Thursday, July 28, 2005

Armed and dangerous

Jarlath Kearney:

Official statistics obtained by Daily Ireland have thrown a new spotlight onto the failure of unionist paramilitary organisations to decommission.

It can be revealed that in the six years after the Good Friday Agreement, approximately 529 illegal firearms were discovered in mainly unionist parliamentary constituencies across the North.

Human rights organisations estimate that more than 700 grenade and pipe bomb attacks were launched against Catholic and nationalist homes during the same period, from 1998 to 2004.

In the context of the role played by British intelligence and RUC/PSNI Special Branch in managing key loyalist agents, the new statistics demonstrate the frightening extent of illegal weaponry in the hands of the unionist community.

Today’s news emerged as speculation mounted that the IRA is considering an unprecedented fourth act of putting weapons beyond use in the near future.

Under the terms of the 1998 Agreement, acts of decommissioning should comply with arrangements agreed between the relevant paramilitary organisation and General John de Chastelain’s Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IOCD).

Only one minor act of decommissioning by loyalist paramilitaries has ever been carried out. In what was widely regarded as a publicity stunt, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) publicly destroyed a number of old guns in the presence of General de Chastelain on December 18, 1998.

In recent weeks, loyalist paramilitaries have murdered two Protestant men, exploded blast bombs in unionist areas and attacks on nationalist homes and issued death threats against prominent republicans.

Automatic weapons were also fired publicly at July 12 bonfires in unionist areas, accompanied by statements of intent to commit further violence.

Earlier this week, the PSNI and British army caused outrage by passively observing as scores of hooded UVF members gathered at Garnerville in east Belfast. The UVF had earlier escalated its feud with the rival LVF by intimidating a number of families from their homes on Sunday night.

In the late 1980s, a massive haul of South African weapons was brought into the North under the direction of British agent Brian Nelson. The haul was divided into three sections, for the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Resistance respectively.

Ulster Resistance was formed with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in November 1986, but none of the organisation’s illegal South African weapons has ever been recovered.

According to the latest official statistics, Belfast North, East Antrim and Lagan Valley were the constituencies where the highest proportion of illegal firearms was found. The firearms found in the these areas account for approximately 32 per cent of all illegal weapons recovered – approximately 230 out of 711.

In total, approximately 124 illegal firearms were recovered in the Border nationalist constituencies of Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, and South Down. Approximately 13 illegal firearms were found in Mid-Ulster between 1998 and 2004.

Daily Ireland’s figures are based on official PSNI statistics which indicate that 711 illegal firearms were recovered across the North between 1998 and 2004. Local district-level information has been surveyed by reference to parliamentary constituencies. This analysis concluded that approximately 74 per cent of all illegal firearms recovered between 1998 and 2004 was found in unionist parliamentary constituencies.

PSNI rediscovers blind eye routine

The sight of scores of hooded men with scarves pulled up around their faces is guaranteed to send a shiver of trepidation up the spine of everyone confronted with such a spectacle, even if they are assured this self-appointed mob of vigilantes is there to ‘clean up their estate’.

Unfortunately for many people in the North of the country, such a sight has been all too common over the past 30 or so years.

That same intimidating sight was seen again out on the streets in Belfast yesterday, going about the business of terrorising perceived opponents out of their homes.

The UVF decided it was going to flex its muscles and sent hundreds of members and supporters to remove several allegedly Loyalist Volunteer Force-connected families from the Garnerville Estate in east Belfast, ironically, almost overlooked by the main PSNI training college.

There was also a bomb attack on a house and a taxi depot was burned out in the city.

Both these attacks and the lynch-mob action were euphemistically blamed on ‘current tensions within loyalism’ by the PSNI, a phrase which reduces the real brutality and murderous intent of the current paramilitary feud to a bit of a family dispute.

The most chilling aspect of the mob-rule display was that it was carried out while dozens of police and British soldiers looked on and didn’t even try to interfere, but appeared to be almost supervising what was going on, by ensuring that the UVF carried out its action with the minimum amount of fuss.

It’s hard to see the same approach being taken if a couple of hundred masked IRA men turned up to tell someone to get out of Dodge and spent the day having the equivalent of a paramilitary jamboree and points to the broader inequality of treatment of nationalists and republicans generally.

A PSNI spokesman implied that there was nothing to be done, because no one involved or any residents from the estate had made a complaint.

The attitude and actions of the PSNI and British Army yesterday stand in marked contrast to their actions in Ardoyne on July 12, but should come as no surprise to the nationalist community which has bitter past experience of the so-called security forces protecting and even assisting loyalist mobs as they burned people out of their homes.

The fact that the PSNI so blatantly turned a blind eye to such activity in broad daylight is not only supremely galling but a stark warning to the nationalist community to be on its guard.

Just hours after yesterday’s events, threats from loyalists were issued against republicans. This is another common denominator in loyalist feuds, which are usually resolved by the sectarian bigots defusing the ‘tensions within loyalism’ through attacking innocent nationalists, as far too many still grieving families know only too well.

EDITORIAL: Unionist hypocrisy

As we await the expected IRA response this week to Gerry Adams’ call on the organisation to take a peaceful and democratic path, it seems a wonder that the IRA is still even considering such a move, given the dizzying upsurge in loyalist violence and – just as worryingly – the official response to it.

In our paper today we draw a frightening picture of the amount of illegal arms sloshing around in unionist districts. Add to that deadly arsenal the vast stockpiles of legally-held weapons and large tracts of the North begin to resemble the Wild West.

Tooled-up and spoiling for a fight, loyalists go on the rampage in Belfast and Ballymena, shooting up our second city in a bitter feud over drug revenues, and doing what they do best in the north Antrim Bible Belt – putting uppity Fenians in their place by attacking their churches and gathering places.

Against that background it might be hoped that some kind of meaningful response could be mustered by unionist elected representatives who find themselves in the middle of this madness, but not a bit of it. As pools of young men’s blood flow into the gutter in Belfast, the stock unionist response is to express the vague hope that the UVF and the LVF will get together to sort out their differences before anybody else is hurt. In Ballymena, unionist politicians and the PSNI collude in the disgusting lie that the weekend attacks on churches and pubs are the result of a proposed republican parade in Ballymena next month, as if loyalists in Ballymena need any excuse to target their Catholic neighbours. What of the UVF taking over the Garnerville estate in East Belfast? Why, that only happened, we’re assured, because the PSNI isn’t doing its job right and that paramilitaries will always thrive in a policing vacuum.

The ability of unionists to see things in the round, to parse and analyse events on the street in the context of current developments, disappears when those firing the shots aren’t wearing union jack baseball caps. Even before the IRA has given its answer to Gerry Adams, even as the IRA considers a historic and decisive statement on its future, unionists have had their say and – surprise, surprise – they’re just not interested.

No talk of giving the IRA the same time and space to sort things out that unionists have given to loyalist triggermen in the latest feud, just a flat rejection of something they haven’t seen. That’s a depressing reminder of what we heard when the IRA called its first cessation – that peace is just too destabilising for unionists to consider.

This unionist Jekyll and Hyde act is nothing new – leading unionist politicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder with thugs in sunglasses when loyalist paramilitaries were slaughtering Catholics in their beds. That is a hypocrisy that unionists might justify in their own minds, but as we look forward to a positive statement from the IRA – whether it comes this week or at a later date – that hypocrisy must be seen for what it is by Dublin and London.

A little update on the current state of British colonialism in the north of Ireland.


At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you'd have thought by now that after 300 years you'd be getting used to it. here's to another 300


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