Posted By: April 03, 2014

Newton Emerson. Irish News (Belfast).Thursday, April 3, 2014.
AT first glance, Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton could scarcely have been
more emphatic.

The loyalist rampage through Larne on Sunday night was “a power trip” by “the south
east Antrim UDA”, which is seeking a “legitimacy within communities” that it must be
denied. The arrests that preceded the trouble were no excuse and would be followed
by more arrests, Hamilton vowed. This was no repeat of 2011’s south east Antrim
policing surrender – the seminal event in the loyalist resurgence – when the PSNI
apologised to “community representatives and others” for ‘provoking’ UVF riots.

However, on closer inspection, there was a caveat in Hamilton’s remarks. The UDA is
“disparate” and “incohesive”, he said, adding “this south east Antrim group wouldn’t
even be recognised by other elements”.

So we are back to the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ UDA, a distinction the PSNI first made
explicit (if not official) in 2006 when it moved against north Belfast’s Shoukri
faction while other brigadiers sipped tea and played golf with presidential spouses
and secretaries of state.

This distinction is far more academic now than it was in 2006. The 100-strong mob
that descended on Larne apparently comprised ‘good’ and ‘bad’ UDA members, plus
members of the UVF, which also has an ill-defined good/bad split in south east
Antrim. The mob assembled in Carrickfergus, where all these factions overlap and
which incidentally experienced its 2011 riot as a Larne-style assault on a
residential street. Given so many blurred local lines, the PSNI seems a little keen
to resurrect the good/bad UDA concept, especially while it continues avoiding a ‘bad
UVF’ analysis of east Belfast.

Could this have anything to do with the DUP’s new closeness to the UDA? If not, it
is a remarkable coincidence. DUP head office has parachuted a number of UDA-linked
figures into May’s council elections, most notably in east Belfast and
Carrickfergus. The UDA is engaged in a “voter registration drive” that openly
advises a DUP first preference, while UDA members have also reportedly been
“ordered” to vote DUP. Other straws in this wind can be readily discerned, such as
last month’s DUP statement in Derry that community restorative justice schemes must
have “paramilitary buy-in”.

What is really going on is a DUP paramilitary tie-in and it is fair to suspect that
the merest hope of ‘political loyalism’ has cast the PSNI back to that desperate
peace process aspiration.

In peace process terms the political orphaning of loyalism is the fundamental
imbalance from which all present difficulties flow. If the loyalist parties had
supplanted the DUP at the start of the process, or if the DUP had properly adopted
the loyalist constituency when it came into the process, the republican example
would have been followed and the authorities would now only be faced with a
‘dissident loyalist’ mopping up operation, with all other loyalists having ‘left the

For years the PUP was indulged as a last chance for loyalist politics but its
essentially anti-agreement reinvention since the flag protests means it has turned
‘bad’ as well.

This would explain any frantic humouring of a DUP-UDA dalliance but can it deliver
what the PSNI requires?

The DUP is still not adopting loyalism, let alone seeking to lead it off the stage.
The DUP is just trying to get back onto the streets it was jeered off during the
flag protests, via a paramilitary association it will keep at one careful remove, as
it has always done since its pre-Troubles origins. Before the flags issue blew up
his face, Peter Robinson was repositioning his party towards the centre ground but
it is a simplification to picture the DUP moving away from its loyalist base towards
more ‘respectable’ unionism. Respectable unionists have always been a much larger
part of the DUP’s base and they define themselves as opposed to paramilitarism, a
trick that beyond Belfast at least requires only normal levels of political denial.
For these very typical DUP voters the correct approach to loyalism is traditional
policing, the lack of which leaves them genuinely baffled. Robinson is not about the
shatter their illusion that unionists have no truck with terrorists.

When the DUP is criticised for its two-faced flirting with loyalism down the years
this is generally a criticism of its hypocrisy. Perhaps it would be more useful to
frame it as a criticism of the party’s effectiveness.

To be effective in Larne, or anywhere else, the problem with the DUP’s links to
loyalism is that they are not close enough.newton@irishnews.com