Magazine article The Spectator

The Peace Process Is Still the Best Deal in Town, but It Is Not Safe with New Labour

Magazine article The Spectator

The Peace Process Is Still the Best Deal in Town, but It Is Not Safe with New Labour

Article excerpt

The Ulster Protestant paramilitaries labour under a number of related disadvantages. To the extent that they could claim to be defending the rights of a democratic majority, their case is less ignoble than the IRA's. But except in the immediate aftermath of its atrocities, the IRA has always been able to shelter behind romantic mythology. In Britain, America and Europe, millions of people who ought to know better are prepared to sentimentalise terrorism and homicide when committed by Irish Republicans. The IRA often manages to seem glamorous; no one has ever tried to glamorise the Protestant paramilitaries.

Their second drawback is that they are exclusively working class: perhaps, indeed, the only genuinely working-class political movement that there has ever been. The militants of the UDA, UVF, et al. have far more tattoos than O-levels. But in the absence of an educated leadership, the Protestant paramilitaries not only sound thick; they are thick. The tattoos are implanted on their brains as well as their forearms. Their recent outbreak of selfdestructiveness would lead any rational observer to conclude that there could only be one justification for their behaviour: they are now working alongside the IRA and its sympathisers in order to destroy the Union. But that would be to apply reason and logic to profoundly sub-rational persons who know not what they do.

They are not the only ones. It is possible to make excuses for semi-literate desperadoes; it is impossible to excuse the behaviour of those in official circles who have fawned on these squalid creatures. For many years now, such so-called `loyalists' - absolutely unworthy of the name have financed themselves by drug-dealing and protection rackets; they are hoodlums as well as terrorists. Despite its public image, the Unionist community is deeply law-abiding, so it is hardly surprising that the paramilitaries enjoy negligible public support. But the Blair government has consistently acted as if it placed a high priority on strengthening their position. At the Assembly elections, the two loyalist paramilitary political parties received 3.7 per cent of the vote between them. In any sensible system, that would have kept them well away from the legislature. In Ulster, however, the electoral system had been rigged to ensure that the larger paramilitary party, the PUP, was represented in the Assembly.

But there has not only been a wholly unmerited representation. To a revolting extent, David Ervine, the head of the PUP, has been fawned over by those who ought to know better. At the same time as Mo Mowlam was snubbing and alienating the Unionists, and deriving far more pleasure from her social calls on murderers in the Maze prison than from her meetings with David Trimble and his colleagues, she went out of her way to confer a virtually heroic status -upon Mr Ervine. In her case, this may have been no more than a characteristic misjudgment: an infantile leftist's admiration for political rough trade. But others may have had more sinister motives.

The PUP's finances are mysterious. Far healthier than its negligible membership can explain, they may have been supplemented by more than one form of racketeering. There are suggestions that organs of the Irish government have encouraged donations to the PUP, with a single end in view: to weaken and discredit Unionism. The hope is that world opinion will put the Unionists on all fours with Sinn Fein. Just as it has its military wing, the IRA, so do the Unionists: the loyalist paramilitaries. …

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