THIS week’s BBC Spotlight exposé of loan-sharking by loyalist paramilitaries was first and foremost a shocking indictment of the PSNI’s utter failure to act against those UVF and UDA gangland bosses who preside over the daily abuse of their own communities. But it is too a vivid illustration of the bottomless hypocrisy of those senior unionist politicians who regularly sit round the table with the same narco-thugs who are inflicting this reign of terror on their neighbours.
The IRA left the stage two decades ago and more, and while the usual allegations of continued Army Council influence within Sinn Féin are bandied about, that canard is resorted to only because of the total absence of IRA activity or presence within communities and on the streets. Add to that the commitment shown by Sinn Féin in refusing to give any time or credibility to republican micro-groups involved in their risible and sporadic ‘armed struggle’ and it is clear to see that on that side at least, promises were delivered upon.
What we see being waged now is a ‘culture war’ in which the enemy is not IRA volunteers with guns and bombs, but ordinary nationalists and republicans who don’t speak and act in the way unionists believe they should. So it is that words, lyrics and ideas are furiously denounced as if they were weapons. Young people singing songs about a conflict they never knew is an assault on every unionist victim of the Troubles. Politicians expressing an opinion on the dynamic of the outbreak of violence in the late ’60s is hate speech. Academics engaged in a respectful and outward-looking debate on the future of the union are denounced and harassed at their places of work.
Meanwhile, the same unionist politicians who express horror at ‘Ooh, ah, up the Ra’, who react hysterically at any analysis of the conflict that doesn’t elide with theirs, who obsess about a mild-mannered professor who dares to conduct a debate they don’t like go about their business. And their business is giving legitimacy and cover to the very people who were the subject of the Spotlight report by sitting around the table with them. Sitting around the table with men responsible for the financial and mental misery that they have unleased on loyalist communities with their greed and brutality. Sitting around the table with the men behind the attack on the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ardoyne. Sitting around the table with men who have other men shot down in car parks in front of their children.
But while these politicians give cover to the narco-thugs, the media in turn gives cover to them by seeing nothing unusual about them meeting the UVF and the UDA. Michelle O’Neill is questioned endlessly about her recent words on the genesis of the conflict. Have unionist politicians had their feet put to the fire with similar enthusiasm over their relationship with gangsters and killers? Evidently they have not.
It’s high time that failure was rectified.