Is Peter Robinson ready to mete out some tough love to loyalist paramilitaries…

Harsh words today from Tom Kelly in his Irish News column when he accuses the Chief Constable of living in Narnia if he thinks the rest of us believe that loyalist paramilitaries are not behind the orchestration of violence in recent weeks.

This morning Newshound links to this feature in the Belfast Telegraph:

A mother of four has told how her children watched in horror as a fire engulfed their home.

The UDA has been blamed for the malicious fire started at the house in Shankill Terrace. The Fire Service sent seven appliances and 33 firefighters at 7.15pm last night as flames threatened to spread to nearby roofs.

Residents on either side were evacuated from their homes and eye-witnesses described a hole in the roof where flames were bursting through. It comes just three days after UDA killer William ‘Mo’ Courtney (50) was convicted of headbutting Ms Coulter during a confrontation over drugs.

Tracey Coulter told the BelTel…

She called on First Minister Peter Robinson to immediately end funding for community centres that employed members of the paramilitary group.

Courtney assaulted Ms Coulter after she travelled to the Lower Shankill Community Association offices to speak to one of his associates about the death of a relative.

Her cousin Neil Orr had died from suspected drug abuse a week before the incident.

She said: “The government have to take action. They cannot continue to let law-abiding citizens be tortured by these thugs. The situation on the ground and the level of intimidation of ordinary people like me is getting worse.”

This, like failure to root the child sex abuse problem through state agencies is one of the hideous and difficult to reach legacies, not simply of the Troubles but of a peace process that has thrived in part from ‘buying people in’.

It’s almost completely hidden because unlike the Loyalist street protests these guys go largely about their business inside single identity communities where local people’s access is conditioned by insanely jealous paramilitary leaders.

It’s the Catch 22 of NI’s peculiar model of engagement politics. If you are inside the camp you are almost completely protected. Woe betide people like Ms Coulter who get in their way.

But as Margaret Ritchie discovered closing down funding for projects perceived to be close to or benefiting paramilitaries is more complicated than just waving a ministerial pen. It requires cross cutting strong political will.

As Tom Kelly notes today, there are political causes to the local bolstering of paramilitaries…

With elections imminent, the PUP – the UVF’s apologists-in-chief – are intent on creaming off the loyalist discontent for electoral gain.

The rise of dissident republican activity is like a super Christmas present come early for Billy hutchinson and his mates. The PUP needs a resurgent republican threat to shore up their self-proclaimed loyalist protector role.

So what can Peter Robinson do? The straight answer is to start backing citizens over vested local interests (like the UVF/UDA). And back the PSNI in the field.

But as Kelly also points out, there’s is currently little reciprocation on the other side, with special pleading being made for ‘senior Republicans’ who find themselves on the wrong side of the law:

Sinn Fein spokespeople are rightly quick to condemn dissident actions but are slow to support the justice meted out to them by the police and courts system. This is not a sustainable position.

Sinn Fein need to have the same political fortitude and judicial resolve against former comrades as was displayed by the Cosgrave and De Valera administrations in dealing with the recalcitrant elements of militant republicans post-Treaty.

Methinks it’s time for some tough love all round.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty