In late June this year, the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and its equally murderous affiliate the Red Hand Commandos declared that their weapons had been put “totally and irreversibly beyond use”. The UVF stated that it no longer had any weapons, and this was followed by an announcement from the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) confirming they also had begun the process of decommissioning.
Official figures state that during three decades of terror, the loyalist gangs murdered 1,000 innocent catholics and republicans.
Today’s UVF was formed in 1966 and named after the group that was established in 1912 by Sir Edward Carson to fight against Home Rule. Carson himself operated in the highest echelons of British bourgeois society and received a state funeral for his services to imperialism in 1935.
Our modern-day UVF declared in the 1960s that they would execute “known IRA men” “mercilessly and without hesitation”, although the first three victims of the group were a protestant woman and two catholic men, none of whom had any relation to the IRA. The years since have shown that the UVF and other loyalist gangs have indiscriminately butchered and terrorised the population of the north of Ireland.
Despite all the rhetoric about the historic nature of the decommissioning, republicans and the public in general remained sceptical following the announcements. Throughout the entire peace process, and even since the IRA destroyed its arms in 2005, the loyalist gangs held onto their weapons and brandished them impertinently.
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin junior minister stated that “I think there is a bit of scepticism out there … It is a long time coming. People will be glad if it has occurred and I think what we need to do is move on from there.”
Whether the recent decommissioning announcements from the UVF and UDA are sincere or not, it is clear that they are made in conditions that Sinn Féin’s policies of reconciliation have helped to bring about, namely, a growing desire for peace and reconciliation among northern Ireland’s protestant population. This augurs well for the cause of Irish reunification.
Of course, there are people, even among the republicans, never mind the unionists, who want to continue living in the past and who see national reconciliation as a threat to all they hold dear. That being the case, there are only too likely to be from time to time, terrorist acts aimed at turning back the clock.
It is, however, essential to maintain the momentum that Sinn Féin is working night and day to build up in favour of reconciliation between catholics and protestants and the reunification of Ireland, and every step taken by protestant organisations in that direction, however timid, must necessarily be welcomed.