John Wilson reviews History of the UDA by Colin Crawford, Pluto Press £14.99 pbk
“‘UNTIL NOW there has been a dearth of literature related to all the Loyalists’ terrorist movements in the North. This may be somewhat deliberate.’”
In so far as it attempts to tell the story of the conflict in the north of Ireland from the hitherto now largely ignored perspective of the conventionally demonised UDA, this book is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of Irish studies.
While it will be an uncomfortable read for nationalists and republicans, its attempt to flesh out the caricature of loyalist paramilitaries — as nothing more than mere “back-street fascists”— ought to be applauded.
Whether or not it succeeds is another question. For, even if we are willing to grant this initial premise, much of what is presented here — the personal testimony of participants both named and anonymous as well as Crawford’s own analysis — must remain contentious. And particularly so in the context of the belated Cory Report.
Indeed, the author admits as much — “…the source and nature of the intelligence the UDA/UFF were acting upon remains in contention, as does the actual status of many of the victims. No doubt these matters will be subject to further enquiry.”
Thus, in an almost casual aside, the two central planks of both Crawford’s attempt to map the transformation of the organisation into an effective military-political machine and of the latter’s own self-validation — namely the small matter (sic) of collusion and the claim that, post-1989, the UDA limited itself to a strategy of non-sectarian “selective targeting” of known republican activists — are blown out of the water.
It isn’t nearly good enough to say that this is simply “to record the UFF’s version of its history and motivation.” History on the model of the “embedded” journalists in Iraq anyone?
He then proceeds with an extended attempt to have his cake and eat it. So, the post-89 campaign of the reorganised and rejuvenated UDA to “take the war to the IRA”, shortened the conflict?
On the one hand, in Johnny Adair’s view, the securocrats were giving the pre-89 leadership “suitcases of money” to keep the UFF out of action and the purge of this corrupt old guard and its replacement by a vigourous younger cadre, unrestrained by such government control, laid the ground for military success. On the other, “…a special operations unit (was, simultaneously, being) set up within loyalism…” with the tacit support of the British security forces.
A timely resonance is added to Crawford’s volume in an article by the Guardian’s Peter Preston on the Madrid bombings. The Spanish state also “covertly let government-endorsed assassination squads murder its enemies. But then, remarkably and in a way that Britain has never contrived, it returned to the rule of law and brought those official killers to book.”
When he refers to the “desirability of a maintained ‘live’ loyalist paramilitary presence” Crawford offers a rather chilling explanation for what seems an unwillingness rather than an inability to so contrive.
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Copyright © 2004 John Wilson