Off The Radar

Tonight The Pensive Quill features guest writer and Ex-Blanket columnist Dr John Coulter who provides a piece written before the budget in the North. Describing himself as a Radical Unionist John Coulter maintains that the credit crunch has pushed the plight of Loyalism off the political radar.

Stuff the Stormont Budget cuts, what are we going to do about the Loyalists? This key question seems to have slipped under the political radar in Northern Ireland as the various parties draw up strategies to ensure they are not blamed for the billions of pounds of cuts about to rock the Province.

Privately, parties across the religious divide, but especially those in the Assembly, are more interested in spinning the 'Don't blame us for the cuts!' game with both Assembly and local council polls taking place on 5 May.

The overwhelming majority of the steadily increasing amounts of terrorist attacks across Northern Ireland have been carried out by the various factions which comprise the so-called dissident republican movement, especially the Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) group.

In an exclusive interview with me in August, a spokesman for the terror group said it would continue its campaign of violence until it smashed the Stormont power-sharing Executive.

During that chilling interview, the source said the group was set to fight a violent “three to four year campaign” to topple the Assembly.

“By fair means or foul means, we will bring down Stormont. There are people who would push politics, but we are not political.”

Despite the severe budget cuts, the North's policing chief constable Matt Baggott wants to ensure he has all the cash to combat the dissident threat. There have also been a series of rumours the London and Dublin Governments have been holding secret, back-channel talks with dissidents in a bid to end the terror campaign.

Perhaps one sign of the urgency of this process has been the decision of the Northern Ireland Office to rebrand dissident republicans as Residual Terror Groups – RTGs. This is because dissident terror gangs, like ONH, do not see themselves as dissidenting, but view their campaign as descending from 1916 Martyrs executed by British firing squads after the failed Dublin Easter Rising.

Throughout the United Kingdom, even MI5 regards the threat from dissident republicans as higher than that posed by Islamic radicals.

But with so much focus on the republican camp, the real danger looms that disillusionment within the hardline Loyalist community could see groups previously on formal ceasefire since 1994 “go back to war”.

A series of bloody, internal American gangster-style 'turf wars' among loyalist paramilities in recent years has witnessed the threat posed to Stormont's stability from loyalist terror gangs opposed to the peace process all but evapourate.

Dissident loyalist activity has been largely contained to grafitti and arson attacks on Catholic Church property and buildings belonging to the predominantly nationalist Gaelic Athletic Association.

However, last year, a top loyalist was shot dead in the working class Belfast Unionist heartland of the Shankill Road. The broad daylight murder was blamed on the banned Ulster Volunteer Force – the most bloody of the loyalist death squads during the Troubles.

The killing prompted Stormont Assembly member Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionists (PUP) to resign as PUP boss. The PUP gave political advice to the UVF and its 'wee brother' terror organisation, the Red Hand Commando.

The move has effectively left the hardline loyalist community without an Assembly voice. Northern Ireland's largest terror group was the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF). It was represented politically by the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). The UPRG has been unable to secure a Stormont seat since the Assembly was created in 1998.

Without elected representatives at the centre of devolved power in Northern Ireland, the loyalist community is effectively rudderless – and dissident republicans know this, too.

Stormont Budget cuts drawn up by the Assembly will bite very hard throughout 2011 and the blame game for the economic pain will decide the make-up of the new Assembly Chamber in May.

On their own, dissident republicans can only maintain a short-term 'terror tap on/terror tap off'-style campaign – what the British Government during the Thatcher era once referred to as “an acceptable level of violence”.
But the equally bitter medicine which the Assembly must face is that there is an element within the UVF which the terror group's leadership cannot control. That faction is already believed to be targeting people it perceives to be dissident republicans.

Financially, a tit-for-tat sectarian conflict would push Northern Ireland to the verge of bankruptcy. There is much speculation in security circles of a re-introduction of the notorious supergrass system to combat the renegade loyalist gangs before they can unleash their brutality.

The Unionist political family is already deeply divided going into May's crucial election showdowns.

The internecine warfare which claimed many lives in loyalism during the first decade of this new millennium was partly caused because the UDA/UFF and rival Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) lacked its own political representatives and mainstream Unionist parties wanted nothing to do with loyalist terror gangs.

There can be no doubting that budget cuts – as with the rest of the UK and the Republic – will leave Northern Ireland severely limping along economically for much of the next decade.

However, if urgent action is not taken to bring hardline loyalism in from the cold politically at Stormont, elements within the UVF, UDA/UFF and smaller Orange Volunteers could slowly tip Northern Ireland back onto a slippery slope which could see the Province descending into the Troubles Mark 2.


  1. I think these elements within loyalism dont or never had a political plan for this place other than the outdated loyality to queen and country, and even this loyality is dubious,given the fact that they will go full tilt at her majesty,s forces if and when they feel that the taigs may be gaining ground,the loyal orders used these thugs at Drumcree and other flashpoints to push for their outdated priviliges to be maintained, the militant factions then claimed credibility among their communities as defenders of the cause,while engaging in the secterian murder of their fellow countrymen and women at the behest of the SB/FRU/MI5 I contend that the majority of these people are thugs and gangsters/drug dealers,hence the failure by these groups to politicise, put simply they never really needed to ,they take their lead from the faceless men in suits from Paisley,s DUP to Whitehall,at present their activities are mainly confined to their own turf and the disputes among themselves is as stated turf wars amongst themselves, I believe they have been allowed to remain in existance purely because those powers that be may need them again to carry out more dirty work on behalf of her majesty,s goverment,otherwise they would have been confined to the dustbins where they belong.

  2. Regardless of Dr. Coulter's wise words regarding Loyalist gangs and the possibility of them returning to War.

    Republicans are only too aware that the idealogy of these gangs are in essence secterian and racist. Therefore, even though the ordinary Nationalist in the North should remain concerned these people are only loyal to the pound coin.

    What's sad is that the cuts will undoubtably increase the prospect of a new inpetus for another armed campaign from Loyalists and of course Republicans. As working-class areas across the Six Counties feel the pinch!

    I'm pleased that at least someone is articulating working-class Loyalist feelings and thanks to Dr. Coulter for his input.

    and realise that there really hasn't been a

  3. In his exciusive interview with onh
    [ another one ] dr [ of what ] john
    coulter was told that onh would
    continue its campaign of violence untill power-sharing at stormont was smashed- continue- when did they start

    onh say they are not political- but they are not militant either which begs the question- what are they- it is chilling that in another " interview with a onh dissident " the good dr was to scared to ask them why they had killed no brit army or police yet

    some want to construct fear to prove that they know what is going on- these lie's never worked during the war- they are not going to work now.

  4. Maybe the Loyalist people are facing the harsh reality of what the Nationalist people had to endure for so many years.
    The working class people on both sides of the divide are having to deal with a government which is seriously out of step with peoples' wants and needs.
    The people are now being represented by a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class, tiresome individuals who would rather fritter away peoples' money on hosting 'cultural evenings' than address bread and butter issues.

    Must agree with Marty though, when the puppet masters decide that the killers should be unleashed again, they will be.

    michaelhenry, I thought your leader had got rid of all the Brits in Ireland?
    Don't tell us some have sneaked back in.

  5. Fionnuala-

    There are still a few snakes about-
    some are taking down their barracks
    whilst others like their orange bretheran want to march unarmed on roads where they are not wanted

    There is a march in belfast centre in may
    for the brit army who made it back from afganistan- could be the same time as queenie comes to dublin

    Notice that there is no more home-comming parades from IRAq- the brits want to keep another defeat quiet

    St patrick drove out the snakes in the past- St Gerry and pals will clean Ireland once more

  6. michaelhenry,
    the type of snakes that Adam's attracts would be outside St Patrick's remit, like their Lord and Master too slippery by half.