Loyalists: paramilitary groups have no instinct to give up the armed struggle

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Loyalist Paramilitary groups are unlikely, for several reasons, to follow the IRA with their own moves on decommissioning any time soon.

The psychology of the underground Protestant organisations is different from that of republicans, and much more confused. However, it is clear that their fundamental instinct is not to give up any guns.

IRA decommissioning has arisen from a republican desire to keep alive a peace process which has delivered many gains for them and should deliver more. Loyalists, by contrast, feel the process has done little for loyalism in general and their groups in particular.

The different loyalist outfits have varying degrees of attachment to the process. The group which has most commitment to it is the Ulster Volunteer Force, which in David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson has two representatives in the Belfast Assembly.

Since both are highly articulate and in good standing with the UVF, their political performance has helped keep the organisation in the process. But the UVF repeatedly broke its ceasefire last year in a feud with the other big loyalist group, the Ulster Defence Association. More than a dozen people died and hundreds of families moved home in and around the Shankill area of Belfast. The conflict has left a deep residue of bitterness between the groups.

This in itself is an argument against loyalist decommissioning, since everyone knows feuding might recur. In that event, neither group wants to be unarmed and defenceless.

The UDA is in any event almost entirely detached from the peace process. Its political wing did not win any Assembly seats, and has hardly any influence with the organisation. The UDA has also played a leading part in the street disturbances in north Belfast over the summer – a few weeks ago its ceasefire was declared to be over by the government.

The third important group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, decommissioned some arms several years ago which were cut up on television. This turned out to be a meaningless gesture, however, since the organisation continued to carry out killings. Its ceasefire too has been declared to be over.

All these organisations will now come under pressure to emulate the IRA: Tony Blair has already publicly called on them to do so. But the authorities have few effective sanctions or incentives to offer which would be likely to alter their militaristic mindset.