Mainstream political Unionism has failed working-class and grassroots Loyalism. Not only that, but Loyalist paramilitaries, the so-called protectors of Loyalist communities have also let them down. Since 1998, millions upon millions of pounds have been poured into Loyalist areas and indeed Republican and Nationalist areas. One of the big differences being, while millions of pounds have been paid to Loyalist paramilitary groups specifically, they are still armed and apparently still ‘transitioning’ toward peace. Twenty-three years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Loyalist paramilitaries are still strangling their own communities while sponging up millions of pounds in taxpayer’s money…and all the while Loyalist communities are some of the most dilapidated, socially deprived areas in the North.
Drug dealing, extortion, fraud, money laundering, and more, all raking in tens of millions of pounds for Loyalist paramilitaries, all illegal rackets, and yet they still receive taxpayer’s money to encourage them to transition away from violence and crime. In 2020 there was the promise of £5 million of grant aid for UVF ‘community projects’ throughout the North of Ireland. The money will come from the £50 million ‘Fresh Start’ funding previously announced for unionist paramilitary organisations. £55 million alone going to Loyalist paramilitaries while they continue to flood their own communities with hard drugs. If you don’t toe the line on the paramilitary agenda, you end up like a poor 61-year-old woman in Coleraine, critically injured when those same ‘protectors’ of Loyalist communities raked her home with gunfire striking her in the head. It got so bad in Coleraine that the ranking PSNI officer in the town called in the Paramilitary Task Force to help with the situation.
Instead of denouncing Loyalist paramilitaries and simply and openly telling them they do not have the support of political Unionism and that they will not receive further funding until such times as they decommission, quit criminality and put violence behind them, political Unionism facilitates, validates, and legitimises these so-called protectors who, frankly, do anything but protect their communities. Arlene Foster met with the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) at the end of February. The LCC in itself is not an illegal organisation yet it represents the three biggest proscribed Loyalist paramilitary groups in the North – the UDA, the UVF, and the Red Hand Commando. It was founded in 2015 with the help of the British in the form of Jonathan Powell in response to the perceived neglect of working-class loyalists. Why then, does it represent three paramilitary groups and not a Loyalist citizens assembly devoid of paramilitaries? After the meeting with the LCC, Arlene Foster stated she would happily meet with Loyalist paramilitaries again which seems to be a complete polar opposite mindset to what political Unionism’s policy was when it came to Sinn Fein and the IRA.
Instead of facilitating open and ‘free speech’ nights at a venue with grass-roots working-class Loyalists, where they can have an open say, free from the chains and oppression of Loyalist paramilitaries, political Unionism openly invites the consultation of Loyalist paramilitary groups who suck the sheer life out of their own communities and soak up tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers money as well as terrorising the very people parties like the DUP should actually be talking to – the working class Protestant population who desperately need their help.
The North will never pull itself out of this paramilitary-driven society we are in until such times as politicians outright condemn and deny active paramilitaries on both sides of our divide, a valid and legitimate voice. For instance, how can the leader of the Real IRA in Derry complain about “sectarian policing” because the PSNI arrested nine dissident republican leaders? What do they expect? The PSNI simply turns a blind eye while this scourge of society tries to kill PSNI officers and carry out punishment beatings on our own people or worse? The Real IRA is a proscribed organisation just like the UDA, UVF, and RHC…only they’re Republican and most importantly, dissident. If you ask the majority of people in Derry, you’ll find these republicans do not have the support of the majority of the people of republican or nationalist Derry. Even ex-dissident republican leaders are saying it’s time for dissidents to put down the gun as they’re actually damaging the prospects of a united Ireland which, unless I’m mistaken, is the ultimate aim of republicanism and nationalism in general.
It is time for paramilitaries to disappear from the North in general. We are well past the time when they were needed and any suggestion that they are “protecting” their communities is false in the extreme considering they actually do more damage than they do good. The PIRA is dedicated to peace and democracy and while still a so-called “structure” they are unarmed and determined to make peace work. However, the Loyalist paramilitaries never decommissioned properly, are still armed, still engaged in criminality at an alarming level, and are still being funded to the tune of multi-millions of pounds to transition away from violence and criminality twenty-three years after the Good Friday Agreement. To say they didn’t agree with the GFA just isn’t an excuse. The majority of citizens in the North, both nationalist and unionist voted for peace and reconciliation. It’s about time Loyalist and Nationalist paramilitaries listened and respected their decision.