“Please do not adjust your set”. Younger readers may not be familiar with the statement, but it used to appear on TV screens regularly in the bad old black-and-white days. The message was that you were wrong to assume that the source of the faulty picture lay with your set; the problem was at TV headquarters and all you had to do was to wait for them to sort it.
I thought of that this morning, listening to Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence. Róisón McAuley was talking to two reverends – Chris Hudson and Martin Magill – about the loyalist paramilitary groups who had recently declared they wanted to be part of a renewal of their community, ridding it of drugs and the like. The two clergymen and, to some extent, Róisín McAuley, welcomed this initiative by the loyalist paramilitaries. “More of this, please” seemed to be the message.
Being a simple-minded soul, I assumed a multi-tongued demon had got into my radio and was speaking in many tongues, specifically those of Chris and Martin. They welcome the fact that illegal organisations are intent on improving their community? There must be a fault somewhere at headquarters.
Consider an alternative sequence of events. The IRA declares that it hadn’t really gone away, that was all a joke, they were still here. What’s more, they had been running their eye over how things were in their communities and that they wanted to be part of the regeneration of that community, transforming things and removing criminal elements. What’s the first thing Arlene and other unionist politicians would say? Of course – I thought you had left the stage years ago, get off, disband, pack it in. We can’t have men of violence as part of any legitimate area renewal. Full stop, sin é.
Is it that the police are afraid to charge people with membership of a loyalist paramilitary organisation? They don’t seem to have the same fears about alleged members of the INLA, judging by raids and arrests in recent days. So why not show the same robust logic with loyalist paramilitaries?
Or could it be that old thing that prevailed during the Troubles: loyalist paramilitaries exist in response to the IRA and therefore are quite nice really? Although that interpretation stumbles a bit when you take in the fact that the IRA has left the stage, so what’s the purpose of the various illegal loyalist organisations now?
The truth is, there’s one rule for loyalist paramilitaries and another for republican paramilitaries. And it is sad that the two reverend gentlemen couldn’t have summoned the moral courage to say so this morning.