Republican News · Thursday 24 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Loyalism will eat itself

``It is time that we had an Elliott Ness-type approach to illegal drinking, drug trafficking, the exploitation of young girls for prostitution - all areas being controlled by elements of paramilitary organisations.''

This was one of the more interesting quotes of the week, voiced by none other than ex-UDR major, now Ulster Unionist Assembly member Ken Maginnis. Interesting in that his recent outbursts on the activities of loyalist paramilitaries have only emerged as these gangs have begun to feud with one another, mainly over those issues which Maginnis mentioned, amongst others.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson was also eager to emphasise that the individuals behind these feuds are ``thugs'', who have engaged in the unforgiveable by turning ``loyalist against loyalist'', or as the PUP's Billy Hutchinson termed it, ``Protestant against Protestant''.

Only now, following almost two months of vicious attacks on the nationalist community, have these political leaders begun to complain. Even the very emphasis they have placed, on loyalist attacks against loyalists as opposed to loyalists terrorising nationalist areas, conveys the value they place on the welfare and lives of nationalists.

Maginnis's tirade on the drug-dealing and racketeering engaged in by the UDA and UVF becomes less admirable when we consider the tardiness of his response to these activities, and indeed his own former organisation's (the UDR) willingness to collude with loyalist death squads. He and other unionists, along with the British administration, have long been prepared to turn a blind eye to the brutality of loyalism, content to lend tacit support to anyone engaged in demonising the nationalist community, especially republicans.

All this points up one of the major results of the peace process. Loyalism, its philosophy, and raison d'être are visibly falling apart. This has been a by-product of the recent feuds that have raged in Belfast, but it is also the inevitable consequence of a changing political landscape. The seething hatred and sectarianism perversely justified by loyalists for so many years have been exposed for what it is.

Former UUP leader, James Molineaux, may have been closer to the truth than many thought when he warned his fellow unionists that the IRA cessation was the most destabilising threat ever to the Six-County state. With no clear fulcrum around which loyalism can vent its hatred of republicanism, loyalist death squads have been left without a means to rationalise their activities, if they ever truly could, and have now begun to turn on each other.

But there is little room for complacency in nationalist and republican areas. The arrest and incarceration of Johnny Adair will not end the loyalist feud; it may even exacerbate it, and history teaches us that loyalists only re-unite to launch sectarian attacks on the nationalist community. It is up to loyalist leaders to publicly re-affirm their support for the Good Friday Agreement and repudiate the UDA threat to shoot Catholics in north and west Belfast.

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