Loyalist paramilitaries and “civilianisation”

Last month UTV covered the issue of ex-prisoners having difficulties obtaining secure employment. A number of months ago, shortly before Christmas, a conference was held on the issue of “civilianising” the UVF. If this sounds familiar it is because every few months there is another announcement of the “civilianisation” of the UVF. This process of “civilianisation” is what others might call “stopping breaking the law.”

Not the UVF but the UDA’s leader (how exactly McDonald can be named by all and sundry as the leader of an illegal organisation and not be arrested is always beyond me – though I digress) also complained that loyalist ex-prisoners could not get jobs as taxi drivers whilst some IRA ex-prisoners were MLAs. Loathsome as McDonald is, there may be a problem if released criminals cannot find employment.

However, it must be remembered that many released criminals have problems finding work and that usually there is a period of rehabilitation for longer term prisoners prior to their release in order to prepare them for trying to cope with life outside gaol. In the cases of the loyalist (and republican) criminals, however, their precipitate release resulted in them not having the opportunity to have retraining in gaol.

Coming back to the UVF conference on civilianisation: they wanted their members to get jobs involved in “politics, education, community, culture, and other work covering restorative justice and prisoner/ex-prisoner issues.” There is a very clear and indeed explicit suggestion that the way to get the UVF to go away is for their members to get jobs. There has been recent coverage of educational disadvantage in working class unionist communities, especially amongst young males, and it is fair to assume that this educational disadvantage is mirrored within the ranks of the UVF’s membership. However, it seems that even at this time of economic difficulties the UVF want their members to get good jobs in order to civilianise. Unfortunately since there is already disadvantage in working class unionist areas and many loyalist terrorists will not have any qualifications or an employment history there is little conceivable chance of them getting the sorts of jobs they insist on in order to go away.

Jobs like community workers (real ones as opposed to made up “community workers”) often have third level educational qualifications and / or extensive experience. Teachers and others in education clearly have third level educational qualifications: very few of the loyalist terrorists are likely to have such qualifications and having spent much of their time involved in criminality (and often having been in gaol) they are most unlikely to have a good employment history. A few might be able to make a success of legitimate business ventures but the reality is that most self-employed persons are not especially financially successful.

It seems abundantly clear that the UVF (and UDA) would want their members to get good jobs to “go away” and by good one implicitly means jobs with a degree of community respect and most importantly well financially rewarded. However, even the jobs they want (community and education sector) and are grossly under qualified for pay significantly less than their current “jobs” as organised criminals. Very few teachers or community workers live in expensive houses or drive 4x4s and sports cars. Of course very few people in society have the levels of wealth which the loyalist terrorists have enjoyed through their criminality: I suspect few reading this blog have levels of wealth comparable to the loyalist leaders. As such the loyalist leaders are most unlikely to “civilianise” and many of their foot soldiers will see a better chance of achieving wealth by staying with criminality rather than by taking legitimate employment.

The claims by McDonald that republican ex-prisoners have done better are also specious. Some few have indeed become MLAs but that is not a job one applies for but a post one is elected to. McDonald can rage against the unionist population for not voting for the UDA and their stooges but it is not a valid comparison to complain that loyalists are unfairly disadvantaged because unionists are disinclined to vote them into electoral office. Furthermore there are other explanations of the greater apparent economic and financial success of republican ex-prisoners. Although it is a simplistic cliché more republicans spent their time obtaining third level qualifications whilst in gaol. It is true that Sinn Fein does have a greater power of patronage than any loyalist organisation but that does not mean that all the republican ex-prisoners in West Belfast have vast personal fortunes: Adams may have a £1 million holiday house in Donegal but other republican ex-prisoners are clearly not of the holiday house and 4×4 set. In rural areas some republicans are financially moderately successful but that is often because they were small or medium farmers in their real jobs. The fact that very few loyalists come from such a background is irrelevant: as mentioned above the Belfast republicans are not all dripping in money. Those republicans who are truly wealthy seem to have made their money by organised crime and even the most high profile of them seem at risk from the courts: Slab Murphy and Sean Hughes have both attracted police interest over their personal wealth.

As such the UDA and UVF’s plaintive pleas that their members need jobs to “civilianise” are utterly self-serving and duplicitous. What they do not want for their members are jobs: No; they require and indeed demand jobs providing levels of financial prosperity which few in our society have achieved no matter what their personal hard work and merit. This is simply an update of the terrorists’ demands for money in order to go away. The fact that it is presented in a semi articulate fashion and has attracted the support of some well-intentioned but naïve peace processers should not distract from what it is: Danegeld. The main incentive which loyalist paramilitaries should have to go away is that if they are not committing crimes (which they are by even being in the paramilitary organisations) then they are not going to go to gaol. The carrot has been used for vastly too long in all civilised society’s dealings with the loyalist menace: it is long past time that the stick was wielded with significantly more enthusiasm.

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  • The Word

    There are gangsters on all sides and so it is not appropriate that any attempt should be made to honour their ways even by sending out a message that their ways are profitable for them, as you have done, Turgon.

    Glamourising crime serves no-one, even if you’re trying to send out a signal that they will not be tolerated. These people feed on the powerlessness of society. But there will come a day…

  • Driftwood

    “Furthermore there are other explanations of the greater apparent economic and financial success of republican ex-prisoners”

    And the ‘educational’ reason is one of ‘vocational chemistry’. Belfast Metropolitan College really should run a six week course on how to get that damned red dye out of agricultural diesel. 50: 50 recruitmant on to the course should even out the profit making to both ‘communitise’.

  • Driftwood

    *recruitment* – *communities*

    and a ps

    It doesn’t damage your engine despite what HMRC claim, and it’s not damaging to the environment if done correctly.

  • Darkwing


    I have also read the article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph regarding civilianisation of certain organisations and i believe that you have either failed to understand due to your blinkered outlook or have mis-read the article. Not once did i read that the organisation involved wanted for or asked for jobs, or good jobs like you describe. What the article said was that they wanted their members to get involved in community initiatives and groups to not only educate younger members of their community to steer clear of the path that they themselves had taken, but to also help young people to understand why they got involved in the troubles and how that after 40 years and a lot of soul searching it was the wrong path to take. Working with youth in the dangers of drugs, gangs, and also the upset that anti-social behaviour causes without losing their identity or their culture helps younger adults to learn from others mistakes. Young people have a tendency to listen to people they can associate with e.g. a neighbour or someone from their area rather than someone who has never seen or known hardship. This in turn is helping the community to help themselves for the future. Many, if not all of these groups are voluntary community groups. Across Belfast and indeed across the province there are many young men and women on both sides of the community giving up their time and effort on a nightly basis to ensure that residents along the interfaces can live in relative peace, again free of charge. The people do this to ensure that we don’t take a path of hating thy neighbour and “Tit for Tat” attacks on either community, knowing where this will lead.

    There are many other initiatives which are of course unpaid this is only one example of such. I think you have taken the comments of Jackie McDonald regarding ex prisoners unable to get taxi licenses and forged it with the stereotypical view that in some way both organisations are somehow looking for money to go away when neither article states this.

  • al

    I’d advice them to get down to the job centre and join the queue. If they want “civilianisation” to work what better way to start than joining the rest of the population searching for employment.

    I think it’s best for ex-paramilitaries from both sides to get away from the tribal thing and get themselves properly integrated into society. If they hang around with the same people, on the same street, in the same pubs then what chance have they of truly moving towards “civilianisation”. Might open their minds a bit and give them a more realistic perspective of society if they take a career other than a “community worker”..

  • Turgon

    I have heard it all now. From Darkwing about loyalist paramilitaries: “Working with youth in the dangers of drugs, gangs, and also the upset that anti-social behaviour causes”

    Since most of the drugs sold to young people in those areas come from the loyalist criminals who are indeed a gang heavily involved in antisocial behaviour that is putting the fox in charge of the chicken coup; King Herod in charge of baby care or whatever other metaphor you wish to use.

    The reality is that the paramilitaries want money (Danegeld) to “civilianise” and plenty of it: I doubt they would be willing to accept much less than will keep the 4×4 running; petrol is dear these days after all.

    Alternatively what we should do is lock these criminals up (after due process). Then prior to their release they can explain these dangers to young people and can continue doing so as part of their parole following release. That way they might not be selling the drugs to the teenagers.

  • Darkwing

    Alternatively what we should do is lock these criminals up

    Yes,and then certain members of the T.U.V can petition for their release like they did in the case of Torrens Knight.


  • lamhdearg

    As you know very few ex prisoners drive around in 4×4 or sports cars. the few who do should be investigated and put back in jail if found to be commiting crime. to ignore the fact the unemployable need help would be folly.

  • Cynic2

    I think this process might best be managed as part of the rehabilitation process while they are locked up in Megahberry for their crimes

  • Turgon

    A fair point and I think released prisoners should have some help though most of it should as Cynic2 says be whilst in gaol. I am in favour of ex-prisoners getting a fair chance to make a new start. However, that is, I submit far from what both the UVF and UDA are arguing for. They seem to want jobs only of the type they demand for their members as mentioned in the quote from the Belfast Telegraph.

    The clear reality is that the vast majority of loyalist ex-prisoners are grossly under qualified for those jobs. Furthermore it is clear that even those jobs would not provide the standard of living demanded by the loyalist godfathers. What the loyalists want is Danegeld: it is what they have always wanted. Until we begin to deploy the stick of arresting their members and especially leaders and gaoling them we will continue to have demands (with menaces) for carrots.

  • Darkwing

    Like I have stated Turgon…no where in the article did they ask for jobs or money to go away. What the article stated was that they are encouraging their membership to get involved in local iniatitives that already exist such as cross community interface work(unpaid), get involved on the political front within a political party(unpaid) to help make a difference to the community in a positive way from which they came.

    Your arguement here is mis-informed and in fact nonsense.

  • Turgon

    Oh so they will do all this for free will they? If I look out my window I see several pigs flying past even as we debate.

    No Darkwing this was a new, marginally more sophisticated demand for Danegeld. Unfortunately for them most people can see right through it: loyalists’ cunning plans make Baldrick’s look sophisticated.

    Even if by chance the loyalists wanted to do this for free they should not be allowed to as it permits them to keep some sort of structure extant. When are loyalists and their assorted representatives and cheerleaders going to understand that the only thing society asks of them is that they disband completely: not civilianise, not reorganise, not reconstitute, not become old members association; we want them to go away.

    The reality is that they will not go away because the only thing which loyalist thugs can do to get the money, power and “respect” they crave is continue to be in paramilitary organisations.

    Unfortunately thus far the government, the RoI government and indeed the police have taken far too softly, softly an approach to these thugs: the loathsome sight of McDonald being taken golfing by the RoI president’s husband is a particularly perverse example.

    Sooner or later the police are going to have to start arresting these criminals. Then when the stick is deployed the loyalists might finally decide that giving up is the best way to maintain any standard of living outside that offered by HMP Maghaberry. Until then the loyalists will continue to demand their Danegeld and complain that the unionist population will not vote for their representatives.

  • Darkwing


    Oh so they will do all this for free will they? If I look out my window I see several pigs flying past even as we debate.

    Once again I will state that along the interfaces in our province men and women continue to give up their time and effort free of charge to make sure that the local residents, sometimes elderly and disabled can live in relitive peace without fear of bottles, bricks and other objects coming from one side or the other. Many are vilified in their own community by the baying crowd of “get into them” supporters for taking their stand against sectarian/recreational rioting on their doorstep.

    If you so want loyalist’s locked up why was your party collecting signatures for a petition to get Torrens Knight released? Why the hypocrisy?

  • JAH

    Does this mean that TUV will realise the errors in its education policy which is to maintain the status quo (ie keep working class Protestants as the underclass) and switch to a progressive reform of the system that doesn’t stigmatise and write off thousands of kids at 11?

    Thought not.

    It’s Turgon’s weekly dig at Loyalists. And the one man who actually did get some advantage from his time inside was Turgon’s #1 hate figure David Irvine. And woe betide Dawn Purvis! So here we have the middle classes, having pulled the ladder up in education for generations, scoffing at the working classes attempts to stop people going for easy options.

    Is it any wonder they think about voting SF?

  • Turgon

    It is not the working class I have contempt for at all: my loathing is solely for the lumpenproletariat of the loyalist terrorists and their supporters. The reality is that the major oppressors of the Protestant / unionist working class community are the loyalist paramilitaries. It is them who run the protection, prostitution and drugs rackets which disproportionally oppress the working class unionists. It is the loyalists who help turn parts of working class Belfast into sink estates and no go areas for investment. It is the malevolent effect of those paramilitaries (as identified by the recent report on educational disadvantage for working class males) which helps damage those communities and makes all who can leave.

    It is those loathsome paramilitaries for whom I have contempt and who on every occasion they are given the opportunity, the working class unionist community reject at the polls. It seems in the privacy of the polling booth that working class unionists have contempt for loyalist “politicians” every bit as complete as my own.

    Still the fact that you, an individual who tells us you are “Lost between London and Belfast” are one of the few supporters of loyalist “politicians” speaks volumes. I suppose it is easier to support those sorts of individuals when you are not affected by their cancerous effect on the communities they infest.

  • Driftwood

    I grew up in the Meadowlands estate in Downpatrick-Rory Carr will know it well- and it isn’t/wasn’t ‘middle class’ . Mostly, but not all , working class (when that label meant something). I didn’t want to pass the 11 plus but fate put me in a grammar and I ended up at QUB rather than Oxbridge.
    I went back recently a few times and it isn’t as bad as it used to be. The reason is a lack of paramilitaries. Drugs I’d say yes, but opportunistic hierarchy, as in any similar environment. Seen worse in Tooting.

    My point is: Grammar schools can help people from poor backgrounds. So can non-grammars, but not in the sense of ‘pushing’ them academically. Leave the class war stuff for Islington ‘proles’ aka Mark McGregor to pontificate on

  • Cynic2

    They will do it for free?

    Since when?

  • Turgon makes excellent points in his original post.
    In fact, Id go further and say that he makes too many good points…..and yes that IS possible because inevitably he and I would disagree on nuance and emphasis……..and in teasing out the argument we could all get very polarised.

    That is we agree on the general point and then disagree on the nuances.
    There has to be broad agreement that part of a prison regime is rehabilitation and preperation for life on the outside. But I dont think paramilitary prisoners ever signed up to any form of rehabilitation. The euphoria at early release might indeed be tempered by the thought that there is no preperation……no job. And we know from non terrorist prisoners anywhere in the world that without a meaningful stake in life, repeat offence and criminality is inevitable.
    Did loyalist prisoners go back to their community in a worse position than their republican counterparts. Did they go back to a community that shunned them.
    If so why?
    Well they claimed to serve God and Ulster but the community saw very obvious and legal ways to so do without resorting to murderous violence. The RUC and UDR for example were bound by legal constraint and had the capacity to weed out the pyschopaths and deserves enormous credit for mostly achieving that.
    Turgon mentions the disproportionate numbers of republican prisoners who took the Open University route. Are they of a higher (intellectual) calibre? Im not sure ….some Ive known are extremely intelligent and some are as thick as the proverbial two short planks.
    So why did the nationalist/republican community embrace them……after 1998?
    Indeed Id go so far as to say that the nationslist/republican community (or a majority part of it) are open to criticism for retrospectively endorsing terrorism……or allowing that perception.
    There is I think a tolerance of political violence and social banditry going back to Raparee times.
    Any reasonable person would say that Catholics are not morally weaker (or stronger) than their Protestant counterparts.
    But Id go further……this is the point where Turgon stops agreeing (too may good points).
    The opportunity to serve God & Ulster was open to all thru legal means. The opportunity to serve Mother Ireland (no more or less noble……IN ITSELF) was not it may be said quite so obviously available to nationalists who were of a militaristic mind.
    But the RUC and UDR had the means and used the means to (in the vast majority of cases successfully) weed out the psychopaths. Republican and loyalist paramilitary terror groups did not have that facility……and may not even have wanted to use it if they had.
    I am not by any means suggesting that republican paramilitary terror was on a higher moral plain than its loyalist counterpart. Nor am I am suggesting that it was on the same moral plain than the forces of law and order. Thats an entirely different conversation.
    But what I am taking further is Turgons own point that there are more educated republican paramilitaries than loyalist ones.
    Its nothing to do with Morality.
    But rather we too easily buy into the notion of two sets of “mindless thugs” of the Red Hand Luke stereotype. One group might have been more mindless than the other group.

    See we started off in agreement and its the teasing out and the nuances that derail it. Turgon and I really need to go to a seminar together. We wouldnt agree but thats the whole point. There will always be another one. 🙂

  • separatesix

    It’s unfair to tarnish the TUV with the “release Torrens Knight” petition, one member set it up it wasn’t sanctioned by the party.

  • joeCanuck

    Very good post, Turgon. You certainly know how to call a spide a spide.

  • separatesix

    I don’t like the term working class loyalist area or republican area, all areas are part of the UK even if they have the nerve to paint our postboxes green.