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The UDA comes in from the cold

Andrew Johnson

29th November 2004

The curious mating dance between the British state and its favourite paramilitary group has finally borne fruit.

Consider this choreography: On 2nd November proconsul Murphy and his sidekick Pearson held a cordial meeting with the very public leadership of the UDA, notably Andre Shoukri, Jackie McDonald and Billy McFarlane. Only two days later, on 4th November the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) reported that the UDA remained highly active, involved in both sectarian and racist violence, and was additionally up to its oxters in criminality. Yet on 12th November Murphy announced that he was “de-specifying” the UDA, recognised its non-existent ceasefire and praised its commitment to peace.

Two days after that, the Larne UDA carried out the latest in a long series of attacks on the home of SDLP councillor Danny O’Connor. Both the Larne cops and Boss Murphy declared there was no evidence the UDA was involved, despite their extensive track record.

Hilariously, Chris McGimpsey, famously on the liberal wing of the Unionist Party, demanded that the UDA should be given the same chance to prove itself as the Provos. This is of course of a piece with McGimpsey’s history of special pleading for loyalists, notably his performance over Holy Cross.

So what is going on here?

It is easy to see the UDA’s motivation. They want to be able to carry on their normal business of extortion, pimping and drug dealing with the British state off their backs. Although it is hard to see how the British could get any further off their backs. Following the last IMC report financial sanctions were imposed on Sinn Fein and the PUP, while the UDA remained in receipt of huge sums of government largesse. Then there was the strange sequence of events where UDA leaders were being arrested in possession of firearms, only to be released by the courts in short order.

The British government’s motivation is much more interesting. Partly their overtures to the UDA have to do with calming it down and reducing the temperature of their colony, particularly with the unpredictable Johnny Adair out of the way. But there is also a political calculation here. The UDA leadership may not have much in the way of conscious politics, but that is not to say that they lack a political base. They have a political base, and its name is the DUP.

What calculations are the British working on as they try to cobble a deal together? They reckon they can count on the complete dismantling of the IRA and Sinn Fein signing up to majority rule – the republican leadership are so desperate to get their bums on seats at Stormont they will sign up to anything at this stage. The main imponderable is whether the DUP can sell a deal to their base. And that is where the UDA come in, providing ballast for Paisley just as the paramilitaries acted as Trimble’s minders in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement. The assistance of the UDA will be invaluable in a stitch-up light years to the right of Good Friday.

That’s what was called “taking a risk”. In reality Murphy has taken no risk at all in cutting a deal with the UDA gangsters. Loyalist paramilitarism dovetails very nicely with the British agenda.



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