By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
You probably didn’t notice this little spat between the DUP and UUP about meeting loyalists, but it’s worth examining as a perfect example of the parallel universe unionists live in.
A fortnight ago, to the surprise of no-one, our proconsul told the House of Commons that he intended to continue the NIO’s traditional appeasement of loyalist terrorism.
He had hoped to extend their immunity for a year but back-pedalled under a welter of objections and reduced it to six months unless something ‘significant’ happened.
No definition of ‘significant’, so it will be up to whoever is proconsul in September to decide. You can be sure that what will be significant to whoever that is will be meaningless to any reasonable observer.
On foot of this nauseating dissimulation from our proconsul, the DUP announced they would meet loyalist leaders to encourage them to destroy their weapons.
The UUP accused the DUP of a ‘spectacular u-turn’.
The DUP issued a statement which must have been written either by someone under the age of 20 or someone whose memory bank has been removed, or both.
It said, ‘When the DUP meets with loyalist groups it will be to impress upon them the need that they go out of business permanently. We will not be giving any political cover to paramilitary organisations, unlike the UUP, which accepted Sinn Fein in government on three separate occasions while the IRA were fully armed.’
Two points jump out immediately. First, the stupidity of the UUP suggestion that for the DUP to meet loyalist leaders is a u-turn.
Let’s get real. For them NOT to meet loyalist leaders would be a u-turn. The DUP have been meeting loyalist leaders since the DUP was founded in 1971.
The only accurate part of the DUP statement is the bit that says when they meet ‘they will not be providing political cover for paramilitary organisations’.
That’s true. In the past when the DUP met loyalist leaders it was never to get them involved in politics but rather to conspire with them, for example in 1974 and 1977, about how to bring the north to a standstill.
On all occasions that the DUP met loyalist leaders, they were ‘fully armed’, that is the loyalists.
Just take those two dates. In 1974 loyalists killed 131 people, most of them random Catholics. In 1977 they killed 28, again mainly sectarian victims.
Yet in both those years the DUP were happy to sit around the table with ‘loyalist leaders’, not to persuade them to hand over those weapons or even to declare a ceasefire, and certainly not to go out of business, but how to maximise their paramilitary muscle.
In the mid-80s when UVF and UDA murder gangs were in full spate, members of those organisations were regularly seen in Belfast City Hall after council meetings enjoying drinks at the ratepayers’ expense.
Who voted in a member of the UVF’s political wing, the PUP, as deputy lord mayor and then lord mayor while the UVF was ‘fully armed’? None other than both the DUP and UUP. Yet they wouldn’t even speak to Sinn Fein at the time. Obviously loyalist violence was always different from republican violence.
To be fair of course both unionist parties were only following the official line from the NIO which always regarded loyalist violence as less reprehensible than republican - they didn’t get round to declaring the UDA illegal until 1992.
Then again a former proconsul, John Reid, publicly met UDA leaders in 2002 while the organisation was engaged in a murderous internecine feud.
Can you imagine the public reaction if a British secretary of state had met the IRA army council publicly or privately?
So the spat between the two unionist parties about who meets loyalists is completely meaningless.
The UDA and UVF stopped meeting unionist parties ages ago when the loyalists copped on that they were being duped.
No pun intended.
By then they were no longer needed.
What is revealing is that neither unionist party seems to realise that this petty point-scoring only emphasises the hypocrisy and ambivalence of both parties towards loyalists’ sectarian campaign and unionism’s failure at any time to try to halt that campaign.