BY STUART ROSS
The Ulster Defense Association (UDA) — also known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) — has announced that it will be withdrawing its support for the Good Friday Agreement.
"We can no longer remain silent in our criticism of an agreement which our membership have continuously voiced their opposition to and which the vast majority of the loyalist community have grown to despise", said an early July statement from the outlawed loyalist paramilitary organisation.
The statement came as the various pro-agreement parties and the British and Irish governments conducted intense negotiations in an attempt to resolve the latest impasse in the fragile Anglo-Irish peace process.
John White, chairman of the UDA-linked Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), told Belfast's Andersonstown News that Catholics had nothing to fear from the UDA's announcement; the organisation maintains that its ceasefire is still intact.
There is, however, overwhelming evidence that many of its units broke that ceasefire a long time ago.
The Combined Loyalist Military Command — a short-lived alliance between the UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando (RHC) — announced a ceasefire in October 1994.
The UDA broke that ceasefire and were linked to at least three sectarian murders in late 1997 and early 1998. These murders, according to the UDA, were part of a "measured military response" to the assassination of renegade loyalist leader Billy Wright of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).
Sections of the UDA have consistently been linked with the anti-agreement LVF (not to mention British neo-nazis). These links have often fanned the flames of an on-again, off-again feud with the rival UVF, which has left a number of loyalists dead.
Internecine feuding aside, the UDA — the largest paramilitary organisation in all of Ireland — has allegedly been back on ceasefire since January 1998.
Nonetheless, it often rattles its sabers with thinly veiled threats. In August 1999, for example, it was hinted that any UDA arrests in connection with the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane would have "serious consequences".
Still, the UDA has gone far beyond simply terrorising the nationalist community with its threats. Recently, the UDA was linked to the murder of Catholic man John Henry McCormack. McCormack was gunned down in his Coleraine home in June.
And while — miraculously — it has not led to any fatalities, the UDA has also been linked to an on-going sectarian pipe bomb campaign that has terrorised Catholics across the North.
In February, Royal Ulster Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan told the BBC that he did not know if the UDA leadership was orchestrating the attacks. However, he dismissed comments by John White — the man who says Catholics have nothing to fear from the UDA's latest announcement — in which he denied any UDA involvement.
Security sources also told the unionist News Letter that UDA elements based in the lower Shankill area of Belfast were "definitely involved" in the ongoing pipe bombing campaign.
Not surprisingly, even though this has been the most sustained campaign of violence against the nationalist community since the ceasefire began in 1994, the silence of unionist politicians has been deafening.
Soon after the UDA announced that it had withdrawn its support for the Good Friday Agreement, the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) voiced its concerns.
Party spokesperson David Ervine announced that the PUP would be withdrawing from "the current phase" of the peace process. They were not, however, pulling out of the entire process itself.
Commenting on the situation, a spokesperson for the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre said, "The fact that neither [the UDP nor the PUP] were even involved in the current process in any meaningful way is clear evidence that loyalist decommissioning is not even on the agenda. This despite the daily reports of pipebomb, petrol bomb and other attacks by loyalist groups."
Apparently, loyalist ceasefires — or lack there of — don't seem to matter to anyone but those on the receiving end of this violence.