Time for UVF and UDA to leave the stage – and without a single cent - Tom Kelly

The time has come for both the UVF and UDA to leave the stage

LAST week the UVF leadership issued a diktat at Remembrance Sunday events that anyone involved with drug dealing could no longer “operate under their banner”.

The very presence of the UVF at remembrance events is a gratuitous and indefensible insult to the fallen. There’s no credible comparison between those in the 36th Ulster Division who fought in the Great War and a marginal group of balaclava-wearing, puffed-up corner boys who are knee-deep in grift.

No doubt to the bleeding-heart peaceniks, the so-called ‘transitioning’ industry and liberal middle-class meddlers, the UVF statement will be welcome news.

To the rest of the ordinary five-eighths in the north, the continued existence of these heinous, blood-sucking band of murderous and sectarian paramilitary parasites is an iniquitous abomination.

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It will soon be 30 years since the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) signed up to ending their conflict. What seemed like an end was, in fact, only a beginning to the privatisation of their vice-like grip within working-class loyalist communities. Local commanders became ward bosses by maintaining their muscle and organisational clout.


Former UVF leader Gusty Spence, along with William Smyth, Gary McMichael, David Ervine and David Adams, announces the combined loyalist ceasefires in 1994


Without any significant political mandate since the loss of the late David Ervine, the UVF leadership made a conscious decision to ensure their presence was felt through the operation of significant criminality such as racketeering, prostitution and, of course, the lucrative drugs trade. There was no serious attempt to reel it in; far from it, they licensed and outsourced their unlawful franchises to keep the channel of ill-gotten gains flowing into their coffers.

Over the past 10 years or so, well-meaning networks of mediators and interventionists believed that the ageing leadership of the UVF are keen to transition because they struggle to maintain control over a younger, more feral generation of recruits in the ranks.

The fact that the UVF leadership is ageing is true. No doubt like fading mafia dons, they yearn for a quieter and safer life. The savage nature of the internal feuds between factions of the UVF and UDA have proven to be bitter, brutal and barbarous. The life of a loyalist paramilitary is a precarious one. So the attraction of retiring to an armchair rather than having to sleep with an armalite under the bed has its appeal.


Gusty Spence appearing on ITV's World In Action programme in the 1970s


The slow progress of any standing down any of these paramilitary organisations is either a result of the transitioning organisations not being very effective or the loyalist leaders taking them and the general public for fools. The latter is more likely.

The Loyalist Communities Council, formed in 2015 to help the transitioning of paramilitarism, has failed miserably. It certainly appears to have lost its purpose.

Truth is, loyalist paramilitaries crave both attention and a relevance in society to which they have no claim. They tested their political appeal and it was pitiful. The wider unionist community clearly has no appetite for gangsterism.

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East Belfast UVF linked to major drugs supply network and criminality

East Belfast UVF is being 'stood down'. But why aren't all paramilitaries being put out of business?

The UVF has ordered its east Belfast leadership to 'stand down'

The pseudo spokespeople for loyalist paramilitaries are a paltry crew of hollow vessels and stirrers. The know-nothings of the north.

The time has come for both the UVF and UDA to leave the stage, without a single cent to incentivise them from either the British or Irish governments. Loyalist paramilitaries have always been more attached to the half crown than the crown and that craving should not be satiated through public funds.


UDA and UVF flags flying in Larne


Loyalist paramilitaries are a real and present danger, especially to those communities where they hold sway. They have forced people to flee their homes and have been behind the intimidation and extortion of immigrants and small businesses.

The notion loyalist paramilitaries will respond to some kind of velvet glove approach is fanciful.

The only real deterrent to their continued existence is the full application of law and order on their structures, foot soldiers and leadership. Thirty years after a ceasefire, there’s nothing comforting about the whiff of cordite still stalking the streets of Northern Ireland.