02 June 2006

Six bullets ... and Empey feels heat

Belfast Telegraph

As UVF sources admit the attack on Mark Haddock, security expert Brian Rowan assesses the political fall-out

02 June 2006

The Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey will be feeling the heat of the political kitchen right now.

Even before the UVF fired six shots into Mark Haddock on Tuesday, there was some serious questioning of Sir Reg's judgement in inviting David Ervine to join the Ulster Unionist Group at Stormont - not just a questioning from outside the party but from inside it as well.

That questioning will be all the more intense as the full truth of Tuesday's shooting emerges.

Haddock was a Special Branch informer - de-activated we are told when the Police Ombudsman started to probe the 1997 murder of Raymond McCord junior and when the chief constable ordered a purge of the informer world.

The names of some agents have spilled out from that world.

Scappaticci was spared, Donaldson is dead, Barrett will forever have to hide, and six bullets will spell out to Haddock that the UVF want him dead.

Yes, the UVF, not mavericks within that organisation, not individuals acting without authority.

There will be no loyalist court martial after the Haddock shooting - those involved knew what they were doing and knew there would be no comeback from those who sit at the top of the UVF, inside its Brigade or Command Staff.

The only question still to be answered is whether the loyalist group will formally admit to its involvement in Tuesday's shooting.

There are some who think it should whatever the political implications.

But why was Haddock targeted and shot now?

His agent role has been an open secret for some time. The UVF have long had their suspicions.

He was dismissed from the loyalist wing at Maghaberry jail and, inside and outside prison, he was ostracised by the loyalist organisation.

The background commentary on this shooting is that Tuesday's attempt to kill Haddock resulted from the most recent revelations about his informer activities, but one imagines guns were being pointed at him long before then.

Haddock will know who he met on Tuesday, and therefore will know the man who came to kill him.

The gunman did not intend the informer to live. Six bullets is proof of that.

David Ervine meets and speaks to the UVF leadership every week. They will be talking today, and those in the room will know that they have put Sir Reg Empey in a very difficult place.

So far there has been no knee-jerk response from the Ulster Unionist leader, but he will want to keep a certain degree of wriggle room as the story of Tuesday's shooting continues to emerge.

Up to this point, Ervine has survived within the Ulster Unionist Group at Stormont.

Sir Reg Empey knows the real world of the peace process and knows what can happen, and so too does the chief constable.

We do not hear Hugh Orde calling for Dawn Purvis of the PUP to be removed from the Policing Board.

David Ervine and Dawn Purvis had nothing to do with the shooting of Mark Haddock, and those who know them well will know what they want the UVF to do.

That organisation needs to get on with it. It has had its consultation on its future, but has delayed an announcement on its decision until after the November deadline for a political deal at Stormont.

The longer it stays on the stage - the longer it allows actions such as Tuesday's shooting - the more vulnerable and fragile the Empey-Ervine arrangement at Stormont will become.

John Hume has been here before. In the same period as SDLP and Sinn Fein delegations met in 1988, the IRA murdered soldiers - 14 of them - in Lisburn and at Ballygawley.

The Hume-Adams process survived the Shankill bomb and Warrington and it went on to help deliver the ceasefires of 1994 and 1997.

Making peace is about taking risks.

But Northern Ireland is a political glasshouse, and those who live in it keep throwing stones.

We should reserve judgment on the Empey-Ervine arrangement and the reaction to it, until we know the full story of all of the talking and all of the meetings that have taken place at many different times during our long Troubles.

There have been contacts and there has been talking that we have not yet been told about.

If Reg Empey is being asked to show David Ervine the political door, should unionist politicians - all kinds of unionist politicians - also stay out of the meeting halls when marching is being discussed in the company of the leaders of the UVF, the UDA and Red Hand Commando?

Reg Empey has taken a risk and he has been embarrassed by the actions of the UVF, but if the Ulster Unionist leader can help deliver on the loyalist side what Hume achieved with the IRA, then it will have been a risk worth taking.

It is what peace making is all about.

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