By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
It is depressing how many media outlets bought the NIO spin about the UDA standing down its ‘military wing’.
Let’s be clear at the outset: the UDA never had a military wing. The so-called UFF never existed as a separate entity from the main body. The cover-name UFF was invented in 1973 when UDA leaders feared the government was going to proscribe the organisation because of the appalling bloodthirstiness of their killing spree that year. Particularly horrific killings were attributed to the UFF but that did not stop UDA members from killing Catholics anyway.
Was John White in something called the UFF? Of course not.
His manic knife killings were carried out as part of a UDA gang.
Can someone please point out where the UFF wing was in Long Kesh? Don’t bother trying. There wasn’t one. All the killers went into the UDA wing, full stop. By the 1980s it’s true the UDA had a couple of squads, or ‘wee teams’ as they preferred to call them, who specialised in killing Catholics and they tended to issue statements calling themselves ‘the UFF’, but they were all UDA.
So what was Sunday’s piece of grotesque theatre all about?
It was all of a piece with the NIO’s attempt to portray the UDA as equivalent to the IRA.
It’s been extraordinary to watch this nonsense over the years.
First, in the seventies after the UDA emerged with British intelligence and RUC Special Branch assistance as a classic counter-gang to terrorise innocent Catholics, the NIO was at pains to advise uninformed British ministers to treat the UDA differently from the IRA. They were only a reaction to IRA violence you see. Better not ban them. Better not open another front. Concentrate on defeating the real enemy, the IRA.
Once the IRA campaign was over the NIO spent the last decade advising equally uninformed British ministers to treat the UDA the same as the IRA even down to using the same words in statements written for ministers. For example, last weekend our proconsul, a featherweight shuttlecock if ever there was one, repeated exactly the same words used about IRA moves in the past: “This is a significant move by the leadership of the UDA.”
In both cases the NIO was fundamentally wrong. The British administration here should have cracked down immediately on the UDA the same as they did with the IRA, but then of course they couldn’t, because elements in intelligence were artificially sustaining the UDA.
Still, it never occurred to anyone in the NIO to argue that indulging a barbaric organisation like the UDA would make matters worse. Secondly, it is a fantasy that the UDA should now somehow be seen as the loyalist mirror image of the IRA. It’s not.
Yet, helped by NIO flattery, UDA leaders imagine it is.
Jackie McDonald mumbled into a terrible sound system that “99 per cent of the people we represent don’t want to decommission”. Sorry. You don’t represent anyone. Repeated attempts to masquerade as a political party have been rejected derisively by unionist voters. Even the UDA’s own members didn’t vote for UDA front candidates.
Furthermore the UDA is not a united organisation. The darling of the NIO and the Aras, the said Jackie, has no control over large baronies in Antrim and Derry. Third, the UDA has no central command and has no idea how many weapons the various wee teams have in their possession, though maybe MI5 has since they supplied so many.
Guiding this fantasy that was staged on Sunday is the mirage that somehow the UDA will be brought in from the cold, lured into politics, build something like Sinn Fein. Why?
They don’t want to.
They have no constituency.
They have no reason for existence other than to feather their own nests.
By asking them to disappear the NIO is asking UDA top dogs in each district to give up their lavish lifestyle financed by drug dealing, extortion, brothel-keeping and instead sign on the dole.
If there is anything to be learnt from the past three months it is that Margaret Ritchie’s hard line with the UDA delivers more than any number of rounds of golf at the K Club.