Paramilitary figures linked to a bomb scare targeting Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney receive funding from the Irish Government, an Oireachtas committee heard on Thursday.
Veteran victims campaigner Raymond McCord told on Oireachtas committee he was passed documents on Wednesday giving details of State funding awarded as part of peace-building efforts to a group in the North governed by Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) “lifers”.
Police in Northern Ireland believe the UVF was behind the hijacking and hoax bomb which coincided with Mr Coveney visit to a John and Pat Hume Foundation event on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast on March 25th.
For almost a quarter of a century, Mr McCord has been fighting for justice for his 22-year-old son Raymond Jnr, who was murdered by the UVF in Belfast in 1997.
The campaigner told the Oireachtas committee on Thursday that he “won’t go into details” about the “large group” in the unionist community, part-financed by the Government, but that much of its board of directors are “UVF lifers”.
He said the idea of “buying paramilitaries off was a failure from the start... They are still here”.
Public cash being funnelled into so-called community organisations needs to be made “public and accountable” as “it is being abused with providers turning a blind eye”.
People are claiming to represent victims of the Troubles but act only according to their “own narrative,” he said.
The campaigner said he remains under “numerous death threats” from people within his own community in Belfast because he has spoken out.
“The UVF made a bomb, tried to blow me up. It wasn’t the IRA that tried to kill me or the INLA… It was people within my community, the same people that murdered my son, or the organisation,” he said.
“People on the [loyalist] Shankill Road are good people,” he said. “But unfortunately there are people on the Shankill Road, if I went and sat in a pub, some young lad would be waiting outside with a sawn off shotgun... Our unionist politicians refuse to go against these people and it is time they did.”
Urging a “victims-led, victims-centred” response to dealing with the legacy of the conflict, Mr McCord said it is not just unionist politicians who were hijacking victims to bolster their own cause.
While in Dublin, he met with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. The only “blight” on the meeting was her refusal to condemn the violence of the IRA, he told the committee.
“I don’t see the problem with someone saying I condemn the murders of the IRA,” he said.
Responding to the issue the funding of loyalist-controlled groups, Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith told the committee that if there was any evidence of “wrong-doing or money being misappropriated from the Department of Foreign Affairs or the State” then there is “a responsibility to deal with that”.
Cathy McIlvenny, whose 23-year-old sister Lorraine McCausland was raped and murdered in 1987 after a night-out at a loyalist club in north Belfast, said paramilitaries “have just as much control as they did all through the Troubles, if not more.”
“They have a real choke-hold on the community, in working class areas. They wear the suits during the day and wear the balaclavas at night. I witness this week in and week out.”
In 2016, police reopened the cold-case into Ms McCausland’s rape and murder, saying the “shadow of loyalist paramilitarism hangs over” it.
Ms McIlvenny said the Good Friday Agreement “hasn’t done anything for working class Protestants” and has “pushed (paramilitarism) under the ground more”.
Mothers regularly pay their children’s drug debts to loyalist paramilitaries while houses and oil tanks have been set on fire for those who can not afford the money, she told the committee.
“There is still a fear of the paramilitary organisations,” she said.
Stephen Farry, Alliance MP for North Down, told the committee the hoax bomb attack targeting Mr Coveney proves the misplaced faith put in so-called transition funding for paramilitary-linked groups.
“I think in policy terms a very clear distinction has to be made between investing in the communities that have been affected by paramilitaries as opposed to investing in paramilitaries themselves,” he said.
Mr Farry said “we have had the wool pulled over our eyes” on transition funding, nearly a quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement.
“I think what happened in north Belfast last month in terms of the UVF hoax bomb attack proves the fallacy of some of that faith that has been misplaced in that transition work,” he said.
A “careful line” has to be walked in “engaging with what are euphemistically called stakeholders or community workers in those communities”, he said, adding the easiest route is often “talking to the loudest voice” which can “bolster unofficial control structures in communities instead of more democratic paths”.
Mr McCord appealed to the Irish Government to halt all funding to loyalist paramilitary-linked groups.
“They say they are doing community work - their community work is how much can we make on drugs this week, how much can we take off shops this week in extortion. These are the people who are getting funded.”
Since its ceasefire in 1994, the UVF has murdered 32 people in the unionist community, said Mr McCord.
“What other country in the world would have 32 murders by groups on ceasefire and still give them funding,” he added.