By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Let’s hope Margaret Ritchie stands firm for the next six days. The wheedling and hand-wringing she faces until next Tuesday is going to be epic.
She must know by now she’s not going to get any support. Not from our proconsul from whom she was entitled to expect something better than the weasel words he provided. Still, it was his predecessor who handed the bribe to the UDA so his lukewarm offering is really no surprise.
Not from the NIO who have always done their best to sustain their favourite terrorist organisation, ensuring it was not proscribed even when it was up to its knees in fenian blood.
Not from her political opponents who fervently hope she’ll cave in. For them, anything, any compromise, any face-saver is better than success. For her opponents her failure is the measure of success.
Not from her fellow ministers in the executive who don’t want to be accused of interfering in her department in case another minister subsequently interferes in theirs.
Except of course for Nigel Dodds, who broke ranks and had a go at her. He couldn’t resist it. It’s a fatal political weakness of his: whataboutery. So in this case it’s ‘what about the SDLP and IRA decommissioning?’ Hypocrisy, he whinged.
Is this the same Nigel Dodds who happily supported his party colleagues in 1986 strutting around in red berets amid a suitably fascist display of multiple flags calling themselves Ulster Resistance?
Is this the same Nigel Dodds who in September 1986 erected a tacky wooden plaque renaming Upper Canning Street in the Tiger’s Bay district ‘Mark Bacon Street’ after a man killed that July?
The ‘brigadier’ of north Belfast UDA and ‘officers’ of Tiger’s Bay UDA, York Road UDA, Westland Road UDA and various other places had all placed death notices for Bacon whom they described as their ‘close friend’.
The naming ceremony was organised by the local Ulster Clubs and Dodds was helped to fix the plaque by a member of the Ulster Clubs and a bandsman from the Tiger’s Bay First Flute Band of which Bacon was captain.
The plaque didn’t last long and no-one ever called Upper Canning Street anything else.
It was all an irresponsible political stunt. Do you ever remember Margaret Ritchie carrying on like that?
Dodds was not renowned for calling for the UDA to be made illegal despite the fact that it was and remains a criminal conspiracy responsible for hundreds of deaths of both Catholics and Protestants including many of its own members.
Did he ever condemn or even criticise his party colleague for sharing a platform with a serial sectarian killer? Of course not.
Then again he’s no more responsible for what his party colleagues do, whether it’s indulging their penchant for flags and uniforms or prancing around in a Third Force than Margaret Ritchie is for what Mark Durkan says or doesn’t say in the House of Commons.
No, whataboutery is a classic way to avoid a question, which is what Dodds did successfully. ‘Do you agree with Margaret Ritchie? Ah but whatabout the SDLP and the IRA?’
He got away with it of course and sidestepped into worry about money for loyalist areas, a matter of questionable legality in itself. The NIO is supposed to allocate money according to need, not the religious complexion of a district. He got away with that too.
The simple answer to all the whingers is this: It’s not Margaret Ritchie stopping the money, it’s the UDA. If the UDA cared tuppence about the laughable Conflict Transformation Initiative it could guarantee its money tomorrow.
It’s because of the bloated self-importance of superannuated thugs like convicted extortionist Jackie McDonald that the whole process has failed.
He’s been stringing along the Irish government and assorted do-gooders for years.
They have absolutely no progress to show for it on the weapons front and only a procession of gangsters and charlatans through the revolving-door policy of the courts and prosecution service here.
If the DUP can’t support Margaret Ritchie on this one, how about supporting the police? They wouldn’t want to be hypocrites.