The history and current existence of the UDA display in disgusting detail the moral ambivalence of unionists and many northern Protestants towards violence, brutality and the rule of law.
The drip-feed of stories and revelations concerning the extent of collusion between the British government and security forces and loyalist terror-gangs should have provoked a storm of outrage, in Ireland, in Britain, and across the world. It has not done so because here in Ireland, frankly, we expected that kind of dirty behaviour from the British – after all, we have known them for hundreds of years, and cannot forget the enormity of what they have done. In Britain, the dirty war in Ireland was, … well, … in Ireland, and therefore they don't care. And worldwide, public opinion is just too numbed by the sheer number and horror of the dozens of wars, dirty and dirtier, that it has had to digest. What importance have a few hundred Irish people compared with the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, and the millions, who have died, and are still dying, in squalid amoral 'wars' in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America?
Our unionist and Protestant neighbours have frequently claimed the moral high ground. Their opposition to the IRA was because they were 'terrorists'; their support for the union was based on a commitment to the democracy and justice that they claimed Britain exemplified; they supported the RUC and the British army because they supported 'law and order'.
However, the recent storm in a teacup over the withdrawal of funding from the Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI), a UDA-linked 'community group' has exposed the level of latent support within the unionist community, and, regretfully, even the Protestant Church of Ireland, for the UDA.
Let us not forget; the UDA is a criminal gang of vicious sectarian murderers, drug-dealers, pimps and extortionists. They have no justifiable reason to exist, they have never had a justifiable reason to exist, and their existence, actions, and principles should at all times be vigorously criticised by all right-thinking people. No single person who claims to support law and order, democracy, or Christianity should ever provide cover or give support to the UDA.
And yet, in recent days and weeks that is precisely what prominent members of unionist political parties, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh have done.
Faced with the decision of the Minister of Social Development, Margaret Ritchie, to withdraw funding from the CTI due to its continued links with an armed criminal gang, the UDA, the leader-in-waiting of the DUP, Minister of Finance Peter Robinson, launched an attack not on the UDA, but on his fellow Minister! This disgraceful episode shows that he, and by extension the DUP, actually wanted the UDA-linked CTI to continue getting public money. He did not congratulate the Minister on her decision, and call on the forces of law and order to smash the UDA - instead he declared her decision contrary to a process set out by the Executive, and inconsistent with the advice offered by the department's legal office and senior counsel.
At the same time as Peter Robinson was trying to shift the critical focus off the UDA and on to the Minister for Social Development, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh effectively excused the UDA's history of brutal murders, by saying that "whatever justification you may have pleaded for retaining weapons of lethal force, that justification no longer exists."
No, Archbishop, you are wrong morally, politically and spiritually – there was never a justification for the UDA to exist or to carry out its disgusting campaigns of random sectarian murder. By implying that somehow, in the past, the UDA may have had some sliver of justification the Archbishop is handing the UDA a retrospective blessing on behalf of a supposedly Christian church. Shame on him, and shame on any members of his church who fail to stand up against all murders and violence.
The UDA are, and have always been, a nasty gang of criminals. They should have been hunted down and imprisoned. Instead, unionist politicians and Protestant churchmen are treating them like members of the family. As long as they continue to do this they cannot claim either the moral high ground, or any credibility as democrats.