New Loyalist Council fraught with contradictions

I read today’s statement from loyalist paramilitaries announcing the formation of the Loyalist Community Council.

Any genuine attempt to move paramilitary gangs away from violence is to be cautiously welcomed but there is something worrying about formalising and co-opting these organisations in order to have them leave the stage.

The success of this new Loyalist Community Council will only be measured by tangible evidence that loyalist paramilitaries have disappeared. Certainly, we should be getting the good behaviour up-front before the grant applications start to be written.

There are a number of problems with this new body, not least that the council will include members from each the UDA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando which are all proscribed organisations that are still active in racketeering, intimidation and violence across Northern Ireland.

There is also a major credibility and coherence gap in light of the statement just last week from the South Belfast UPRG that their UDA bedfellows would be going nowhere.

In a statement today, loyalist paramilitaries have stated that they hope this new body will ‘become a vehicle for attracting meaningful funding and initiatives to assist loyalist communities throughout Northern Ireland’.

Many, many millions have already been spent in Peace funding to get rid of these of paramilitary organisations and to rebuild republican and loyalist communities destroyed by the Troubles and paramilitaries.

Many people will be asking how much and how often we have to pay these people to go away, especially as a majority of ex-prisoners have now been out far longer than they were in jail.

Decades on from the ceasefire, the message to young men in loyalist communities is still being given that whether through extortion or a designated conflict transformation job, being a paramilitary is an acceptable way to make your living.

Many would feel that the money would be better spent on early years intervention, tackling educational underachievement and otherwise giving vulnerable young people the skills and confidence to resist the lure of paramilitaries.