UDA gangsters shouldn’t have it all their own way

By Susan McKay (for the Irish News)

There was a moment of bleak hilarity in a documentary the BBC made a few years ago about the UDA, when a furious woman vented her indignation against the hard men of the faction which had shot into her home in a bid to kill her husband. “Youse have shot the chihuahua, youse bastards,” she said.

It came to mind this weekend, with reports of a new ‘crisis’ in the UDA over the threat by the SDLP’s minister for social development, Margaret Ritchie, to withdraw the money her direct-rule predecessor gave the UDA in yet another bid to wean it away from its guns. The verb is apt. Expect much bawling from these babies.

The minister’s harsh words are said to have shocked the sensitive souls of the UDA’s ‘inner council’, at a time when they were already upset because one of the former ‘brigadiers’ had been seen to shake hands with a former IRA man.

“You know many people probably thought something like this would happen but it’s it actually happening that threw them,” one of them told a journalist. “It’s hard to explain.”

Evidently so. The drama of this handshake might, the distraught source went on, might have so ‘spooked’ people that they had started putting up Ulster ‘independence’ flags in Ballymena, in the territory of ‘the Mexican’, as the local ‘brigadier’ is styled.

Meanwhile, another news report gave details of a falling-out in Rathcoole which led to a young man being beaten up while his home was wrecked.

A spokesman for the ‘inner council’ spoke of the need for the “regime of terror” in the area to be dismantled so that the “good guys” can regain control.

It is quite obvious that, apart from everything else, these people are just far too emotionally unstable to be in charge of lethal weapons. There is no need for us to listen to any more tiresome blather about what differentiates the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’.

Rule of thumb - ‘good guys’ get to play golf with Martin McAleese and he gives them grants to paint nice pictures on gable walls to replace the nasty ones they put there before.

Speaking of the president’s husband, the SDLP does not like to speak ill of the saintly dentist but the truth is he has a lot to answer for in regard to the dishing out of lollypops to the ‘good guys’ of the UDA. His initiative was misguided and naive and based on the same principles as the one Ritchie is now opposing.

Ritchie has spoken out bravely and it is great to see one of the few women on the executive being the first to do so.

“If this funding is to continue, then the UDA will have to decommission their arsenal,” she said.

She said that she was demanding this as the minister responsible for delivering the money and that the public was also demanding it.

She is right that there was no popular support for the grant but it remains to be seen if she will be able to carry out her threat. The contract for the three-year project to transform UDA men into community leaders has already been signed and #1.2 million has been committed.

The UDA said all along that decommissioning its weapons wasn’t even being considered.

“I am deeply concerned about this. I inherited it - I wouldn’t have done it,” she said yesterday.

All she can do is to scrutinise the contract and, if she can’t find a legal loophole, insist on a rigorous process of evaluation.

She said she is currently consulting the PSNI, the Community Relations Council, the Independent Monitoring Commission and Farset, the organisation which has undertaken the weaning, and that she will bring her findings to the executive.

Yes, the UDA must transform. We don’t need a band of paramilitary killers and we could do without drug dealing, pimping and extortion too.

It is safe to say that the UDA will make far more than #1.2 million on these activities over the next three years.

It won’t willingly hand over its guns to save this project.

In the world of community development, decent pay and three-year contracts are rare, even for highly skilled, well-trained staff who have given years of committed service. They work for low pay on short-term contracts within communities ruined by decades of conflict and gangsterism. Why should the UDA have it both ways?

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