Decommissioning: Gunsmoke and mirrors
Decommissioning: Gunsmoke and mirrors

Decommissioning claims this week by the two main unionist paramilitary groups, the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) are being treated with scepticism in the absence of any direct confirmation from Canadian General John de Chastelain, who heads the IICD arms body.

The leadership of the UVF said it had “concluded the process” of decommissioning, with the clear but unstated implication that it had fully disarmed.

“We have done so to further augment the establishment of accountable democratic governance in this region of the United Kingdom,” the statement said. It was issued in the name of the “Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando command staff”.

At the same time, a statement from the UDA said only that there had been “an act of decommissioning”, but did not give any indication of the scale of the event.

Despite its involvement in a sectarian murder in Coleraine, County Derry only last month, the UDA said “the dark days are now behind us and it is time to move on”.

Although there was no confirmation from General John de Chastelain, the IICD did issue a brief statement to say that it had witnessed a “major decommissioning event” by the UVF, without adding any details.

The quantity of material destroyed has not been disclosed, but the IICD said it had been told by the UVF that the weapons destroyed “include all the arms under their control”.

The IICD also confirmed that the UDA had begun the process of decommissioning its weapons.

An orchestrated wave of publicity and propoganda surrounded the statements, with the British government and the DUP/Sinn Féin administration at Stormont frenetically emphasising the positive.

“The gun has been taken out of the equation as regards loyalist communities,” declared British ‘security’ minister Paul Goggins.

“The political challenge can now be embraced by everybody who has a care about people who live on the edge of society.”

Nationalists warned that a significant amount of the arms in the possession of unionist paramilitaries has been supplied by the British Crown forces, and there was a possibility that evidence of collusion was being destroyed.

It has also been noted that the PSNI announced this month that its investigation into the Loughinisland massacre, in which the UVF murdered six Catholics watching a World Cup football match in a County Down village in 1994, has been downgraded without any arrests.

Unionist hardliner Jim Allister also challenged the secrecy surrounding the decommissioning claims. He criticised the process as “lacking credibility”.

“Self-certification by a paramilitary organisation that what has been decommissioned in fact represents the totality of their arsenal is as self-rewarding as it is lacking in transparency,” he said.

“The public need and demand clarity. As things stand, we cannot say what was decommissioned or where or when or how it took place.”

Others recalled the lesson of 1998 when the smaller loyalist organisation, the LVF, carried out what was described as a “significant” act of decommissioning. However, it quickly emerged that the move was intended only for short-term political gain, and the LVF quickly resumed its murderous attacks on Catholics.

Decommissioining by the UDA and UVF has long been linked to the grant aid which is being passed to these organisations by the Stormont administration.

But Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the UDA would not receive further public money in exchange for destroying weapons.

He insisted: “Money going into any area is on the basis of objective need and there are no other considerations.”

Meanwhile, the UVF has been linked to a gun attack in Ballymena this week. The shooting happened in the Tullygarley area of the town when shots were fired through the window of a house in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

A masked man wearing a dark balaclava fire three shots at the house with a semi-automatic weapon. Two residents, both members of a local residents’ association, were at home at the time.

The attack was linked to the couples’ opposition to the erection of loyalist flags in the mixed Rossdale estate. The two were left shaken, but otherwise uninjured.

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