The murder of a 46-year-old loyalist Richard Jameson near Portadown this week comes at a time when the argument over decommissioning is again taking center stage. Jameson was shot five times by fellow loyalists, apparently after a violent incident over the Christmas period in a loyalist drinking den in which several people were badly beaten.
As commonly framed, the decommissioning debate invariably places the IRA in the center of the picture. The murder of Jameson is a stark reminder that there are far more arms in the Northern situation than just those belonging to republicans. Indeed, since January last year, loyalist violence has claimed five lives, including those of lawyer Rosemary Nelson and grandmother Elizabeth O’Neill. The murder of Jameson, however, has the potential to cause far worse violence.
The victim has been described as a leading member of the Ulster Volunteer Force. His killers are thought to belong to a UVF splinter group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force. There have been territorial and policy disputes between the two groups since 1996, often resulting in violence.
The ingredients for a feud within loyalism have long been present. This latest murder could touch it off.
That is why is has to be emphasized continually that decommissioning is not just about the IRA getting weapons off the scene. Indeed, in terms of the North’s Troubles, the IRA were latecomers to the armed campaign. It was, after all, the UVF that first took up the gun in this phase of the Troubles, back in 1966. The IRA only rearmed itself in response to a deteriorating situation precipitated by loyalist violence in 1969 when mobs burned vulnerable Catholics in Belfast out of their homes. So it is perverse, as well as unhelpful, to act as if the IRA alone had the responsibility of disarming itself.
What’s more, the recent loyalist violence has shown that decommissioning is only the palliative, not the cure, for the conflict that still threatens to disrupt the peace process. A week or so before Jameson’s death another loyalist, also linked to the UVF, was kicked and beaten to death by a gang in County Antrim. Baseball bats cannot be decommissioned except by removing the underlying conflict that pushes people to resort to using them.
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This is the aim of the peace process. These recent deaths remind us of that truth.