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‘Taking a risk’

John McAnulty

31st October 2004

The stock description of the decision by the British secretary of state to meet leading loyalist gangsters from the UDA and UVF is that he is ‘taking a risk’. This is interpreted as meaning that the British are doing something unpleasant that will, if it works, bring about good or, if it fails, damage and discredit the British.

This is clearly not the case. Mo Mowlam ‘took a risk’ when she went into prison to kiss the hem of ‘Mad Dog’ Adair and Michael Stone in the middle of a sectarian killing spree by the loyalists. The killings continued but no-one said an unkind word about Mowlam. The British ‘took a risk’ when they met ‘Mad Dog’ on his release and endorsed his attempt to become emperor of the UDA. They took another risk when the state forces escorted the rival UDA gangs to Adair’s door following the failure of his attempt and helped a triumvirate to replace him. The British keep taking these risks. They never do any good – the loyalist gangsters keep running their drug and prostitution industries and use terror and extortion with impunity – increasingly targeting ethnic minorities in addition to Catholics. They never do any harm to the British – no-one ever complains.

So what does ‘taking a risk’ mean if it doesn’t mean that you are taking a risk?

If pressed the British will explain. They need to meet the loyalists because of a policy of inclusion. The loyalists have to be made political so that they can be included in a final settlement.


The Loyalist gangsters have no political programme outside violent bigotry and intimidation. They only got into politics in the first place because the British had a special ‘fast-track’ system for the initial assembly, designed to get the loyalists in on tiny votes. The UDA quickly fell apart, forgetting to register their party. The UVF have a slightly more substantial front organisation in the Progressive Unionist Party, but their role as minder for the Official Unionists has led most unionists to conclude that it is better to vote for the organ grinder than the monkey. In any democratic society the state would be seeking to put the loyalist paramilitaries behind bars – not continuing to offer them immunity from the law and promote them as a political force.

Finally we come to understand what ‘taking a risk’ means. It means making explicit the collusion between the state and the death squads and letting nationalists know that any settlement will include a continuing threat from these groups if anyone steps outside the limits set by the British.

In Britain a meeting between Tony Blair and Combat 18 or any of the violent racist groups would not be called ‘taking a risk’. It would be called political suicide. There would a storm of protest. In Ireland this is not the case. The Dublin intelligentsia award prizes to BBC plays sympathetically depicting the ‘two sides’ in the intimidation of primary school children at Holy Cross. The government, the president and the trade unions regularly take the same risk as the British by feting loyalist paramilitaries. All this is made possible by the political collapse of Sinn Fein and their new role as Ogra Fianna Fail – junior partners to Irish capital.

None of this is new. Irish history fluctuates between revolutionary outbursts and appeasement of imperialism. The fluctuation is there because neither militarism nor collaboration offers any solution to the needs of the working class.



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