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Loyalist Commission issues new threat but no one notices!

Joe Craig

3rd September 2002

The latest statement from the Loyalist Commission appealing for ‘a period of calm’ has been widely praised for its ‘honesty’ and welcomed by unionists with and without a dog collar as a step forward.  It is of course neither honest nor a step forward but simply reaches another level of cynicism which unionist politicians and certain Protestant clerics appear happy to connive with.

It is described as honest because it admits that loyalist paramilitaries have been involved in street violence.  Coming after UDA admission to the murder of Gerard Lawlor just what is meant to be so significant about the statement is not explained.  Just who is this news to?  Certainly not the families of loyalist murder victims or the literally hundreds of Catholic victims of pipe bombings over the last few years.

That such a cynical and mendacious statement receives the straight-faced reception it does from politicians and the media is testimony to the way events in the North are reported.  What is always reported are not the facts but an attempt to ‘even-handedly’ report how ‘both sides’ view, or very often make up, the facts.  Thus while two streets in East Belfast have witnessed nightly attacks the media do not report what has happened but what the DUP or Sinn Fein say happened.  The responsibility of the media themselves to state the truth is evaded in favour of a holier than thou attitude that invites ‘the two sides’ to blame each other and then castigate them for involving themselves in the ‘blame game.’

We are implicitly asked to assume that it is beyond the resources of the media to report what is happening in two streets.  This is analogous to the comment by a unionist politician that Tony Blair wants to invade Iraq to keep peace in the world but he can’t keep the peace in two Belfast streets!  The purpose of such reporting is obvious.  It allows the British to then appear on our television screens to criticise both sides for ‘tit-for-tat’ violence and praise the police for doing a wonderful job ‘keeping the two sides apart.’


The Loyalist statement thus appears not as the dishonest nonsense it is but as a conciliatory approach of one of the two warring sides.  In any ‘normal’ society this statement would be drowned by howls of derision.  Lets look at its claims to honesty.

It states that loyalists have been involved in interface violence ‘but only in a defensive capacity.’  This is the oldest excuse of Loyalism, that its violence is only reactive, and which  nine times out of ten is unchallenged by the media.  It is patently untrue.  The UDA in particular have been involved in a systematic sectarian campaign for at least two years not only in north and east Belfast where Catholic reaction has given a tiny semblance of cover for its activities but also in majority unionist towns in Antrim, Derry and Armagh.  The statement follows a hatchet attack on a fifteen year old Catholic in Antrim that has left its victim in a critical condition in hospital.

The ‘Irish News’ (3/09/02) reports police figures of 46 shootings in Coleraine, Antrim, Carrickfergus and Larne within the last nine months and 11 pipe bombings since the start of the year.  This is certainly only a minority of the sectarian intimidation that has taken place.

Having categorically blamed republicans for the violence the statement then goes on to say that ‘only honest and sincere communication across our communities can replace the blame game and the propaganda issued in support of unacceptable behaviour on both sides.’

The statement recalls its earlier one which called on republicans to agree a’ no first strike’ policy.  That the bona fides of this earlier statement is presumably endorsed by the unionist politicians and clergy who sit on the Commission after the violence and murder that followed it can leave no room for doubt as to the role of these individuals and their organisations.  Like the first statement this one is a justification for sectarian intimidation and murder and those that sit on the Loyalist Commission should be publicly pilloried.   When the systematic offensive of loyalist paramilitaries is presented as defensive and the violence blamed on republicans the message for those that care to pay attention is a clear one of more ‘defensive’ actions, including murder, that will again be blamed on someone else.

The statement calls on republicans to accept the Church of Ireland Archbishop’s call for an end to violence while hoping the Catholic Archbishop will endorse his Protestant counterpart.  The purpose of all this is so we can ‘enable both sides to agree how best they can tolerate each other.’  Sectarian calls are piled upon sectarian assumptions for sectarian objectives.

Just what then is to be gained by anyone the least concerned with democracy or socialism in treating these utterances with the least credibility?  Just how is anything progressive to be achieved by treating them seriously or with respect?  Only by relentlessly presenting them for the sectarian propaganda that they are can we begin to undermine their role in justifying the sectarian death squads and their political and clerical apologists.

Postscript 5 September

The ink is hardly dry on the Loyalist Commission statement before Church of Ireland Archbishop Eames calls for a response from republicans.  Within 24 hours a bomb is placed under independent Labour councillor Mark Langhammer’s car almost certainly by the UDA and a Catholic family escape injury when an explosive device goes off at the rear of their home in north Belfast.  The Police Service of Northern Ireland in the shape of Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan meanwhile acknowledges the obvious by stating that ‘the significant majority of the serious violence, the serious attacks, in my view has come from loyalist paramilitary groups.’



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