Posted By: April 03, 2014

Allison Morris.Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
WHEN is a ceasefire not a ceasefire? When it’s a loyalist one apparently. When 100 men armed with cudgels and hammers rampage through a small town like Larne on Mothering Sunday you have to ask – is there anyone in charge of this place?

This October will mark the 20th anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire when the Combined Loyalist Military Command issued the cessation statement read by Gusty Spence. The umbrella group for the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and the Red Hand Commando agreed to ‘universally cease all operational hostilities.”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of loyalist violence. Billy Wight’s Loyalist Volunteer Force continued to target Catholics in sectarian murder attacks and several bitter loyalist feuds meant the bloodshed continued. With the stabilising influence of figures like David Ervine and Gary McMichael gone – one lost to untimely death, the other stepping out of political life – the main paramilitary groups have splintered into autonomous criminal gangs with little in the way of leadership.

People whose very existence is defined by a made up military title reign over their little fiefdoms, profiting from criminality and existing through fear.

The local ‘commander’ is unlikely to willingly conform,  as to do so would remove what little power and standing they have. Big fish swimming in a small pond.

The few that have slotted into a peaceful community role struggle to keep control of those who see no profit in peace.

A wake-up call should be that 20 years after the ceasefires,  the breakaway South East Antrim UDA were able to summon 100 men onto the streets at short notice. That tells us structures that should have been dismantled still exist and recruitment into the ranks of a paramilitary group turned criminal gang continue.

For whose benefit are young men being lured into the ranks of a seemingly defunct loyalist paramilitary group?

It is this very reason that loyalist paramilitary activity cannot be allowed to fester. It has to be confronted head on or else sacrifice another generation of young working-class loyalist men to a life of criminality, violence and inevitable incarceration.

There is no point in attempting to hold loyalist groupings to the commitments made 20 years ago because they’re no longer the same organisations they were at that historic juncture.

While mainstream Republicans are wedded to peace through the political process, loyalists have no such incentive.

They are represented by political parties who are happy to stir up the masses on issues such as flags and parades then cut them loose when they become a public embarrassment. The faction of loyalists responsible for the weekend of violence in Larne has been beating to its own drum for some time.

The west Belfast UDA has also split and formed its own faction, stung by revelations contained in the De Silva report into the 1989 murder of solicitor Pat Finucane that showed all but one of the killers was a paid informant.

In east Belfast the UVF has been operating as a separate entity for some time. The largest faction of the terror group is controlled by a leadership unwilling to relinquish power in the pursuit of what will only ever be minor electoral success.

Police confirmed this week that people living in Carrickfergus, a south east Antrim UDA stronghold, reported Sunday’s gathering of ‘paramilitary types’ earlier in the day.

When co-operation from “hard to reach” communities is forthcoming, police need to do all in their power to act in order to maintain public confidence in the rule of law – in this case policing failed to stop the convoy of cars heading to Larne.

In the last year we’ve seen how increased covert surveillance and modern policing tactics have been deployed against dissident Republicans in order to combat that security threat.

Questions have to be asked as to why the same tactics are not being used to combat Loyalist criminality. This activity in the last two years has severely impacted the economy and the quality of life for people living in loyalist communities.

It took months for police to even publicly attribute the brutal shooting of Jemma McGrath to the east Belfast UVF. As yet, no-one has been charged with the attempted murder of the young care worker who fell foul of the organisation’s leadership.

The PSNI is heading for change with the departure of Matt Baggott, the well intentioned chief constable who put community policing as a priority. Some might argue this was a situation exploited by criminal gangs.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton is one of the front runners for the chief constable’s job and on Monday he laid out his stall, wasting no time in attributing the Larne attack to the breakaway UDA.

This is perhaps a sign we could be heading toward a more hardline period of policing. What we do know is loyalism is in a dangerously fractured state.

Those who have shown they have no interest in a peaceful future should now be pursued using organised crime legislation or else risk seeing a new generation of young people running towards the ranks of the paramilitaries.