Police should call UDA spade a spade

Posted By: December 03, 2015

Newton Emerson. Irish News(Belfast). Thursday, December 3, 2015
At first glance, it is standard community-speak boilerplate.

The PSNI’s statement, following the UDA hammer attack on Bangor voluntary community worker Aaron McMahon, read as follows: “Those small groups of individuals who continue to try and terrorise people and commit criminal acts must be isolated from communities. Police in Bangor will continue their efforts to bring those responsible for criminality before the courts, but we need the help of the local community.”

We have all heard such apparently anodyne condemnations a thousand times but look closer and this statement becomes by turns absurd, sinister and shameful.

The first absurdity to leap out is the term ‘isolated from communities’. What does that mean and how is it supposed to be achieved? Despite mention of the courts, the statement falls conspicuously short of mentioning imprisonment – the only form of ‘community isolation’ that is the PSNI’s business. It sounds almost as if the residents of Bangor’s Clandeboye estate, where this drama unfolded, are under police instruction to shun their UDA tormentors at the bus stop.

What makes this doubly absurd is that Clandeboye residents have in fact been under the opposite instruction, very much against their wishes.

McMahon was assaulted after challenging the UDA over flags and a bonfire in his area, on behalf of his neighbours via the Clandeboye Village Community Association. McMahon claims the PSNI told the association to “negotiate” with the UDA, while politicians, council officers and statutory agencies refused to intervene. These claims have not been denied by the police and have been supported by the North Down Community Network, an umbrella group for neighbourhood associations.

How is negotiation compatible with isolation? How can the PSNI ask for “help from the local community” to take the UDA to court, when that community begged the PSNI for help and was told to take the UDA for tea and a chat?

This is where the police statement becomes sinister. The fault goes beyond casting responsibility for a crime back on the victim, in this case the allegedly unhelpful community of Clandeboye. Blaming the victim is modern policing practice – note how it is your fault if your house is burgled through an unlocked window, for example.

However, if you do report a burglary, you can at least be confident the police will not put you at the mercy of the Burglar’s Defence Association. Can the people of Clandeboye have such confidence with the PSNI and the UDA?

There is a striking reluctance in the PSNI statement to mention the UDA, or loyalism, or paramilitarism. The one hint of a group is tortuously qualified, in the plural, as “small groups of individuals”.

Nobody could miss the sly attempt here to distance the UDA from the masked gang that stormed into McMahon’s home and beat him in front of his wife and three young children – despite all the facts and the entire community pointing to UDA involvement. If the PSNI is so well-informed about the status of the culprits, presumably through loyalist sources, why does it need the help of the community to bring suspects to court? It can summon a hostile UDA witness or put intelligence information before a judge, which would be wholly proportionate with the fate of a terrorised community at stake.

Last Friday night, 200 of McMahon’s neighbours held a vigil and protest in his support, where speakers echoed his complaints about the police and the UDA.

Sarah Little, manager of the North Down Community Network, said: “It’s not acceptable that people when they stand together are tortured and intimidated in this way.”

When cornered on its surrender to loyalism, the PSNI usually cites the need for a political solution. It has not done so on this occasion because it is still pretending loyalism is not involved but the excuse deserves a debunking regardless.

Illegal acts by a universally despised illegal organisation are entirely amenable to a policing solution. If senior officers are concerned about criticism from unionists on the Policing Board, let unionists criticise and be shamed accordingly. That is better than the PSNI bringing further shame on itself.