Gray, shot dead on Tuesday night, was the latest loyalist figure to be pictured dead in the street, covered by a bloodstained sheet. Known as Doris Day because of his penchant for pastel clothes, dyed blond hair, heavy jewellery and a permatan, he may have looked like a figure of fun. But he was a reprobate. He reputedly tortured to death at least one UDA figure who crossed him and was mixed up in various other killings. He pushed drugs not just in his pubs but to children. He stashed away large amounts of money.
His character and his record meant that few tears were shed when the news of his death spread. It took less than two hours for crowing e-mails to circulate, mockingly adapting Doris Day's film titles to Gray's sordid life. But for all the absence of mourning, his death was murder and it diminishes Belfast. This is a city on the cusp of a new beginning, given that the IRA has just decommissioned all its weapons: the idea of Northern Ireland without the IRA is a heartlifting thought.
Yet republican violence was never a unilateral phenomenon. Backstreet loyalists killed three people in 1966 before the Troubles really started, and now they seem intent on maintaining violence, IRA or no IRA. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has commendably paid much attention to people like Gray and other godfathers, but the Government has been less focused. In recent years, the authorities have taken to throwing money at loyalist areas. But that has not worked.
Worse still, the Government was faced with leaderless communities, many of those with ability having fled the ghettos for places without such deep-seated problems. As a result, a significant amount of official funding has found its way, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of paramilitary figures. This happened almost by default, since they are one of the few organised structures left in districts shattered by the twin scourges of violence and deprivation.
The idea of public funding reaching assassins and drug-dealers is beyond belief. This must stop, instantly. A lost generation lives in some of the loyalist ghettos: uneducated, socially and politically disgruntled, prey to drugs, its only role models men like Jim Gray. It is dysfunctional, beyond self-help.
Help can only come from outside, in the form of years of structured, determined, creative attention. Unless a real start is made, gunshots will continue to echo through the loyalist ghettos of Belfast.Reuse content