When will we hear the UVF's real plan?
When will we hear the UVF's real plan?

By Danny Morrison

Ian Paisley is on his holidays. The four entirely independent members of the Independent Monitoring Commission are on holidays. Peter Hain is the Secretary of State for Wales. Sir Hugh Orde is damned elusive. Where are all the 'peace' groups and those politicians opposed to paramilitary violence, drug-pushers and criminality?

Where are the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leaders, Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine?

Must be on holiday as well.

Remember how often over the past 30 years we were told that loyalist paramilitary violence was solely a response to the activities of the IRA? We heard that mantra ad nauseam from unionist politicians and loyalist spokespersons alike. It was echoed in police press statements and in the tenor of early media reporting describing the murders of Catholics as "tit-for-tat" or "retaliatory" killings. They told us that if there was no IRA or IRA activity there would be no loyalist paramilitaries or loyalist violence. It was a perverted logic that allowed unionists to spuriously claim that the IRA was thus responsible for all 3,500 deaths.

It is obvious from the history of Ulster unionism, including the illegal activities of the first UVF and its subsequent co-option into the state forces, that there has always been a dependent relationship between unionism and the use or threat of extra-parliamentary violence.

That loyalist paramilitaries today represent something corrupt, uncontrollable and embarrassing does not gainsay the case that the paramilitaries in the past played their part on behalf of the unionist cause, and could do so again in the future.

Ian Paisley's Ulster Protestant Volunteers were to the fore in the counter-demonstrations which attempted to smash the Civil Rights Movement. Loyalist gangs joined with the RUC and B Specials to burn Catholics out of their homes in 1969. William Craig's Vanguard Movement was paramilitary at heart and, of course, the muscle for the Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974 came from the UDA and the UVF. Paisley joined with the UDA/UFF in the second strike in 1977. Then there was the penchant for wearing berets, marching in military formation, saluting flags and the swearing of solemn and binding oaths (the Carson Trail rallies, the Ulster Clubs and Ulster Resistance) which perpetuated a culture of unionist tolerance towards extra-parliamentary activity.

In recent years the IRA has not only engaged with the International Decommissioning Commission but also verifiably put a large number of weapons beyond use. While during the IRA cessation some IRA activity continued, the graph of activity has shown a prominent decline until the IRA announcement last month of the formal end of its armed struggle.

Yet, loyalist violence, both sectarian and intra-community, has continued. The LVF emerged to support both a drugs empire and Orange Order demands to get marching through the Catholic Garvaghy Road. There has been internal UDA feuding, UVF vs UFF feuding and UVF vs LVF feuding resulting in the loss of dozens of lives.

When Billy Hutchinson announced a few years ago that he did not believe the UVF would decommission its weapons (even were the IRA to do so) both the UUP and the DUP were unexercised by his statement, because, according to them, the IRA is the real problem, not the loyalists: further proof of the duplicitous attitude of the unionist parties.

Catholic homes, schools and chapels have been systematically attacked. Over the summer there were attempts to drive Catholics out of various streets and villages around the North. There were gun attacks, pipe and petrol bombings.

The UVF has also been the driving force behind the most recent feud with the LVF which has resulted in the loss of several lives and a number of individuals being seriously wounded. The LVF, made up of former members of the UVF, has, in turn, attempted to kill its rivals.

In July up to 300 UVF men - who made no bones about being UVF members - occupied the Garnerville Estate in east Belfast and, in front of the PSNI and the British army, drove out a number of families with alleged LVF connections. Unionist politicians were measured in their criticism: in comparison to the passion with which within days they were to demonstrate in condemning the return of the Colombia Three to Ireland.

Indeed, Ulster Unionist Party leader, Sir Reg Empey, called for 'mediation' between the feuding sides. Could one ever have envisaged him giving the same vocational advice and wide berth to feuding republicans? His colleague, Michael McGimpsey, also spoke very softly when he described members of both proscribed organisations as 'Volunteers'.

Many of the anti-Catholic attacks have occurred in the heartland of the North Antrim constituency of Ian Paisley. No doubt he will eventually issue - or be forced to issue - some statement of condemnation from his place of retreat. But the abiding perception is one of indifference - in direct contrast to the actions of several other Presbyterian ministers who went to Harryville and physically washed away the paint which had desecrated the Catholic church.

Reading between the lines of the various statements of the mainstream unionist parties (when they can be found), and the spin put out by PUP spokespersons (when they can be found), there is clearly an attempt to paint the UVF as being somehow more virtuous and upright than the LVF. That is, that the UVF might merely be doing a bit of 'housekeeping' within loyalist working class areas (indeed, the purge of the LVF in Garnerville appears to have been fairly 'popular').

The UVF remains a dangerous and active sectarian organisation. It now appears increasingly likely that its members were behind the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Catholic Thomas Devlin in north Belfast last week. It has also been disillusioned with the peace process, the Belfast Agreement and the failure of its political representatives in the PUP to establish a firm electoral base.

So, perhaps there is more to its feud with the LVF than driving out drug barons and 'liberating' Protestant areas. Is the UVF champing at the bit to resume full-scale activity? Isn't it about time that we heard from Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine what the real plan is? Will they be honest enough to admit that the threat from the UVF is not related to the IRA or IRA activity but to the prospects of political progress and peace with justice?

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