Listening to Gusty Spence’s remarkably prolix and opaque statement on behalf of the UVF this morning, I was immediately struck by how adeptly the loyalists have taken to Grizzlyspeak. One of the more depressing parts of the peace process has been the virus-like spread of a political discourse which, to paraphrase Orwell, has no meaning, just vocabulary. In real life, Gusty is a plain-spoken, even blunt man, but put him in a suit and steer him towards a microphone with a piece of paper in his hand, and he suddenly starts talking like a sociology lecturer.
So, beneath the relentlessly positive spin from our local media, what did Gusty say? Well, the UVF has moved away from its position of point-blank refusal to even consider decommissioning, and claims to have put its arms “beyond reach”. What this seems to mean is that the guns are in sealed dumps, inaccessible to the rank and file, but under the supervision of the UVF leadership. And, since the UVF leadership are such trustworthy people, that makes me feel soooo much safer. And there is a commitment that Billy Hutchinson will dander around to have a cosy little chat with General de Chastelain.
The UVF leadership has also called on its members to desist from criminality. Following on from the recent IMC report revealing the UVF to be deeply involved in criminality, this calls to mind one of dear departed Ervine’s more effective tricks. Whenever the UVF had done something especially reprehensible, like flooding Ballymena with heroin or launching a racist pogrom against the Chinese community, Ervine would say that, if the UVF was found to be responsible, he would walk away from the organisation. He never did, but St David’s moist-eyed performances made for great copy. And, if he was ever challenged on the point, it would be given out that, while UVF members had done bad things, their actions hadn’t been “sanctioned”.
The UVF also, without a hint of irony, is calling for a security crackdown on dissident republicans, coupling that with a thinly-veiled threat to resume armed activity if the crackdown doesn’t meet the UVF’s standards. This echoes Dawn Purvis’s demand when a PUP/UVF delegation met the Free State government last week. Bertie, who really should get an Oscar, managed to keep a straight face when this was put to him.
This sits alongside a defence of the UVF’s gruesome history and a notably frank admission that the political situation in the North was one of “support by the mainstream republican movement of the constitutional status quo”. Quite so.
What the UVF has stated, then, is that it will remain in existence for the foreseeable future, and is holding on to its substantial stockpile of weaponry in the interim. This despite the virtual dissolution of the Provos’ military organisation, which was supposed to be the raison d’être of the loyalist paramilitaries. Any further progress is, of course, dependent on the two governments creating the conditions for loyalism to move forward. This process will probably involve a continuation, or even stepping up, of the British taxpayer’s subvention to the loyalists. The war may be over, but money-grubbing is sacred.