A government in coalition with terrorism
 
Just a day before the British general election, the Irish News ran a story on the relationship between the Democratic Unionist Party, and Loyalist paramilitaries. This followed the discovery that DUP leader Arlene Foster had met with the boss of the Ulster Defence Association, a major and ongoingly violent Loyalist paramilitary, just days after it murdered another Loyalist in front of his three-year-old son.

One could really make a hobby out of tracing all the relationships between the DUP and Loyalist paramilitaries. One could start with Nigel Dodds, currently the DUP's leader in Westminster. Alongside Ian Paisley, then leader of the DUP, in 1986 he attended the funeral of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) leader, John Bingham. At the time, he and Paisley were involved with another paramilitary group, Ulster Resistance, which collaborated with the UVF and another paramilitary, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). These were death squads of the far right, nationalist killers, with direct links to neo-Nazi and white-supremacist groups like Combat-18 and the BNP in the mainland.

The origins of this relationship between the DUP and paramilitary terror go back to the armed backlash against the incipient Northern Irish civil rights movement in the 1960s. One of the upsides of global capitalism is that, while it can harness difference in order to produce labour hierarchies, it can also flatten them. Multinational firms investing in Northern Ireland didn't care whether their workers were Protestant or Catholic, and this was tending to undermine the Protestant power base. On top of that, cultural changes were threatening what the country's religious far right thought was a precious and god-given cultural entity, Ulster. The Unionist establishment was, within the constraints of an ethno-supremacist mini-state, liberal.

This was when Ian Paisley, a charismatic fundamentalist preacher known for his willingness to go to jail, co-founded the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) alongside his acolyte and 'B-Special' killer, Noel Doherty. Doherty was an admirer of Gusty Spence, the ex-soldier who had launched the UVF, which became the largest and most violent paramilitary in Northern Ireland. In its short duration, the UPV's activities were mingled with those of the Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church, which was often a recruiting ground for the UPV, and the UVF, whose members were invited to be involved. Doherty acquired guns and explosives, and the UPV were suspected of number of attacks intended to cause civil unrest and weaken the Unionist leadership.

Paisley, though, was far better with the Book than with the gelignite, a propagandist by nature. He was a global orator, and had been on a speaking tour of the then flourishing US fundamentalist scene, part of the counter-Civil Rights backlash in the South. So while he certainly didn't disapprove of paramilitarism, he shifted his focus to parliamentarism. The UPV were disbanded in 1969, and two years later Paisley set up the Democratic Unionist Party. 

The politics of the DUP were, of course, identical to those of the Volunteers. The evangelical Protestantism was the nucleus of a profoundly racist, patriarchal, homophobic, provincial politics. And this had a strong appeal to small town and rural workers, to the church-going 'respectable' Prods, as well as to bank managers and small businessmen. It was distinguished above all uncompromising resistance to any and all involvement of the Irish republic in the affairs of the north, any and all concessions to the Catholic civil rights movement, and any peace process with the IRA. 

The 'loyalty' of Loyalism in this sense, was never to parliamentary democracy, or to specific British governments, but to British sovereignty, the crown. And they were loyal to British sovereignty insofar as it conserved Protestant economic, political and cultural domination in Northern Ireland. They were quite prepared to sabotage any particular administration they saw threatening that -- and in truth, they've always suspected that the British state wanted out, leaving a disempowered Protestant minority within a sea of Papism. So their power, parliamentary and paramilitary, has been dedicated to preventing that exit strategy.

The Ulster Workers' Council strike of 1974, for example, in which Paisley's DUP played a key role, organised workers in control of key industries, defended by Loyalist paramilitaries. They shut down electricity, water, food, transport and other necessities in defence of Protestant supremacy. But unlike most strikes, this enjoyed cross-class support because it was a defence of the state and the old status quo. And they succeeded, after a two week insurrection, in destroying the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement.

Paisley never really gave up on paramilitarism, seeing the power it held. He made numerous attempts to launch his own paramilitary, which he called Third Force. The most famous display of this was in 1981, when members of the groups held a 15,000-strong rally in Newtonards. And when Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, Paisley and other DUP leaders decided to launch yet another "Third Force," this time called Ulster Resistance. 

This was yet another right-wing paramilitary, and once again it had close ties to existing Loyalist paramilitaries such as the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commandos. At a major rally of the Ulster Resistance in Enniskillen, both Ian Paisley and future DUP leader Peter Robinson addressed a crowd. filled with and said:  

"Thousands have already joined the movement and the task of shaping them into an effective force is continuing. The Resistance has indicated that drilling and training has already started. The officers of the nine divisions have taken up their duties."

The Ulster Resistance were exposed for running guns and other weapons from apartheid South Africa. They were later found to have been involved with weapons used in the Loughinisland massacre in 1994, in which Loyalist gunmen burst into a pub and shot eleven people, killing six and wounding the other five. The DUP have refused to apologise for their role in Ulster Resistance -- because, indeed, they would make liars of themselves if they did apologise. They have since claimed that they broke ties with the group in 1987. 

The DUP's next flirtation with paramilitarism came during the 1996 conflict at Drumcree, where the Parades Commission had blocked Orange marches down a Catholic street. The UVF had been engaged in a ceasefire, amid incipient peace processes. But the leader of the group's notorious Mid Ulster Brigade, Billy Wright -- a serial killer of Catholics -- decided to break the ceasefire during the Drumcree stand-off, carrying out a series of attacks. 

The leadership stood the brigade down and ordered its leader, Wright, to leave Northern Ireland or face execution. Rather than do that, Wright set up a breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force. The LVF, as it continued to engage in sectarian killings and attacks, as well as inter-Loyalist murders, became a pole star for the Loyalist terrorists who were opposed to any peace process, as well as cultivating links to Combat-18 and other far right groups. 

And that is when the DUP got involved. They welcomed Wright's position, and leading DUP members, above all Willie McCrea, shared platforms with Wright in organising opposition to a peace deal. The leaders of the UVF and UDA were fairly contemptuous of the DUP's opposition to Good Friday, for example, regarding it as just another self-interested pivot. Their affiliated parties, the PUP and UDP respectively, were signed up participants. But Wright and the LVF issued a statement saying Paisley and his allies were "absolutely right".

There was probably a more natural overlap between the DUP and LVF, since the latter was inflected with Wright's born-again fundamentalism, whereas the UVF and UDA tended toward "Protestant socialism" and a version of "working class politics" based on nationalist and ethnic chauvinism. Like Paisley, the LVF regarded the peace process, not as a means by which to pursue the supposed interests of Protestant workers, but as a means by which Satan would subvert Protestantism. It isn't known what the post-Wright LVF made of Ian Paisley's 'chuckle brothers' act with Martin McGuinness, but by that point they had already suspended their political struggle and morphed into another gang.

The DUP is not usually presented, even in Northern Ireland, as a party with paramilitary ties. To an extent, this is because it has been more fickle about being linked to a specific group than the UDP or PUP. It is also in part because of a certain revisionism about the 'big man', Paisley. But it is not in the least surprising to find DUP leaders like Robinson and Foster continually meeting UVF and UDA leaders at crisis moments, to chat politics and strategy. Particularly since, in truth, the paramilitaries still have weapons and still have potential power, and are still part of the organised basis for Loyalist power and authority in the six countries. They are dormant, rather than dead. 

When asked about the violence, DUP leaders have a robotic answer. "The paramilitaries know what we think, we don't have to tell them: we fundamentally oppose criminal and violent actions. If anyone wants to move away from that, we will help them, but otherwise they should be exposed to the full weight of the law." That is even more sheepish and bullshit than it sounds. The "full weight of the law" has never for a second impeded these groups, and prisons have tended to become their organising hubs. And no one really knows that the DUP oppose paramilitary terror, because they have a long history of involvement with it that they have never disavowed. What is more, if you can picture their torrents of red-faced William Ulsterman rage when they contemplate the possibility of an interaction between a Sinn Fein leader and a Provo, you can see how odd their bland, affectless statements are in this context.

Of course, the Conservative Party has plenty of experience with terror groups, death squads, murdering regimes, and so on, from UNITA to Pinochet to apartheid. And the British state had well-known direct links to Ulster Loyalists. But forming a government with the DUP is another step. It is conferring legitimacy on a group with deep, long-lasting ties to terror, which has never given any serious accounting of its actions. It is getting into bed with a nest of petty corruption and gangsterism. That Theresa May, the leader of the party of the British ruling class, the leader of the 'natural party of government', should need to do this is a condemnation of her position. She should resign.


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