02 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Gray by name, flamboyant by nature

BY Robin Livingstone

They say you shouldn’t kick a man when he’s down. Personally, while I’m by no means a violent man, I find that if you absolutely, positively have to kick a man, then when he’s down is an excellent time to do it. It’s a bit like those old soft targets. Remember them? If the IRA shot a UDR man when he was delivering bread up a boreen in Co Tyrone, the victim was invariably described on the news as a soft target, as if it was somehow more despicable to bump him off behind the wheel of a Mother’s Pride van than it would have been to wait a few hours for him to clock off and get him in a Land Rover.
Poor Jim Gray is down. There’s no doubt about it. The flamboyant east Belfast loyalist has been kicked out of the Ulster Defence Association, which, like getting sent off in a game of rugby, takes some doing. I had a soft spot for Jim, if the truth be told.
It takes a big man to stand out from the crowd. In the drinking dens of loyalist Belfast, Jim cut a distinctive figure. While his UDA comrades propped up the bar in regulation tattoos, tinted glasses, leather jackets and gold chokers, Jim preferred to knot a salmon-pink cashmere sweater lightly around his shoulders, push his Chanel sunglasses up into his bleached and carefully coiffeured hair, all the while jingling his BMW car keys in his manicured hands.
In an earlier era, this would have gained him not kudos and respect but a short trip in a wheelie bin to the boot of a waiting car. But loyalists have moved on, although they still draw the line at grilling an Ulster fry.
The UDA is being a bit coy about exactly why it showed Jim the door, but I think we can be fairly certain that it wasn’t because the UDA disapproved of his political analysis. Now we wait to see whether the Assets Recovery Agency will move against Jim, which really would be kicking him while he’s down. Headed by former PSNI heavyweight Alan McQuillan, the agency is on a bit of a roll at the minute.
Last week, it froze assets worth some £5 million (€7.3 million) belonging to former RUC man Colin Armstrong. He had an impressive portfolio of property, including a mansion near Stoneyford in Co Antrim, which, worryingly, is only a five-minute drive from where I live.
I took a walk up there at the weekend and had a look around the place. It’s kind of fairytale castle meets Spanish hacienda. Alan and his colleagues probably didn’t have to do much work on this case. The place has got suspected drug dealer written all over it. It also has a few nice touches that the UDA boys in the social club would admire — fake shutters that wouldn’t fit the windows even if they worked; a three-foot-high statue of John Wayne in the hall; a clock on the wall in the shape of a guitar; a television the size of an Olympic swimming pool. What Alan’s going to do with these sundries is anybody’s guess, although I’ll be happy to have them if nobody else will.

Loyalists losing the plot

Unionist politicians are a bit miffed that the Assets Recovery Agency is targeting so many loyalists while republican swag remains relatively untouched. It’s not that the agency is biased in favour of the IRA. It’s much more subtle and nuanced than that — it’s because loyalists are stupid.
I don’t mean that in a racist or sectarian way. How could I with a Scots Presbyterian background and a name like mine? What I mean is that they never got the chance to get smart. Years of plotting in safe houses and back rooms made the IRA lean and mean. Whispering out of the side of the mouth became the norm, as did touching the nose and winking. These guys would pat down the parish priest if he came calling, which, granted, is not likely.
Loyalists, on the other hand, had it all handed to them — clear runs to shoot Catholics in their beds; skipfuls of security montages; weapons; cars; men; money.
When the war came to an end and the tap was turned off, the poor blokes suffered terribly. They couldn’t understand why it was okay to have a dead Catholic in the back of the car but that the Trevors were liable to get miffed if it was a kilo of cocaine or a bag of ecstasy.
Basic anti-detection practices were not honed and developed.
Buying a house in the Algarve, your average Shankill Road UDA dealer filled in his real name on the form and gave his occupation as Ulster freedom fighter. The speedboat, meanwhile, was named Quis Separabit. Mobile phones were used to make and close deals with gay abandon and, whereas republicans on mobile phones give it lots of “the daffodils are blooming early in Moscow this year”, loyalists chatted away about where the charlie was planked and who got paid what.
So, when the ARA decided to move, it was like hunting koala bears with an M60.

Taxiing for the Lord

All’s not lost for Jim, however. Perhaps he could get a job with a new taxi firm that has just opened on west Belfast’s Shankill Road. Liberty Taxis describes itself as a Christian taxi service and I’m all for giving it a chance.
It would make a pleasant change to discuss the Old Testament with your taxi driver instead of crippling insurance premiums and which everyday household objects make the best weapons for self-defence.
If Christianity isn’t about redemption, then what is it about?
A snappily dressed ex-UDA godfather could do worse than to employ his BMW in service of the Lord.
With every click of the meter, he’d be wiping another sin off his soul, although you could see how it might be a bit embarrassing if he has to pick up any of his old comrades.
Just imagine — a taxi driver without a “Honk if you’re horny” sticker on his back window, one who doesn’t smoke or play gangsta rap at maximum decibels, one who doesn’t freewheel downhill to save diesel, or give fake fivers to drunks in their change. Instead, one with a pink jumper knotted around his neck, sunglasses in his hair and Jesus in his soul.
I’d certainly pay extra for it.

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