Time to stop throwing money at paramilitaries

Posted By: August 11, 2016

Allison Morris. Irish News. Thursday, August 11, 2016

Despite the hard work, dedication and commitment of some, loyalism is in a sorry state.

The murder of John Boreland last Sunday was ruthless and well planned. It was a throwback to the grim days of violent loyalist feuds and power struggles.

Boreland was a violent man with a lengthy criminal record and a long list of enemies. Because of his criminal activities – the extortion of business people to fund an extravagant lifestyle – two families had to flee Northern Ireland and remain to this day in witness protection.

But he was also a son, a father and a friend.

I’ve lost people I love in the conflict, I’ve also spent over 16 years interviewing both victims and perpetrators.

Victims and victim makers are not always mutually exclusive, sometimes the two overlap.

No-one is born evil or bad, we are all a subject of our birthplace, location or social circumstance.

Here in the north that often meant people, had they been born elsewhere, would never have seen the inside of a prison cell, serving lengthy jail terms for horrendous crimes.

How those people were dealt with at the end of the conflict wasn’t really considered in any depth in 1998.

How they are dealt with in the here and now is still the source of much debate and expense to the public purse.

While there are anti-agreement or dissident republicans, their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement is clear cut and easily explained.

They believe the peace accord was a betrayal of the republican objective of a united Ireland, it’s as simple as that.

Loyalism on the other hand should have been dancing in the streets given the fact the agreement secured the union. At that point they should have been more than happy to disband.

Instead they continue to exist, occasionally engaging in violence against the state or more commonly each other.

The loyalist structures that once existed under supreme commanders such as Andy Tyrie or Gusty Spence have long since gone.

What remains is a series of small fiefdoms, a ‘federal’ system without any real structure or control.

Police and statutory agencies continue to work along with senior unelected paramilitary figures on community issues that give people, some of whom continue to be involved in criminality, a status in their community that is at times more powerful that those with a politically elected mandate.

Last year the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was launched with some fanfare, it even had a celebrity endorser in the form of Jonathan Powell.

There was nothing new in the LCC, it was basically a rehash of previous initiatives aimed at ‘removing paramilitaries from the stage’.

The real problem with the LCC, or any such scheme, is that codes of conduct re criminality, bonfires or flags are impossible to enforce when based entirely on the promise of reward but with no sanctions for failing to meet the objectives. The carrot minus the stick approach.

Far from bringing people in from the cold it further angers dissident or disillusioned loyalists who see it as a funding scam to secure jobs for the boy and act out accordingly.

What is government’s answer to this? Throw more money at the problem. There are loyalists who have made lucrative careers out of peace building initiatives that haven’t amounted to a hill of beans.

If they worked for the private sector they’d have been sacked long ago.

And here’s the elephant in the room. The last paramilitary/political prisoners were released in 2000, if they haven’t integrated back into society 16 years on they’re never going to or simply don’t want to.

All the fact-finding trips and publicly funded residentials in the world aren’t going to change that.

Some of the loyalist paramilitaries that I have contact with in my job are under the age of 30, so far from leaving the stage both the UDA and UVF are recruiting young people into their ranks.

These people are rising to positions of power and influence that they are unlikely to give up just because some war weary ex-prisoner, or former Labour party adviser, tells them to.

And so the fight for power, status, money and influence funded by criminality and threats continue and occasionally someone will lose their life and what will be the official response?

Throw more good money after bad, instead of accepting that those who wanted to ‘leave the stage’ did so long ago and those who remain are a policing not a political problem.