By Eamonn McCann (for the Derry Journal)
Had to admire Frankie Gallagher’s straight face as he explained last week that the UDA hadn’t asked for any money in return for decommissioning its weapons.
Frankie was speaking on behalf of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) which apparently exists to “provide political analysis” to the UDA.
In fact, the UDA’s asking price for its guns, pipe-bombs, hatchets etc. had been #10million - but not, Frankie wanted to stress, for jobs for the boys of the old brigades but for “community projects” in what the BBC now casually refers to as “UDA-controlled areas”.
Confirmation of the figure will be available from the Republic’s First Gentleman, Mairtin McAleese. Early last year, he asked the British and Irish governments to chip in the cash. When the governments gave the suggestion the thumbs down, Mairtin pitched the deal to the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers instead. When they, too, advised him to sling his hook, he took himself and a representative selection of brigadiers off to Brussels to check whether the taxpayers of Europe would care to cough up.
The most remarkable aspect of these events was that hardly anyone apart from oddballs like myself seemed to think that there was anything remarkable about it - the spouse of a Head of State doing the rounds of government ministers and senior officials from his own and various other jurisdictions and the European Union looking for money to persuade a paramilitary group to hand over weapons it has used for 40 years to terrorise, extort, murder and maim.
It must have come as a bit of a surprise to Brigadier Jackie McDonald that Consort McAleese had failed to deliver on schedule. Just a year earlier, Mairtin had rustled Jackie up an Irish passport in a twinkling so he wouldn’t miss a meeting of a Rangers’ supporters’ club in Texas.
Strange place for a Rangers’ supporters’ club. I don’t suppose it can have anything to do with the fact that that the (rather wonderful, as a matter of fact) Sharleen Spiteri, lead singer with Texas, is a Blueswoman in more senses than one?
Anyway. It should be recorded that just around the time Mairtin the Meddler was striving to finalise the decommissioning deal, at least one UDA unit had jumped the gun, so to speak, and turfed community workers in a Belfast working-class estate out of the offices where they’d laboured for years without hope of any Dublin/London/Brussels bonanza. It was explained to the evicted workers that these were UDA jobs now, so sod off.
The PSNI was so busy that day it couldn’t spare a community constable on a bike to respond to the unarmed citizens’ 999 appeals for protection.
None of the local elected representatives alerted to what had happened thought it appropriate even to issue a statement afterwards.
As far as I am aware, there has been no mention of the incident in the media until now.
Coaxing the heroes of Greysteel and Castlerock onto the primrose path of peace is apparently such a noble enterprise that neither political propriety nor the right of workers not to be intimidated out of their jobs will be allowed to stand in the way.
The basis of the UDA decommissioning settlement had been set out back in 2007, when Margaret Ritchie refused to hand over #1.2 million of Department of Social Development money to Farset if the UDA didn’t decommission within a timeframe set down by the Government. The Farset group was to use the money to build up “community confidence” in areas of UDA influence.
At the time, rejecting claims that the money would end up in UDA pockets, the then UPRG spokesman David Nicholl declared: “There is a serious lack of understanding about this money. The money is not for paramilitaries and is not a pay-off to paramilitaries.”
Instead, he explained, the money would go to Farset, which “employs people like myself and others as part of the Conflict Transformation Initiative (the #1.2 million project) to work at ways of ending the UDA’s role in society and removing them from the equation.”
To translate: We lay down our guns, you give us well-paid jobs as community development workers.
The UDA gang which drove workers out from a community facility and took over their jobs was merely anticipating the deal.
Thus the peace process which passes all understanding.