On 11 November the UDA (an illegal organisation, it must be remembered), through its legal front organisation the UPRG, issued a statement announcing that it will launch a campaign to counter the continuing Sinn Fein "threat to British culture". The statement, released to the News Letter, stressed this response would be non-violent.
However, the statement also called on members to “stand ready to do battle”, and said loyalists should “continue to train in the skills that will enable us to not only defend our community but to take the lead”.
Coming from a murder gang with the blood of hundreds of innocent people on its hands, which continues to hold on to its guns, these comments can only be interpreted as a threat. Using words like 'battle', 'train', 'defend', and so on, while remaining heavily armed and dangerous, cannot be merely bad drafting.
The Twentieth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) described the UDA thus:
"2.27 […] We recognised that some senior figures wanted to turn the efforts of members from illegal activity to community development. But we thought that there had been limited success in making moves of this kind. The split, the views of members and the lack of strategic coherence at the top all militated against the UDA significantly changing itself. Some units continued to recruit and members were widely involved in violent and other serious crime. We concluded that although the statement was an important declaration of intent it had had a limited impact and that there remained no clear strategy for transforming the organisation.
Nor had there been any general attempt to make progress towards decommissioning weapons."
And yet, while nationalists and others have condemned the statement, no unionist party has done so. SDLP MLA John Dallat said yesterday that the language used by the UDA was a scandal. "The latest belligerent bluster from the UDA cannot go unchallenged," he said. "An armed paramilitary group can state without repercussions that it is getting ready to do battle, that it is training in the skills to defend unionist communities." Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann said the UDA statement was “disingenuous”. Alliance MLA Stephen Farry criticised the UDA use of Remembrance Day to deliver the statement.
Lagan Valley DUP MP and MLA Jeffrey Donaldson evaded any condemnation by saying that his party had held meetings with the UDA leadership in the past to discuss the process of transition from “paramilitary organisation to people playing a full part in a peace and democratic Northern Ireland with violence being a thing of the past. It is important that these communities receive the support that they need and deserve,” he said.
Jim Allister MEP, who is tireless in his criticism of the IRA (still, despite decommissioning!), has made no statement in response to the UDA threats.
The UUP, a party "for all of us", is also silent.
The DUP was more concerned to spread incorrect stories about the Queens University Students Union, than to address the evident threat from the UDA.
These responses, or lack of responses, reinforce an old message – unionist condemnation of violence is aimed at republican violence, while loyalist violence is of clearly lesser importance to them. In the opaque world of Northern Irish politics, the unionist parties are signalling their ambivalence to loyalist threats. Their claims to be firm opponents of 'terrorism' are shown up, yet again, to be lies.
Until such time as the unionists clearly demonstrate, in both word and deed, that they abhor violence and threats of violence from all groups, they lack credibility as democrats and cannot make any claim on the moral high ground.