Jamie Bryson: Loyalists see a two tier system that criminalises loyalism and ‘normalises’ the continued existence of the IRA
The recent publication of the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) report is notable due to the absence of even a passing reference to the IRA.
Challenged about this, panel member Monica McWilliams was quoted in the News Letter as saying “well that is a political issue”.
This also begs the question as to whether the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force is also a ‘political issue’ given they too have steadfastly avoided pursuing, or even mentioning, the Provisional IRA.
The clear imbalance creates the feeling amongst loyalist communities that there is a two tier policing system; one which is designed to use a broad policing brush to criminalise loyalism, whilst using strategic policing engagement— such as sharing panels with alleged senior IRA members — to ‘normalise’ the continued existence of the IRA.
There is no dispute that there is low level crime within loyalist communities, however, as is even acknowledged by the IRC report, this is not widespread. The report makes clear that in relation to loyalist paramilitary groups most members are “not involved in day-to-day criminal activity”.
The report also details that there 88 organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland, yet to listen to nationalists and even some policing commentary you would think crime is solely something linked to loyalism.
Crime within loyalist communities is minor in comparison to the high-level white collar crime of the IRA.
For example, millions of pounds of illegal funds have been filtered by the IRA into front businesses as part of a large scale money laundering operation. Despite the wide suite of powers available to the PCTF and NCA, there has been no effort to trace these illicit funds or to deploy civil recovery powers against those fronting up ‘legitimate’ business ventures funded by dirty IRA money. Why not?
This all feeds the perception that the Fresh Start agreement, born out of the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan, created an environment designed not to target the existing structures of the IRA, but rather to politically normalise the continued existence of the republican terror group whilst criminalising loyalism because it is politically expedient.
The law must be applied equally and there are many within the unionist/loyalist community deeply concerned that here we have a so called ‘Paramilitary Crime Task Force’ which dares not utter the word IRA let alone pursue their financial crime.
The PSNI need to explain this approach.
Jamie Bryson, Editor Unionist Voice, Donaghadee