Relatives for Justice, which campaigns for the families of victims of state collusion and loyalists, said it’s the latest in a string of judicial rulings raising questions about the length of sentences given to loyalists in the Northern Ireland courts.
They include: a court ruling that loyalist Andre Shoukri (known as “The Egyptian”, a one-time associate of “Mad Dog” Johnnie Adair) had a weapon in his possession illegally but for his own protection; a conditional discharge given to South Down loyalist Darren Watson for possession of a handgun although he’d only been released from prison eight weeks previously (he has several convictions); a court giving loyalist William Fulton (who was awaiting trial on 64 charges including aiding and abetting murder) bail conditions allowing him to participate in Orange “Twelfth” celebrations and the following day’s “sham fight” at Scarva, Co. Armagh; a court offering bail to Shankill loyalist Thomas Potts, accused of shooting up a UVF bar and sparking the UDA/UVF feud in 2000, if he could get a statement that the feud would end.
Meanwhile, there was a worrying sign of renewed UDA activity in North Belfast this week when, using the cover name Red Hand Defenders, it said it had targeted a pipe bomb at the home of the mother of two girls attending Holy Cross school in Ardoyne.
Sinn Fein said: “This attack is completely unjustifiable. They stated they were targeting a spokesperson for Holy Cross, but they have selected the most vulnerable target and attacked her and her children in their home.”
In Derry, police are investigating the second incident this month at the home of the city’s SDLP mayor. Earlier in November, police blamed dissident republicans for leaving a hoax device outside the house of Shaun Gallagher after he attended a British Legion Remembrance Day service in the city.
On Sunday at midnight, Gallagher spotted men outside his home. “Three masked men were standing, two of them armed,” the mayor said.
“They were just staring back into the sitting room. It is very easy to do. I have not got a fort — it is a family home. I was sitting with my two older boys. I got them out of the room and phoned the police.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein is demanding the sacking of a part-time member of the British army after he pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance at the Orange Order protest in Portadown last year.
Fifteen loyalist protesters in all were fined after pleading guilty to involvement in an attack on police in July 2002. Amongst the group were four members of the Orange Order, which has been challenged to expel the men,
Leading loyalist Mark Harbinson was one of the four Orangemen but the group also included a part-time British soldier. They were all freed after pleading guilty to rioting. The judge said their attack on police had been “an outrageous episode.”
The SDLP has voiced anger at the appearance of DUP candidate and leading Orangeman Denis Watson at court saying that his “presence in solidarity with those charged is a clear indication that he considers violence against Catholics acceptable.”
The party called on the Orange Order to expel him and all members found guilty. “Failure to do this will provide further proof that the Orange Order’s claim to promote civil and religious liberties is a farce,” said the SDLP.
And a complaint by leading Belfast Orangeman Dawson Baillie that the Order could no longer rely on the police caused another spat with the SDLP. Alban Maginnis, the party’s candidate in North Belfast, said that Baillie appeared to take it for granted that police were there to do the Order’s bidding.
“Now the loyal orders have to face the cold wind of change with a police service that is no longer just ‘theirs,'” he said.
“This may come as a deep shock to Dawson Baillie. But it comes as a welcome relief to those who have campaigned hard for an impartial accountable, representative police service,” he added.