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Why is society still pandering to the loyalist paramilitaries?

Source: Belfast Telegraph, 30 May 2009

Another week of horror in Northern Ireland, and the newspaper editorials and airwaves have once again been reverberating with the age-old cry that we must — we really must — do something about sectarianism.

What precisely?

This is the problem. The appalling case in Coleraine (for legal reasons I can’t talk about the specifics) has shocked and at least temporarily galvanised us all. Again. But it also raises (again) tricky questions about what can be done. What will be done?

On the phone-in shows, community and elected representatives agree that something definitely should be done. But there the agreement ends. As they bicker and snipe about who should be saying what and doing what, you have to wonder if they aren’t just making things worse with their sound bite battling. How is this helping to calm tensions?

And unionist leaders haven’t exactly led the way this week with immediate, concerted and unequivocal condemnation.

The vast, vast majority of unionist people are horrified, sickened and shamed by what happened in Coleraine. Would it have been beyond unionist leaders (and churchmen) to have come together to have made that point?

Sectarianism is not just confined to one side in Northern Ireland. Its roots are complex and widespread.

But Assembly man John Dallat has it spot-on when he says that in order to tackle it government must stop dilly-dallying with loyalist paramilitaries.

Unfortunately and disgracefully, dillydallying with paramilitaries has, for some time, been official policy in Northern Ireland.

Do the people running the show here have any notion at all what is actually happening at street level in this place?

The loyalist gangs are among the most powerful forces driving the sectarian strife, yet their malign role is constantly downplayed by those in charge. Entire Protestant working class areas have long since been thrown to the Mad Dogs. Decent, good people live under the cosh. (Just this week I was told about a business setting up in a loyalist area. As a casual aside, the person I was talking to mentioned that the owners had had to go to meet the loyalist paramilitaries to discuss terms. We all know what that means. Yet this was said as casually as you might say the owners had had to call in the electrician to check the lights.)

Children see posturing hoods, drug dealers, gangsters and thugs profit from violence.

And, as an added twist, that the leaders of these gangs are tolerated, fawned over even, by government.

What sort of message does that send to a new generation? Some of these kids weren’t even born when the same loyalist paramilitaries were proclaiming their violence was over, done with for good.

Yet their terror structures are still intact. The loyalists remain armed to the teeth. Fomenting sectarian strife is in their interest because it cements their power base.

Sectarianism, quite literally, pays.

If we are ever going to tackle sectarianism in Northern Ireland we have to tackle first the scourge of the paramilitaries.

Why, in the name of God, does the Government tolerate them and, in effect, encourage them? Is it strategy, stupidity or naiveté?

Or is it just plain cowardice?


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