Because the rule of law doesn’t seem to apply to it. Yesterday Mr Doherty was arrested on a drugs charge, which as news goes falls into the same category as “Dog bites man” or “Salman Khan takes shirt off”. But seemingly, no matter how many times he gets busted, Mr Doherty will continue to walk free. Our Norn Iron courts seem to apply a similar revolving-door principle to loyalist paramilitaries.
Then again, we have the ongoing saga of Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie’s threat to stop a £1.2m state subvention to the UDA if they insist on, well, behaving like the UDA. This has drawn strong criticism from within Stormont – not from the DUP, as you might expect, but from the Provos. Conor Murphy has been bumming and blowing about how Mrs Ritchie announced her 60-day deadline without bothering to consult the Executive, and how other ministers won’t be used as cover. Mrs Ritchie claims she wrote to ministers trying to get the Executive to discuss the issue, but it was no go. You pays your money and you takes your choice, but I fear that, even if he’s correct about this, Conor is being a little disingenuous, as it’s extremely likely that, were the move to come before the full Executive, it would be blocked.
What makes this all the more curious is that not two weeks ago Alex Maskey was slamming Mrs Ritchie for not being decisive enough on UDA funding. Dúirt sé: “This is not the decisive leadership that is required. It is public posturing… Where there is poverty, social exclusion and weak community infrastructure, government obviously has a responsibility to act. Sinn Féin supports money going to deprived areas. However, funding must be based on objective need and be properly accounted for. Money for such areas is one thing but money for the UDA is another.” Quite – so why the mixed messages?
Possibly there’s a question of localism here. Alex knows from personal experience what armed loyalism is about, while Conor’s constituents in the Republic of South Armagh have been notably free of its effects. There’s probably some inter-nationalist rivalry, with Mrs Ritchie – the sole SDLP minister – being in the firing line for this just as she is over the Andytown barracks. And a cynic might suggest that, if peace funding on one side can be stopped, so can it be on the other side. In any case, this is just a bit of point-scoring on Conor’s part.
But Alex is on to something here, in that many people – including functionaries of his own party – often seem to confuse the interests of loyalist paramilitaries with the interests of the working-class communities where they are based. A lot of this is tied up with the idea that the loyalists have been the political and functional analogue to the IRA. I think a good look at material circumstances disproves that, when you contrast the relative prosperity of the West Belfast para-state with the clear evidence of super-deprivation in a number of loyalist areas, which happen to be the areas where the paramilitaries are strongest.
Bearing in mind what it used to be like, West Belfast is remarkably prosperous these days. I’ll grant that the area still suffers serious problems of long-term deprivation, and that the people doing the most obvious prospering tend to be closely connected to either the Provos or the Sticks. All the same, the prosperity is real, and – because a lot of this escapes official statistics – must be connected to the area’s enormous black economy. Add on to that the construction boom and Gordon Brown’s voodoo economics, which have created something approaching full employment, and add on to that the tendency of working-class punters to spend whatever money they have in their pockets, and you have something like an explanation. A small straw in the wind is the phenomenon of the beauty parlour. Twenty years ago, you would go to a spit-and-sawdust barber and like it. The modern beauty parlour, whither the proletariat repair for their manicures, spray-on tans and Brazilian waxes, was totally unknown. Now there are at least three of them in Twinbrook alone.
The difference is that working-class nationalist areas exist under what is effectively a system of crony capitalism, where there is a significant amount of trickle-down. The Sticks blazed the trail in entrepreneurship, but the Provos have long since caught up with them. The UDA, by contrast, is a totally parasitic outfit, and, unlike republicans, seems to have no perspective of ploughing its assets into legitimate businesses. And why should it, when it makes a tidy profit from pimping, extortion and drug dealing, not to mention its state subvention?
One of the big problems working-class Protestant communities face is that funds for community development go straight into the pockets of the paramilitaries, and stay there. Public subventions may be helping Jackie McDonald to consolidate his empire, but they aren’t helping the areas. It’s the equivalent of Schwarzenegger trying to regenerate run-down parts of LA by giving millions of dollars to the Bloods and Crips. Is it too much to hope that the Stormont Executive would wise up to this?