“RED HAND COMMANDO” (RHC) FORMALLY REQUESTS TO BE REMOVED AS A “PROSCRIBED” ORGANISATION
The Loyalist grouping known as the Red Hand Commando (RHC) has officially requested to be removed from the list of proscribed organisations. The request was made in London and will be looked at by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. At the time of writing it is not known how long it will take for a decision to be made. Reaction to the request has been somewhat mixed.
The application has been made under Section 4 of the Terrorism Act (2000) which allows for members of a banned group to contact the government to request deproscription without themselves facing the threat of being charged with membership. The theory being that deproscription could help an organisation move forward towards integration and obviously away from previous association with violence.
The initiative is being supported by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), the umbrella organisation set up by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell to steer paramilitaries away from criminality, and the LCC’s chairman, David Campbell, said that Mr Powell supported the application to the Home Secretary. Mr Campbell argued that in retaining the paramilitary name, rather than disbanding, it would be harder for dissidents to seek to revive it at a future point. There has always been a fear that ‘dissident’ Loyalists could use the name of the three main Loyalist paramilitary organisations as a cover for criminal activity.
Senior Loyalist Jim Wilson (a former RHC prisoner) stated that;
“This organisation is not about glorifying murder, bombings, shootings – it happened in a conflict that we got engaged in as young lads and it’s not something that people want to run about and gloat about and to have it pushed into people’s faces. That’s not what deprosciption is about – it’s about allowing us to move to the next phase which is out of conflict, away from what happened in this society and all those people that were hurt by our organisation, Gusty Spence couldn’t have said it any better – it is true and abject remorse. But we were brought up in a society where there was violence and young lads from our Protestant community engaged in it and that’s it – the organisation couldn’t be any clearer; it’s sorry for the people that had to be hurt in this conflict.”
The words obviously hit a nerve with Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein as he described the move as ‘abhorrent’. When it was pointed out to him that his actions and the actions of his former IRA colleagues went beyond abhorrent into mass sectarian genocide and that it was hypocritical of him to even comment on this move he decided to skulk off elsewhere. But there was widespread concern amongst victims groups that, in not dealing with the needs of victims and their families first, this type of move could be seen as too soon and too upsetting. Others welcomed the move and saw it as progressive and potentially ground-breaking.
Then there is the “politics” of it all and the repercussions should such a decision be given a positive outcome. Some seasoned political commentators queried what sane government would give the go ahead to legalise a former paramilitary group? What are the benefits to a Tory government when the media exposes Loyalist criminality (or what purports to be Loyalist criminality)? This idea could prove toxic to a government with a slim majority. In turn would those groupings intent on criminality latch on to “legal” groupings to ensure a type of “cover” or veneer of respectability? And the government will worry about the negative headlines around this. Then again the U.K. Government might just offer the suggestion that all this is pointless and groupings should leave the stage voluntarily. Which in turn creates a vacuum to be filled by criminal elements masquerading as loyalists. It is a complex issue indeed.
There is no doubt that within Loyalism there continues to be great desires to remodel and copper fasten the progress achieved during the last decade. Any new initiative to speed up reintegration must be viewed through a prism of positivity if we are to bring everyone forward. The removal of proscription carries with it many risks and it will be interesting to see how the mainland politicians deal with such a request.”