Former loyalist paramilitaries may show the best way to simple deradicalisation

The authors argue former paramilitaries `weren't actually deradicalised at all, but they very much bought into the peace process'

FORMER loyalist paramilitaries could provide the key to a simple `deradicalisation' programme for a fraction of the cost of the British government's £40 million-a-year Prevent strategy, according to new research.

A report by academics from the University of Huddersfield uncovered "effective leadership" by the former men of violence which has deterred the next generation from joining proscribed organisations.

The research found that while the men - members of Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Red Hand Commandos who had been imprisoned during the Troubles for politically-motivated violence - "still hold powerful political convictions", they were able to "use their experiences to demythologise the past and deter young people from embracing violence".

Politics lecturer Shaun McDaid, the report's co-author, said the findings challenge the need for complex de-radicalisation strategies.

The counter-terrorism Prevent strategy is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities.

Dr McDaid believes that there are wider lessons to be learned from the example of Northern Ireland.

"We see people who used to engage in conflict and whose positions are as strong as ever. Their beliefs haven’t actually changed. But the methods they use have changed completely," he said.

"We think that ties into a wider debate about whether or not there need to be changes in someone's ideas in order to move them away from conflict - or whether or not that would actually be counter-productive."

He said the findings raise the question of whether or not there is any need for "complicated deradicalisation initiatives".

"We would argue that former paramilitaries weren't actually deradicalised at all, but they very much bought into the peace process of the early 1990s, and having been involved in a long-term conflict they came to the conclusion that if there was an opportunity to bring that to an end, that was ultimately more beneficial than continuing with the violence."

The report draws on 10 years of interviews by University of Huddersfield's Professor Jim McAuley and Professor Neil Ferguson, of Liverpool Hope University with loyalist former-paramilitaries.

"They hear young people saying they how they might have liked to have been involved in the conflict, and they are challenging that, trying to bring home what the conflict was really like," Dr McDaid said.

"... There are still significant issues in Northern Ireland and some young people will always be drawn to violent activity when the opportunities arise, but certainly I think the former-paramilitaries have provided some effective leadership."

The article, Social movements, structural violence and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland: The role of Loyalist Paramilitaries, by Neil Ferguson, Shaun McDaid and James W. McAuley is forthcoming in a Special Issue of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology.

University of Huddersfield's Professor Jim McAuley spent 10 years interviewing former loyalist paramilitaries

Shaun McDaid believes his report raise the question of whether or not there is any need for `complicated deradicalisation initiatives

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