One of the advantages of covering the peace process is that quite often it manages to be GUBU in about five dimensions at once. Such is the case with this week’s most startling event, the big conference called to consider how the £1.2m public subvention to the UDA is going to be spent. Chaired by business honcho Sir George Quigley and attended by chief constable Sir Hugh Orde and the Catholic bishops as well as loyalist paramilitaries, a solemn discussion was held on how giving a big whack of public money to drug dealers, pimps and extortionists was going to turn them into facilitators for the peace process. Since most of the paramilitaries are part of the peace industry already, how this is going to work beats me.This was preceded by a meeting of foreign ambassadors in Dublin, which had been summoned by Bertie to talk about how the international community could help the UDA go legit. This raises the prospect of yet more windfalls for Uncle Andy and Big Mervyn – unless the foreign governments have an ounce of sense about them.
Nice quote though from Orde. Asked whether the UDA had given up criminality, he said that the evidence was “mixed”. In other words, no. Nobody seems too concerned about that, just as nobody seems too keen to raise the issue of loyalist decommissioning.
Meanwhile, although the full ministerial line-up of the new Executive is not yet clear, the carve-up of departments between the parties makes for interesting reading. Basically, the Provos have been lumbered with water charges (Conor Murphy) and the 11+ (Caitríona Ruane), while the DUP get to hold the purse-strings. This Machiavellian strategy has Robbo’s name written all over it.
Funniest of all, though, is the DUP getting culture. I knew Big Ian had a wicked sense of humour, but this is sailing perilously close to taking the piss. My first reaction is that this is yet another nail in the coffin for the Acht Gaeilge. My second reaction is that the gay community is going to have trouble scoring grants. And the deity only knows what the DUP would want to promote under the rubric of culture. This is, after all, the party that famously banned ELO from playing Ballymena on the grounds that Jeff Lynne’s combo was satanic.
Of course, it is always possible that DUP ministers will adhere rigidly to their Section 75 obligations, and might even have the odd progressive idea. But I’ll believe it when I see it.