40 jobs Northern Ireland could do without

40 jobs Northern Ireland could do without

By Damian O’Loan

The announcement of 40 jobs at a time of recession seems like good news. These, though, come at the expense of the tax-payer, following the £200m contract awarded to Thales in January. £5m per job may not seem like particularly good value for money. Protectionism, though, is being avoided as only half of Thales is in British hands, with 27.1% held by the French government. Thales also has a subsidiary in partnership with Raytheon, accused of supplying arms to Israel later used in war cimes.

The deal does highlight an interesting footnote in the history of the modern Troubles though, one which perhaps explains the lack of reaction from the First Minister Peter Robinson. The footnote makes clear some of the risks that accompany the contract, and may prove rather embarrassing to a man who vowed never to speak to terrorists.

The £200m will allow Thales, located in Robinson’s East Belfast constituency, to supply part of the Starstreak missile system to the Ministry of Defense. The Starstreak system replaces its predecessor, the Javelin, which was produced by Shorts in Belfast. Shorts, after becoming a PLC, being sold to Bombardier and merged with Thomson-CSF, evolved into Thales Air Defence Limited in 2001.

The models for the Javelin short-missile system were stolen from the Shorts factory, which like its original Harland & Wolff owners, had a predominantly loyalist workforce. The theft was linked to the later arrests of five men in Paris, including an American arms dealer and a South African diplomat. The remaining three were from Northern Ireland, and were eventually sentenced, though they received only fines and suspended sentences.

One of the men, Noel Little, was the Armagh chairman of the Ulster Clubs, established in support of the Orange Order’s right to parade, but who were distanced when terrorist links became public – Little was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act relating to a massive find of arms seized from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, though released without charge.

Little’s conviction in Paris was for arms trafficking and “associating with criminals involved in terrorist activities,” related to his alleged membership of Ulster Resistance, an organisation grouping loyalists in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed by Thatcher and her Irish counterpart, Garret FitzGerald, and in many ways similar to the later peace agreements which now underlie the Stormont assembly, The Ulster Resistance was formed seven months after Ian Paisley announced a twelve-point plan of civil disobedience to the A-I Agreement.

At its first meeting, the main speakers were Paisley, current First Minister Peter Robinson, and Ivan Foster, now opposed to the power-sharing arrangements in place. At a later rally in Enniskillen, Robinson is reported as saying: “Thousands have already joined the movement and the task of shaping them into an effective force is continuing. The Resistance has indicated that drilling and training has already started. The officers of the nine divisions have taken up their duties.”

The DUP later broke ties with the Ulster Resistance, following the arrests of the ‘Paris Three’ – it is claimed the deal involved supplying missiles to South Africa’s Apartheid regime for use, one imagines, against Mandela’s ‘terrorist’ ANC. However, loyalist arms remain to be decommissioned, and, though it was thought that it had mutated into the LVF and died with its leader Billy Wright, the last appearance of the loose grouping was when it met with the Sunday World newspaper in June 2007.

Its statement said: “Ian Paisley has let a lot of people down and some were surprised by this, but the Uster Resistance has known for years that Paisley would always bow under pressure.” It continued: “The British government know that should we be needed, we have the capability and resources to strike with deadly force, because they know that our weaponry is not under their control.”

There are perhaps many morals to draw from this story. One is that loyalist decommissioning is urgently needed. Another may be that we are all at risk from terrorist attack, particularly valid when Israel’s policies contribute to radicalisation. Another is the subjectivity of the use of the word terrorism. Had we chosen not Starstreak missiles, but rather invested £200m in saving and growing domestic small- and medium-sized businesses, we might have avoided any hypocrisy and better served our own security, economic and moral interests.

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