International Papers

Belfast Mafia 

Rising tensions between Northern Ireland’s rival Protestant paramilitary factions climaxed in a dual murder and the injury of seven others early this week, causing the British army to increase its presence on the streets of Belfast to levels not seen since September 1998. Another man was killed Wednesday night, apparently in retaliation.

Following the Monday murder of two men associated with the Ulster Defense Association, the British minister for Northern Ireland jailed the leader of UDA/Ulster Freedom Fighters, Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair, to calm Belfast’s Protestant neighborhoods. Adair was one of the hundreds of convicted terrorists released from prison last year as part of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. Deciding that Adair had breached the terms of his early release by inciting violence, minister Peter Mandelson ordered him to serve the remaining 11 years of his 16-year sentence.

Some British papers painted the conflict as a turf war between rival criminal gangs—”squalid, murderous gang warfare” in Mandelson’s words. An op-ed in the Guardian claimed that “no one can name a doctrinal difference that separates Adair’s UFF from the Ulster Volunteer Force which it hates so bloodily,” but it quoted a republican’s observation that “loyalist internecine feuding rarely stays internecine for long: eventually they murder Catholics, if only to assert their status as the chief defenders of their community.” The piece suggested that the current problems stemmed from an unhealthy obsession with the Irish Republican Army in the 1990s, when loyalists had committed some of the province’s most vicious crimes and “seemed driven less by politics than psychopathy.” A commentary in the Times of London reached a similar conclusion:

For all the glamour granted the IRA leaders by the outside world, the Unionist paramilitaries were the more terrifying. … Republican library books in the Maze [prison] were about politics and literature, loyalist ones about body-building. … Who controls the taxi runs and drug outlets, the housing, prostitution and building contracts in any inner city reflects who is in charge. The … squabble is over access to power and money.

The Protestant Belfast Telegraph said the task of the government is “try to normalise conditions, firstly by tackling the mafia-like criminality in both communities and secondly by making politics work.” It asked the rival groups to spell out their policies:

We know that each believes that their party and its paramilitary associates represent the true interests of local people, whereas the rival party and paramilitary group are traitors, opportunists, drug-peddlers and so forth. But … [w]hat are the underlying policy differences?

An op-ed in the Irish Times of Dublin decried the portrayal by “[l]arge sections of the British and Irish media” of the social disruption as “nothing more than a squalid turf war over drugs, criminal rackets and territory,” which it said were “secondary factors.”  It identified some ideological differences between the warring loyalist groups and warned that the “real winners of this latest UDA-UVF feud are the anti-Agreement unionists,” who will use the current troubles to sow discontent and move the mainstream Protestant political parties away from the peace process.

More like this, please: On Monday, Canada’s National Post published an excellent package of stories exploring the three-year conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo—a war that has left 1.2 million dead and destabilized much of Central Africa. Pegged to this week’s discussions at the United Nations regarding the future of the U.N. peacekeeping mission to the region (click here for a U.N. press release on the operation), articles examined the ascension of President Laurent Kabila, the horrendous pattern of human-rights abuses in the DRC, the warring forces involved in the conflict, and the challenges the United Nations faces in its attempts to bring peace. A profile of the U.N. peacekeeping department unearthed a fascinating nugget: Its staff of 400 is half that of the public information department. An editorial concluded:

[J]ust as it is foolish to rush into a burning building without having a plan of escape and a notion of what needs to be done, throwing planeloads of peacekeepers into the Congo is ill-advised until preconditions for a lasting peace are in place. … Sending soldiers or other UN officials to their death in Congo will not alleviate the suffering in that country; it will only discourage future missions of this kind.

And less like this: Britain’s Guardian, widely known as the Grauniad because of its reputation for typographical errors, provides some of the Web’s most amusing “corrections and clarifications.” Among Wednesday’s bumper crop of corrections were a math error of 169 million pounds and an admission that the “Roman emperor Claudius could not have patronised the Colosseum … as he died in 54AD, roughly two decades before it was built.” Thursday’s batch began:

The actress Caroline Quentin featured in a Parents piece yesterday about having children in close succession. … A picture showed her at an awards event with the costume designer James Baylan. A caption said that he (misspelled as Bayland) was her partner, which he is not. We apologise to both people in the photo and to their respective partners. 

“International Papers” will return to its Monday/Thursday schedule Monday, Sept. 11.