By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Nothing illustrates better the ambivalent attitude of the British administration in the north towards loyalist terrorists than our current proconsul’s recent mealy-mouthed afterthought about decommissioning.
He was so cautious about avoiding giving offence that no-one knows for certain what he meant. Local hacks have had to be content with phrases like “his remarks are taken to mean” or “it is assumed” that legislation covering decommissioning will only be renewed next February for one year.
It should also be said of course that unionist politicians are anything but ambivalent about loyalists.
They couldn’t care less about loyalist weapons even though they’ve been used almost exclusively in the past decade to kill other loyalists and intimidate people living in the constituencies of those very same unionist politicians.
So what’s new? Generations of unionist politicians have played footsie with loyalist terror groups, most notably the present first minister when he actively cooperated with them in 1974 during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and tried unsuccessfully to co-opt them for his political aims in 1986.
Nevertheless, unionist politicians are not the government and while it may be unsurprising for the British government to say, in effect, you can hang on to your weapons for another 18 months, it’s still unforgivable.
While our proconsul’s language may have been deliberately vague, his intentions are not. Quite simply the British administration intends to do nothing to recover loyalist weapons.
Yes, poor old John de Chastelain probably met the UVF when he came over last week but that doesn’t mean a thing.
De Chastelain’s role is to oversee the actual decommissioning, not to organise the political background to the process.
Astonishingly their political mouth-piece, Dawn Purvis, told the BBC’s Martina Purdy that our proconsul’s woolly remarks will “help start the debate” about decommissioning - a mere 14 years after the UVF’s first ceasefire. Now don’t rush into anything, Dawn.
In a truly pathetic performance the only skill Purvis displayed is that she has mastered the local equivalent of psychobabble - namely peaceprattle. For 15 minutes she dodged all questions about decommissioning and instead came out with the classic peaceprattle that it is “a challenge for all of us” to convince her friends in the UVF to decommission their weapons.
No, Dawn, it’s a challenge for you. That’s what the PUP is supposed to be for.
Like the UDA, Dawn’s weapon-huggers seem to want some reward for ‘putting their guns beyond use’. She wouldn’t be specific about what she wanted but the PUP has done OK for a party that can’t muster one per cent of the vote in the north and records zero per cent in most places.
There they are sitting on all kinds of boards and quangos even though most of them couldn’t spell quango never mind complete a sentence with quango in it. No wonder they want the 11-plus ended.
Our proconsul’s failure to confront loyalism also includes his indulgence of the UDA, which no-one controls despite efforts to promote the convicted extortionist Jackie McDonald as its leader.
The UDA reprises with impunity the same pantomime it performed in the 1990s with the Shoukri brothers as the Ugly Sisters and McDonald as the Widow Twanky.
The NIO’s agents tell them the UVF has opted not to kill anyone in the near future so the NIO recognised its ceasefire - again.
While the UVF seems anxious to stay in the NIO’s good books, UDA gangs defy it. Their rejection of Mary McAleese’s consort’s golfing partner as leader was complete when they tried to shoot him in Carrickfergus last year. Their racketeering and gangsterism continue apace, guaranteed now for another 18 months.
The panto is completed by the public’s assumption that the security forces know where the UVF and UDA’s weapons are, that they know the names of the quartermasters and in fact probably know the serial numbers of the weapons since they supplied them in the 1980s to enable loyalists to compete with IRA materiel coming in from Libya.
On top of all that hypocrisy, Lord Stevens concluded that military intelligence, MI5 and Special Branch had agents in the leadership of the main loyalist groups, sometimes the same men taking money from two or more spymasters.
Yet no action, while the courts operate a revolving-doors policy.