A view on the Loyalist Community Council by one of their Victims…

Last week marked the 21st Anniversary of the Ceasefire declared by the Combined Loyalist Military Command.  It was heralded as an end to decades of Loyalist violence.  Earlier that year I met a handful of their colleagues who entered my home one evening and proceeded to empty the contents of a sub-machine gun into my body: all because I was a defenceless ‘innocent’ Taig.  I emphasise the word innocent because that was the point: the more innocent and defenceless the better; Loyalism wanted to instil fear and terror into my community.  This left me paralysed from the waist down: a cripple; burning with pain; plagued with illness.

I got my apology from Gusty Spence that crisp October day: abject and true remorse.  I can’t remember if I accepted it at the time but, in a way, in later years, I did.  I say in a way because it was not an apology from the individuals who were in my home but from the Loyalism as a collective.  I accepted it because I had to make peace with myself in order to make peace with those who harmed me.

I wanted peace.  That is why I and the majority voted ‘Yes’ in the Referendum.  On Good Friday 1998 we agreed to set Barabbas free; all of the prisoners would be released from the H-Blocks.  This still sticks in the craw of some people but I believe it was a necessary concession to help cement the peace process.  Paramilitary organisations would do well to reflect on the magnanimity of this gesture by the public at large.

There was a relative peace between the traditional enemies after Good Friday but the men of war continued to wreak havoc on their own communities.  They found it difficult to give up their Brigadier status and lifestyle.  Demobilisation and disbandment was not on the radar.  The weapons of choice were intimidation, extortion, drug peddling, knee-capping and murder.  The working class communities against whom they waged their war never stood a chance against such muscle-men.

The Ceasefire Generation is now twenty-one: will they get the key to the door?  A key to open the door of the cage: a cage which houses the hawk, which can only whistle to the tune of ‘The Billy Boys’, or to release the doves of peace.  That is the test for the new Loyalist Community Council.  Have they called a new ceasefire, ended their war and will they display abject and true remorse to their community?  Will they finally demobilise and disband?  Will they be able to reintegrate this time?

They are going to need help to reintegrate.  They are going to need the communities that they intimidated to show some magnanimity.  They need to give something back to these communities.  They shouldn’t expect to retain their status by virtue of their hard-man past but instead need to earn the respect of their people.  Any funding opportunities coming into these communities should not be sewn up as ‘Jobs for the Boys’ but should instead be used to create jobs for the boys: the boys of the Shankill, Ballybeen and beyond.  Disband the Young Citizen Volunteers and replace them with young citizen volunteers who will work for the betterment of their community.

If the jackboot is finally lifted from the throats of Loyalist working class communities the people themselves need to begin to reclaim a stake in this society; they need to find their voice.  They are only disenfranchised by virtue of their own apathy.  They need to use the only legitimate weapon they have: the vote.  They need to come out and vote for people who have their loyalist working class interests at heart.  They need to waken up and realise that Big House Unionism couldn’t care less about the Two-up/Two-down loyalists in the Village.  They need to find new Dawns; to elect more Julie-Annes over the Jolenes; and to forget about the Humphrey-Dumptys of this world.  To maybe look at those who would put People Before Profit.  Don’t just use your vote to keep ‘themmuns’ out but instead get ‘yousens’ in.

I hope that the loyalist working class begin to realise their core identity: their innate humanity.  Strip it all away and that’s all we have.  Stop worrying about whether the big dome is adorned with a perpetual flag or the Northern Ireland football shirt can hang from the big wheel at Funderland.  Stop listening to the dog whistle politics that has led so many onto the streets, filling the jails and cemeteries.

I call on all paramilitaries to be more sensitive when honouring their fallen.  To take a moment to reflect on their victims as they observe a minutes silence every Easter or Remembrance Sunday.  When they reminisce about the heroic operations carried out by their brave volunteers don’t forget to include the stories about their attacks on defenceless people like me and the operations I went through to fix my body (the latest one was only last week!).

It is time for the Loyalist Community Council to prove the doubters and the cynics wrong.  I stand beside those who welcomed this new initiative on the airwaves last week.  People like Jude Whyte, John Allen and Mark Rodgers: people who were so badly affected by loyalist violence.  It’s time to reintegrate and we as a society need to let them.  We need to put aside the labelling.  We need to let the ‘perpetrators’, the ‘victim-makers’ and the ‘terrorists’ re-join society.  We need to let them apply for all jobs on an equal basis whether that be as a landscape gardener or a SPAD in Stormont.  We agreed to set Barabbas free in 1998 but yet they are still fettered in 2015.  We need to and we should give you another chance.  Please don’t blow it again.

Written by Paul Gallagher.

Paul was 21 when UFF gunmen burst into his home on the Stewartstown Road in west Belfast in January 1993. They were posing as the IRA and held him and his Catholic family hostage. The loyalists were using his home, he said, to launch an attack on former republican prisoners who lived nearby. Eventually the loyalists tired of waiting for the republicans and, as the gunmen fled, one of them opened fire on the family living room with a submachine gun. Paul Gallagher was riddled with six bullets, leaving him in a wheelchair. (Bio source: BBC)

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    Powerful piece and thanks to Paul Gallagher for writing it. So important that the voice of victims is not just heard, but heard ten times, 100 times louder than the voices of the terrorists and their pathetic apologists.

    This paragraph in particular resonates:
    “I call on all paramilitaries to be more sensitive when honouring their
    fallen. To take a moment to reflect on their victims as they observe a
    minutes silence every Easter or Remembrance Sunday. When they reminisce
    about the heroic operations carried out by their brave volunteers don’t
    forget to include the stories about their attacks on defenceless people
    like me and the operations I went through to fix my body (the latest
    one was only last week!).”

    There are tens of thousands of Pauls out there. His story is a counterblast to the glib glossing over of violence we’ve got to used to. What the brave “hard men” did to him and thousands others can’t be described as a ‘war’; and even if it were, it would be a war crime of the worst kind.

    His experience was no aberration either – it’s typical of what we call the Troubles, which consisted largely of shootings in cold blood of people who were attacking no one. Anyone justifying one ounce of those terrorist campaigns is justifying this kind of action. Let Paul’s words ring in their ears.

  • Greenflag 2

    Thanks to Paul Gallagher for probably the most honest posting I’ve ever read on Slugger . We can but hope that they ‘don’t blow it again ‘ . They has to include the elected politicians as well . The GFA in 1998 has to be the line in the sand from which a more tolerant , peaceful and prosperous society can emerge

    “On Good Friday 1998 we agreed to set Barabbas free; all of the prisoners would be released from the H-Blocks. This still sticks in the craw of some people but I believe it was a necessary concession to help cement the peace process.”

    Indeed . People forget -don’t remember -don’t want to remember- that there was political vacuum in Northern Ireland for the 24 years between 1974 and 1998 which provided the space and time for the men of violence to reassert their control of their fiefdoms .

    Thanks again -hopefully your piece will engender more thoughtful comment by SOT posters as NI undergoes another crisis in its search for political stability .

    Thanks also for your looking to the future rather than the past .

  • Ian Rate

    Thanks for this Paul.
    I hope your thoughts resonate throughout.
    It makes the political shenanigans and petty point scoring that exists in lieu of real politics in Northern Ireland so utterly vacuous.
    Here you are 22 years after your life was upended, recovering from yet another operation, still able to look forward to a better way, still able to see what needs to be done by the majority to let the perpetrators back into the fold.

    Inside their heads the Barrabbas will never be free of their deeds.

    I salute you and wish you a speedy recovery.

  • Croiteir

    Can anyone tell me why these reps of illegal organisations were not arrested?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could someone explain to me what this loyalist council thing is? I’ve missed all the hullaballoo and all can find on t’internet is that there is some sort of collaboration which has been approved by the very people who are helping to ruin working class areas?
    How is this supposed to work as presumably getting RID of criminals and their carry-ons should be beneficial to working class unionist areas and which is something these chiefs would be opposed to?
    Like I say, I’m ignorant of the bigger picture but would these areas not be better off with a carrot & zero-tolerance-flavoured-stick policy?
    Rightthanksbye.