Despite confirming that the unionist paramilitary UVF was involved in the hijacking and burning of at least one bus this month, the PSNI has refused to confirm that the organisation is not on ceasefire.
On Monday November 1, a bus was hijacked and burned in a loyalist area of Newtownards, County Down, in an attack claimed by the Protestant Action Force, a traditional cover name for the UVF. A week later, the action was repeated in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast.
Shortly afterwards, Billy Hutchinson, the leader of the political party allied to the UVF, declared in a “constitutional contribution” that there was no basis for unionists to continue to back the Good Friday Agreement.
The SDLP’s Claire Hanna described the bus attacks as “a cynical photo opportunity designed to feed a narrative that Northern Ireland is at boiling point over the protocol”.
Three weeks on, the PSNI have so far admitted only that a “local faction” of the UVF was involved in the Newtownards attack, and have so far refused to comment on the second attack.
In recent years, the UVF in east Belfast alone has privately admitted that it has carried out murders, kidnappings, the torture of rivals, the rapes of vulnerable and underage girls, and the serial exploitation of drug abusers.
The organisation has killed 32 people while on ‘ceasefire’. After decades of openly tolerated violence, the long-awaited confirmation that the UVF ceasefire is no longer valid should have immediate consequences for associated ‘community groups’ which receive public grant aid.
It should also see loyalist prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement returned to jail and a winding up of their drugs empire.
However, the apparent close relationship between the police and the UVF continues to protect the organisation, as seen in a recent parade which was facilitated by the PSNI.
Images have appeared of loyalists marching on the Shankill Road in west Belfast in the style of the UVF. A number of those marching were dressed in what are typically described as “paramilitary uniforms”.
“Not only did the Crown Forces fail to challenge or stop this, they were actually seen escorting the parade along the route,” Saoradh said in a statement.
“These actions show us that while they raid and harass republicans on a daily basis, militant loyalism will always be acceptable to them.”
They pointed to those republicans who have been arrested on the back of commemorations, with some even arrested before a march was allowed to begin.
“Indeed a number of members of our own party have received suspended sentences over the last few months for their attendance at republican parades and others still await their day in court for the same thing.”
The PSNI “only serve the interests of Britain and by extension the interests of loyalists,” they added. “They will never be acceptable to republicans.”