I will start this piece by setting out my position clearly, given there will be those who would seek to misrepresent my point for their own agenda. I oppose all crime, and I support the pursuit of criminal activity wherever it takes place.
However, I want the pursuit of crime to be equal and balanced; it cannot- as it currently is- be the case whereby we have establishment driven Task Forces and strategies focused almost exclusively on the loyalist community, whilst ignoring PIRA for political convenience.
The recent debate around the Executive strategy to tackle paramilitarism has once again demonstrated the inequality of approach. I have written consistently around these issues and the principle of ‘transition’ and what it really means. It seems challenging the unequal application of the law is an unpopular pursuit, unconducive to the ‘process’. Nevertheless, the truth doesn’t become a lie because it loses a popularity contest.
Let us go to the root of the tackling paramilitarism strategy, which breathed life into the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF). This was derived from the Fresh Start agreement which came about after the PIRA murder of Kevin McGuigan. Absurd some might think that a proscribed terrorist organisation who had just committed murder would have strategic input into the development of a program designed to eradicate paramilitarism. Not so in Northern Ireland, it is perfectly normal that the political wing of the largest terrorist organisation in the western world have a key input into developing the strategy.
This, in of itself, should sound a warning. A key objective of PIRA has always been to legitimise their existence, whilst criminalising loyalists and the state. Therefore, a Paramilitary Crime Task Force focused almost exclusively on loyalists is mana from heaven for the republican movement. This sitting hand in hand with a PSNI legacy branch focused almost exclusively on the state, and really there is little more that PIRA could ever want.
To take a simple example; it is accepted that PIRA robbed the Northern Bank to the tune of £26.5 million. It is also common knowledge that the majority of this money was layered into legitimate businesses, primarily in North and West Belfast using provo front-men. This is money laundering and white collar crime on an industrial scale, yet not once have the PCTF or economic crime even had a cursory glance at the magic streams of money that appear to flow through the hands of ‘businessmen’, all of whom appear post 2004.
Yet we turn to comparatively low level instances in the loyalist community whereby a person has inflated their income on a mortgage slightly, or sold a few counterfeit football shirts, and the full weight of the PCTF, including the NCA and HMRC, is brought to bear to strip such persons of all they have.
I have no issue with the pursuit of any and all criminal activity, but I do have an issue when the pursuit is unequal. How many times have the NCA, HMRC and PSNI economic crime combined to start going through every financial application ever made by a PSNI officer, or a member of Sinn Fein? It doesn’t happen.
Therefore why is it fair and legitimate to just zone in on the loyalist community, not in pursuit of crime or offences which have taken place, but rather in a determined effort to find crime, and if none exists then to poke so deeply and desperately into a persons life until they can find any misdemeanour to warrant criminalisation. And to ensure the dehumanising affect on the whole community is maximised by prejudicial and often hysterical press releases.
This all fits into the wider agenda of criminalising loyalism, and legitimising PIRA. When there is any crime identified in what would be known as a loyalist area, it is UVF or UDA crime. Yet when there is crime in a republican area, it is just crime.
The crime statistics show that the majority of crime takes place in republican areas, yet to listen to the public narrative you would believe crime and loyalism goes hand in hand.
Of course, the Chief Constable himself cannot even mention the word PIRA. How can the man charged with upholding the law not manage to provide an assessment on the largest terrorist organisation in the western world, which is based within his policing area?
The IRC, another ‘Fresh Start’ creation with the input of PIRA’s political wing, can not even refer to PIRA once. Think of that; an assessment of the current status of paramilitary organisations and PIRA are not even mentioned once.
The Justice Minister, who this week waxed lyrical about ‘gatekeepers’ in the Irish News, similarly can not mention PIRA. It appears if anyone is a gatekeeper, it is her. A gatekeeper for the ‘process’, which means playing along with the holy writ of ‘hear no provo, see no provo, speak no provo’.
There is a clear, consistent and coherent effort to dehumanise, criminalise and disenfranchise the loyalist community. This isn’t simply convenience, but rather part of the whole objective of the ‘peace process’; legitimise and integrate PIRA to become the establishment and demoralise and dehumanise the loyalist community to remove any impediment to the progress of the ‘process’. To do this it is necessary to criminalise loyalists, to build and repeat a stereotype until lies become truth via mere repetition.
Statutory agencies need to be brave, as do the PSNI. Are they driven by a commitment to fairness and equality across the board, or are they the blunt instrument of an imbalanced political system designed to relentlessly target one section of the community?
The PSNI legacy branch, headed by Bobby Singleton, came out to fire a warning that they were coming for the PIRA OTRs. Let us see how this transpires. Will it be all the PIRA OTRs? Or only PIRA OTRs who aren’t in favour with SF?
In similar terms let us see the PCTF pursuing PIRA and using the significant financial investigation powers of their task force- which includes the NCA, PSNI economic crime and HMRC- to zone in on PIRA and the millions of pounds of illegal cash layered into pretty obvious front businesses.