Politicians, paramilitaries, policemen and feeling cozy


It should be pleasant to see people get comfortable with one another, but not when their doing so makes you uncomfortable. “Should those people be so cosy together?” a little voice at the back of your head demands. “Would it not be more comforting for the rest of us if they were less cosy/comfortable?”

An example? Sure. A few days back we heard how Chief Constable George Hamilton attended a DUP fund – No, sorry, sorry, it wasn’t a fund-raising dinner. It was in fact a gala dinner. That’s a sort of celebration dinner, where people get together and eat and drink and make merry.

And since Chief Constable George wasn’t there giving the DUP a dig-out, why should I feel uncomfortable? Maybe because the relationship between the police and unionist politicians was, for fifty, sixty, seventy and more years the bane of this state. That was because nationalists, with some justification, saw the police as the armed wing of unionism.

But that’s all changed now, the RUC is gone and the PSNI is the servant of us all. That said, I’m reminded of another George – Senator George Mitchell – who, when he was here as chairman of the peace talks, was peppered with invitations to attend social functions. He politely but firmly declined the lot. Why? Because he wanted not only to be a neutral arbiter but to show that he was a neutral arbiter. It appears that Chief Constable George thinks differently about neutrality and the appearance of neutrality from Senator George. And guess what? That makes me feel uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable during the last election too. That’s when loyalist paramilitaries declared their support for the DUP. Why was I uncomfortable? Partly because there are working-class unionists who’ll tell you the DUP has done nothing for them apart from collect their votes. And there are working-class unionists who believe loyalist paramilitary groups are not the force for good they sometimes claim they are. Criminality, drugs, intimidation, death – these are words you’ll hear some working-class unionists use when the topic of the UVF or UDA come up.

So here’s the thing. Have you recently heard members of the DUP demand an end to illegal paramilitary groups? Have DUP voices been raised in anger against paramilitary flags appearing in mixed areas of Belfast? Perhaps DUP politicians did and I just missed it. Or maybe the DUP have developed a comfortable relationship with loyalist paramilitaries: we’ll go softly-softly about the rule of law, and you remember us in the next election.

If that were the case, it’d be a comfortable, mutually advantageous relationship. But just thinking about the possibility makes me feel uneasy. Queasy, even. And why does the last line of a poem I learnt years ago keep running through my head?

– “Then the pig got up and slowly walked away.”

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