I did a little trip through memory lane on the topic of the UDA. Rather than needing a long term memory I was able to recall the past six months for some pretty horrific evidence of paramilitary activities up to and including murder.
Just last December 2016 ACC Steve Martin was telling the public that people associated with East Belfast community group Charter NI were “recently involved in paramilitary activity”. That issue was around the appropriateness of the funding of senior posts in the organisation and close links with the DUP. That context is important.
The new year began with the DUP’s decision to light a political bonfire in Stormont rather than address the matters raised with them by the late Martin McGuinness. In parallel UDA activity ratcheted up a gear. On 12th January the experience of a family being forced out of their home due to UDA intimidation made the front page of a local newspaper. In the midst of the political maelstrom it went largely unnoticed.
Then in February, in the middle of the snap Assembly election, then councillor and now MLA, former Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon received a bullet in post and ascribed it to UDA. Nichola was heavily pregnant at the time.
A few short weeks later in March George Gilmore was murdered in Carrickfergus. Then in May Colin Horner was murdered in front of his child in Bangor.
Without a shred of shame two weeks later we were witness to a Loyalist Combined Command (sic) statement interfering in Westminster elections endorsing DUP and UUP candidates.
Incredibly reports two weeks ago of Senior members of the PSNI being linked to corruption with drugs gangs have gone virtually unnoticed.
It is important to contextualise all of this. This is not an aberration. This is continuous activity occurring across the past 20 years post IRA ceasefire, 19 years post peace agreement. But yet, the past six months have not been marked by overwhelming political concern and decisive demand that this activity is ended. Nor have they been marked by the PSNI being put under pressure for concerted action. It has been all rather, well, unaccountable.
I raise this in the context of last Friday’s damning judgment in the Belfast High Court regarding the failings in the Glennane investigation. This concerns over 100 murders by the UVF/UDR/RUC gang in mid-Ulster, including the Dublin Monaghan bombings. The judgment was scathing of the PSNI, who are now implicated in deliberate and systemic cover up of RUC and British army collusion. This is far from the first case where the PSNI is inseparably linked to the deliberate concealment of state crimes, whether by delay, destruction of files, leading retired state witnesses to ensure they do not expose past wrongdoing. This week Relatives for Justice called for Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris to resign.
Just like the matter of the ongoing activities of the UDA however, the PSNI was not hounded by the media for accountability.
Has the PSNI decided it shouldn’t be asked questions about the scandal of cover up of RUC illegality? Has it equally decided there is an acceptable level of UDA paramilitarism? Whatever it is it is bad for society and bad for the credibility or success of the PSNI. Given our history of policing there must be far reaching police accountability. Instead all we are getting are trite soundbites from the top of the PSNI.