Current Affairs Politics

Loyalty Versus Counter-Insurgency – Or What To Do When The British No Longer Need You?

Jason Walsh Reporting In The CSM

Excellent reporting from Jason Walsh in the CS Monitor on yesterday’s UVF-led rioting in Belfast, asking the questions you’re unlikely to hear asked by most Irish and British journalists.

‘”For some weeks, there has been sporadic instances of antisocial stone-throwing across the interface in this area,” said Belfast’s Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile, who is a member of the republican party Sinn Féin and a resident of the area. “Local community representatives and politicians have been trying to deal with it with some success. It is important that this good work continues.

“However, what happened last night was not antisocial behavior or a sectarian riot,” he stated. “What happened was a well planned and orchestrated attack on the Catholic community in the Short Strand by the UVF.”

He says that the UVF’s activities in East Belfast have been a cause for concern for some time. “There has been a marked increase in UVF flag-flying, the painting of new paramilitary murals, and significant agitation around Loyal Order parades,” Mr. Ó Donnghaile says.

The UVF, founded in 1966 – three years before the Northern Irish conflict started in earnest – was one of the two pro-British paramilitary organizations involved in the conflict. A total of 481 killings have been attributed to the group. A leading member, Bobby Moffet, was shot dead by members of his own organization in 2009. Earlier in 2009, the group declared it has decommissioned its weapons.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, led by retired Canadian General John de Chastelain, oversaw the decommissioning process. Despite this, fears have arisen that a new generation is attempting to seize power within the organization – and is willing to return to sectarian violence in order to achieve it.

A community activist working in Protestant east Belfast, who did not wish to be identified, told the Monitor the attacks were a result of a power struggle within loyalist paramilitarism.

“You have to look at what’s happening within the UVF: the loss of leadership and loss of control,” he says. “The east Belfast [brigade of the] UVF is flexing its muscles.”‘

It is claimed that another factor destabilizing the leadership of the UVF (as with other British Unionist terrorist groupings) is the activities of the Historical Enquiries Team, or HET, a unit of the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which is investigating a number of ‘cold case crimes’ from throughout the history of the conflict. Though the HET has been examining murders and other incidences by all sides involved in the ‘Long War’ some Unionists have claimed that the unit is primarily focused on the activities of Unionist paramilitaries. This has been dismissed by others as a smokescreen for militant Unionist factions now lacking a direction or focus, and who have in recent years turned on their own communities with an increased involvement in criminal activities, including drug dealing, racketeering, loansharking and prostitution.

Ironically the removal of much of their previous quasi-official status as a counter-insurgency arm of the British state in its decades-long war with armed Irish Republicans movements, has left Unionist paramilitaries ‘out in the cold’, lacking real political representatives, power or influence. In previous times links with the British Intelligence agencies (primarily MI5 or the Security Service), the paramilitary police (the now disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary or RUC – forerunner of the PSNI), the British Army and various mainstream Unionist political parties, guaranteed the Unionist terrorists a substantive say in the politics of the North.

The Belfast Agreement has largely negated that influence and some Unionist paramilitaries feel ‘used and abused’ by the British state. Other Unionist terrorist leaders, however, have been seen to have garnered considerable personal wealth in the aftermath of the conflict and to have distanced themselves from their former comrades and communities. Some, especially amongst the younger generation of militant Unionists, are also increasingly questioning the claims of the older leaderships that the position of ‘Northern Ireland’ under British rule is secure and feel that the Nationalist community is increasingly in the ascendant.

A number of recent rows in the political arena, at Stormont, Belfast City Hall and elsewhere have illustrated mainstream Unionist unease which is finding a ready expression amongst the militant hard edge of Unionism. The North of Ireland’s dysfunctional, schizophrenic nature seems set to continue even as the sticking plaster of the Belfast Agreement looks increasingly frayed around the edges.

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