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.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.