by Bobbie Heatley
SINCE THE Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, the self-styled Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), under various names of convenience, have carried out hundreds of pipe-, petrol- and blast-bomb attacks on the homes of Catholic civilians throughout the north of Ireland.
They have also attacked Protestant homes, but have failed to attach the blame to republicans in their efforts to escalate sectarian tensions.
They have been particularly active in the small enclaves of north Belfast and south Antrim, where they have carried out a number of killings.
Their victims have included Brian Service, an unemployed Catholic construction worker, Ciarán Cummings, a 19-year old youth gunned down while awaiting a lift to work and Gavin Brett, a Protestant teenager who was shot dead on the assumption that he was a Catholic. Brett was with Catholic friends at the time of the attack.
Another recent murder was that of Martin O'Hagan, a Belfast journalist who was investigating Loyalist paramilitary (the press seldom calls them 'terrorist') involvement in drug-related crime.
Throughout these events, the British proconsul in the north, John Reid, has stood on the sidelines giving an impression of impotency.
Reid's main input has been to berate the 'two communities' for their obdurate and inexplicable addiction to self-inflicted sectarianism, implying that he is above all such absurdities and blameless.
His police have managed to arrest a few of those involved, but they have invariably been released without charge or trial after questioning. No convictions have so far been secured.
At a meeting with Tony Blair on the day that Sinn Féin MPs gained access to their Westminster offices, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams launched a forceful attack on the British state’s "tolerance" of loyalist attacks on northern Catholics, which he said posed a serious threat to the peace process.
By last October the government could no longer pretend that the UDA was on 'ceasefire' and Dr Reid formally recognised that it was over.
The names of the UDA's inner council 'godfathers were placed in the public arena by the news-media, yet no arrests or charges have followed to date -- ostensibly because potential witnesses living in UDA-owned Protestant ghettos are too scared to give evidence.
These are the very people whom Dr Reid implores to stand up and help solve the cancer of sectarianism.
The UDA has continued with its campaign of terror and was instrumental in the whipping-up of tensions with its masterminding of the Loyalist blockade of the Holy Cross girls' primary school.
However, the nakedly sectarian killing of young Catholic postal worker Daniel McColgan in January this year, allied to a threat to kill Catholic teachers and postal workers, brought forth a wave of revulsion across the whole community.
Those sections of the Protestant community whose members felt that they could act without Loyalist paramilitary terror retribution coming down upon them decided that it was time to join with fellow workers in protest.
The leaders of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) were made aware of this mood change by large sections of their membership and a general call was issued for people to come out on to the streets.
Given Reid's repeated calls for the populace to do something to end sectarianism, the normally cautious trade-union politicos had a right to expect that this dangerous expedient of activating the 'crowd' would not be looked upon with disfavour in that quarter.
Unfortunately, the ICTU’s insistence on indiscriminately merging the issues of sectarianism and paramilitarism, and by effectively exonerating politicians from any blame in this matter, oversimplifies and weakens their criticism.
Nevertheless, the ICTU’s initiative was both timely and welcome.
Despite Friday 18 January being one of the wettest and windiest days for months, tens of thousands of people, from both sides of the community, turned out in response to ICTU's call and demonstrated what the trade union/labour movement can do once it sets its mind upon something.
Outdoor meetings were held right across the six-counties, with tens-of thousands attending. The one at Belfast’s City Hall was particularly impressive. Public- and private-sector employers co-operated by allowing their employees time off from work. British trade-unionists sent messages of solidarity.
Whether or not intended, the people of the north played their part in responding to Dr Reid’s exhortations. The buck has been passed back to where it belongs -- with him. During his ten months in office, Dr Reid has had at his disposal arguably the largest policing and military machine, per head of population, anywhere in western Europe.
Furthermore, both the RUC and its reincarnation, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), remain rooted in the Protestant community.
The Pat Finucane case has also provided graphic evidence of the extent to which the UDA, in particular, but as a general case, is infiltrated at the very highest levels by police Special Branch and MI5 informers.
Even unionists such as newspaper columnist Steven King are clear that the loyalist terrorist campaign aimed against Catholics -- for which not 'the two communities' but only a section of the unionist community, in collusion with sections of the police and British army, is responsible -- is a major component of the campaign being waged by anti-Good Friday unionism.
This, in turn, is bolstered by securocrat and political elements in Britain and the north.
Since the new year the people of the six counties have shown their readiness to do their bit to extirpate sectarianism and build a new society. It is now over to Dr Reid to dispense with the absurd ‘cold house for unionists' rhetoric. The according of civil rights to the black people of Alabama was undoubtedly perceived as having made Alabama a cold house for white racists.
Dr Reid has now to show that he is serious about protecting the implementation of the Good Friday reform programme.
(See also SF Mps open Westminster offices & Omagh controversy adds to reform fears)
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