The UDA: they haven’t gone away, you know, but we still can smile

I watched the Nolan Show on a TV recording last night. A number of comments from readers of this blogsite have been swearing and rending their garments about the number of anti-Language Act people who were given air-time during the show. We could pursue that one but right now I’d prefer to pursue an incidental issue that Stephen Nolan raised.

He wanted to know if the paramilitary organisation the UDA had been consulted by the political party the DUP during negotiations with Sinn Féin and particularly over that final draft document which seemed to show the DUP agreeing to, among other things, an Irish Language act.

Since Jamie Bryson was on the panel, he was the logical man for Stephen to ask. Jame told Stephen that he (Jamie) was a card-carrying member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and so never revealed his sources. As he said this he smiled, and he continued to smile while saying the DUP might have consulted the UDA or they might not, he wasn’t saying either way, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Jamie had a good chuckle over Stephen Nolan’s attempts to get him to come clean. One thing was clear: he wasn’t saying the DUP hadn’t consulted the UDA.

This questioning by Stephen Nolan closely resembled a much shorter questioning of Arlene Foster a day or two ago. Like Jamie, Arlene showed clear signs of being amused by the question. She said the DUP most definitely had not consulted with the UDA. “I’m not saying they weren’t consulted” Arlene added, a twinkle in her eye and a laugh on her lips, “but they weren’t consulted by me or the DUP”.

There’s a danger that we may not identify the core problem here. If there were consultations with the UDA by the DUP, or by someone acting as a middle man, or in whatever way, that suggests there’s a paramilitary tail wagging a DUP dog. Which is saddening, not to say scary. But you could make a case for such consultation. As Jamie Bryson said “Where do you think loyalists live – on the moon?” Loyalists and loyalist paramilitary organisations are part and parcel of the loyalist community, so you could say that if the DUP did consult the UDA, that showed they were taking into account the poorer section of unionism.

But I believe that misses the point. Supposing Sinn Féin were to be asked if they’d had consultation with the IRA during negotiations, and Mary Lou McDonald had said she could be sure that Sinn Féin didn’t consult the IRA, although she wasn’t saying they hadn’t been consulted. All this with an amused demeanour: what do you think unionist reaction would have been? Yes indeed – apocalyptic.

Why? Because the IRA was an illegal organisation and is supposed not to exist any more. And I’m pretty sure most nationalists and republicans – and maybe unionists – know that the IRA doesn’t exist any more. If the IRA did still exist, it’s a fair bet the frequency of violent dissident republican activity would have been curtailed pretty quickly.

But back to the UDA. When unionist politicians and people like Jamie Bryson talk about the UDA, there is never a sense of outrage from nationalists or republicans. There should be. The UDA is an illegal paramilitary organisation. It’s supposed to have shuffled off-stage some twenty years ago – yet here it is, alive and well, and no one thinks it’s bad news that this organisation –  this unlawful organisation – is allowed to continue, with no hint of a suggestion that the PSNI might investigate and arrest members, or otherwise bring this law-breaking  organisation to an end.


The British authorities used to refer to “an acceptable level of violence”. Are we now expected to accept an acceptable level of loyalist paramilitarism?

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