitnesses. I understand the general has a statement ready, but they can’t issue it until authorised to do so by the UVF leadership.” These terms and conditions make it most unlikely that we will have a list of the weapons destroyed or how they were destroyed, let alone photographs or ideally independently shot television pictures of guns being completely destroyed. In the absence of all that there will always be the suspicion that not all the weapons are accounted for.
Let us remember the vast (and to many of us utterly excessive) concession that not forensically testing these weapons is. If that had been done it is possible that at least some of the loyalist godfathers who strut around Northern Ireland would be prosecuted. The failure to have these people gaoled is one of the great stains on our society and one which we seemed condemned to have to accept indefinitely. In addition let us remember that Lisa Dorrian, Thomas Devlin and many others were murdered by loyalists without the use of guns. The very existence of these organisations was is and always will be utterly unacceptable and decommissioning, good as it may be, does not actually change that and certainly does not bring the dead back. At least some of us believe that one day the books will be opened.