Tom Kelly: To unshackle the north from the chains of paramilitarism, we cannot tolerate it at any level

There are no good and bad paramilitaries and police need to up their game

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

Scene at Bushmills in Co-Antrim where a man had his hands nailed to a fence and two vans were burnt out. Graffiti was also painted on a public toilet block in the popular tourist town close to the Giants Causeway. Picture Margaret Mclaughlin 5-5-2024
The scene in Bushmills, Co Antrim where a man had his hands nailed to a fence. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

Let’s start off by nailing a big fat lie which has been circling around the peacenik and communities-in-transition brigade for more than a decade.

This whopper suggests there are good and bad loyalist paramilitaries.

There is no lesser of evil between two evils.

These words are not about demonising loyalist paramilitaries – because they demonstrate that much more forcefully through the barbaric and sadistic measures they deploy to suppress, batter, bruise, extort and intimidate those beleaguered individuals/communities which fall within the reach of their cosh.

The UVF and UDA are illegal, proscribed organisations. Whilst the UVF was proscribed in 1973, remarkably the UDA escaped such opprobrium until 1992, by which stage they had murdered nearly 200 people.

Informed sources believe the respective memberships of the UVF and UDA number in the thousands. In fact, some journalists believe loyalist paramilitary membership has been on the increase in recent years.

UDA mural in Belfast
The UDA was not proscribed until 1992, by which time it had murdered almost 200 people

It’s quite demoralising (and sickening) to believe that a generation of young people born after 1994 are still flocking to dead-end organisations which will ruin their lives and condemn them to bleak and dismal futures, either in prison or on the dole.

The existence of the UDA, UFF or UVF, or the Continuity IRA/Real IRA, or whatever other parts of the alphabet soup of paramilitary organisations operating in the north, is an anathema to democracy and an affront to decent people.

Light-touch policing and community service orders won’t snuff out these organisations, which are littered with gangsters and criminals operating under whatever convenient flag gives them political cover and comfort. There is more ideological zest in a limp lettuce than these lieutenants of larceny and illegality.

Loyalist paramilitaries are not interested in actually transitioning. They are in the business of control and coercion.

So-called transitioning comes at the cost of leaving these parasites in charge of the very communities they leech off and oppress. Cheque-book diplomacy won’t buy them off; it will only serve to legitimise their stranglehold within certain areas. Why should local communities be forever locked into ghettoes with their tormentors as the keyholders?

It’s worse than immoral to pursue such a course of action – it’s amoral.

These paramilitary and dissident operatives are neither champions for nor defenders of any cause or country. Bludgeoning a human being and then nailing their hands to a fence isn’t just barbarous, it’s a crucifixion. Atrocities need called out and the perpetrators faced down.

Loyalists paramilitaries have a blood-thirsty history when it comes to brutal savagery in the slaughter of victims. (Not that IRA treatment of alleged informers was any more humane or merciful).

Those who in 2007 cruelly murdered Paul Quinn with nail-studded cudgels and iron bars, breaking every bone in his body, are from a similar stable of delinquents as those clandestine miscreants who roam loyalist areas – sometimes with apparent impunity.

Paul Quinn, the son of Breege and Stephen Quinn, who was beaten to death by a gang of around a dozen men in a farm shed near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, in 2007. Picture Family Handout/PA Wire
Paul Quinn was beaten to death in 2007

Paramilitarism has not been scourged out of our society. A code of omertà still prevails in some places controlled by dissidents and loyalist carpet-baggers. The PSNI needs to up its game. The history of the state and its agents colluding with loyalist paramilitaries still casts a long shadow on the reputation of policing. There can be no perception of backsliding.

Politicians (and others) who share platforms with loyalist paramilitaries should be questioning of their presence. If engagements with such organisations are not about their disbandment, then there is no nothing else to discuss. Simple as that.

Loyalist paramilitaries are not interested in actually transitioning. They are in the business of control and coercion

There should be no hiding place in the north for paramilitary grifters, their hoodlums and extortionists.

Not to labour a point, but a quarter of a century after the ceasefires, loyalist paramilitaries are ripping the proverbial out of those who still naively believe you can tame an iron fist with a silk purse.

To unshackle the north from the chains of paramilitarism, we must stop tolerating it at any level and then end its glorification. After all, real heroes don’t wear balaclavas.