In the media maelstrom of last week the UPRG press conference announcing UDA/UFF decommissioning was somewhat overshadowed by affairs unfolding at the swish family Robison household and the pending implications.
Like all big set pieces of the jigsaw over the past decade the UDA/UFF banked on capitalizing on their announcement seeking to use the opportunity to lodge credit for decommissioning. However, their announcement carried little currency in West Belfast, the killing fields of North Belfast, North Armagh, South Derry and East Tyrone where these state sponsored death squads roamed freely – or for that matter, as I ascertained this week, in their own areas where they built criminal empires and plied their drugs trade.
Now that is not to say that the putting beyond use of some weapons is not to be welcomed – of course it is – but that misses the point. The UDA/UFF instead of decommissioning years ago engaged in a very public and cynical exercise seeking to extract money for arms much in the same way they extorted through racketeering down the years.
And whilst many of those most directly affected by their actions found this particularly odious others, whilst vehemently abhorred by this attempted stunt, saw an irony in that they were now seeking money in part from the very government that had provided their deadly arsenal. In reality a few former British ministers, generals, and Special Branch operatives was all that was missing from the UPRG press conference table – then we could have probably paid more attention.
Money for guns was always a logical move given the organisations habitual tendency for crime amongst its leadership which always made it rife for infiltration. A tendency that British Intelligence and RUC Special Branch fostered during their dirty war whilst Catholics were slaughtered and working class loyalist communities turned into wastelands through drugs, prostitution and extortion.
It has long been argued that anyone within the UDA/UFF who were free political thinkers attempting to move the organisation along the political road were either killed or ousted. It is no secret that John White thwarted any political future of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP). Gary McMichael and Davy Adams being effectively sidelined and removed by White who was eventually exposed in the Belfast Telegraph by security correspondent Brian Rowan as being a Special Branch agent.
Essentially it was Special Branch and MI5 securocrats who were preventing positive political moves by UDA/UFF, through the UDP, keeping them within their grip during political negotiations. The spooks were keeping their options open and their gunmen within the UDA/UFF in the ascendancy and at the height of negotiations many Catholics were consequently killed as the political stakes were raised.
Key UPRG figures cite privately the hand of MI5 and Special Branch in the assassination of John McMichael and others intent on moving down the political route.
Interestingly in August 2000 when Peter Mandelson returned Jonny Adair to jail at the height of the loyalist feud, in which the Lower Shankill was being devastated by White and Adair et al, the Sunday Tribune’s then Northern Editor ran an excellent article entitled ‘Security Forces created the UDA’. This detailed the British government’s responsibility for much of the UDA/UFF development over three decades into a sectarian killing machine and criminal fraternity.
Take for instance Billy Stobie who handed UDA/UFF weapons over to his RUC Special Branch handlers and which were later returned to the UDA/UFF who then used them in a number of killings like the Ormeau Rd bookies attack that claimed five lives and injured many others – and subsequently the killing of Aidan Wallace here in West Belfast at the Devenish bar – this killing completely disproving claims that these weapons were handed back ‘deactivated’ – some of these weapons were never recovered. Presumably – hopefully – they were part of the armaments put beyond use.
This is just one of numerous examples spanning four decades revealing the hand of the state within the heart of this organisation and a microcosm of the way in which guns from the UDR, RIR and ultimately South Africa filled its dumps.
Families affected by loyalists are not particularly interested in UDA/UFF decommissioning. They want the truth about collusion between these same loyalists, how they were armed, infiltrated, directed and controlled to carry out hundreds of sectarian killings and political assassinations by MI5 and RUC Special Branch with the full sanction of Whitehall and Downing Street.
There was more of a reaction from families to Martin McAlease’s role in seeking to obtain ten million pounds in what appeared to be a pay-off for weapons when it became public more recently. That he actually gave the idea legs and spearheaded the initiative was particularly upsetting for scores of relatives. When Vincent Kearney first broke this story our offices in Tyrone, South Derry and West Belfast were inundated with families expressing their opposition to any such move.
In a BBC Evening Extra interview British secretary Shaun Woodward, when pressed, revealed that he had met Martin McAlease regarding seeking a reported five million from the British for his ten million pound plan. Woodward stated that he referred the President’s husband to the OFMDFM and the Executive.
In other media interviews Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly stated that there would be no funding for guns and that funding for loyalist areas would be solely allocated on need and criterion. We have yet to hear from the Irish Government concerning their intentions. It is highly unlikely that the McAlease venture was of his making alone.
But suspicion about some sort of deal or promise and of how it may possibly work its way out lingers in the air. And in a world of deals and political horse-trading people are right to be suspicious.
So as Robinson seeks an inquiry into a few quid – and our acting First Minister recently implemented an official inquiry into flooding in Fermanagh – why can’t more serious matters like arming and controlling loyalist death squads not merit the same kind of inquiry? – Or is it that we can only have inquiries when it doesn’t concern Catholics being killed in which the hand of the state is complicit?
Many of the South African arms remain in circulation – in the control of Ulster Resistance. As one relative put; ‘if the IRA had to have said we will decommission everything except the guns in South Armagh’ imagine the pandemonium. Maybe those with knowledge of or involvement in Ulster Resistance will assist this decommissioning – though I doubt that any cash will exchange hands. We don’t want any inquiries do we?
Let’s hope for two things – that working class loyalists can effectively represent their communities politically and that all families affected by the conflict can have a truth process.