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24 August 2000 Edition

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Adair held as loyalists implode

Nationalists warned to be vigilant



BY LAURA FRIEL

Belfast's Shankill Road remains tense after loyalist rivalry escalated into bitter feuding between the UVF and UDA this week. In the ensuing violence, two loyalists were shot dead by the UVF, ten were wounded by the UDA and around 30 PUP and UVF supporters were driven from their homes, include UVF leader Gusty Spence.

As loyalist areas like the Shankill descended into chaos and armed loyalist mobs roamed the streets, nationalists were urged to remain calm and vigilant. As in the past, loyalist violence may be played out through further sectarian attacks against Catholics, Sinn Féin warned.

``Nationalists know only too well that loyalists feuding is usually brought to an end by the groups involved uniting to launch sectarian attacks on Catholics,'' said Mitchell McLaughlin. ``It is therefore important that all people remain calm but extremely vigilant in the days ahead.''

Within hours of the fatal shooting, several hundred British troops were redeployed on the streets of Belfast, with a further 400 soldiers on stand by. By Tuesday night, the Shankill was cordoned off but fears of loyalist rioting following the arrest of Johnny Adair failed to materialise.

Adair was arrested when armed RUC officers surrounded his car on the Shankill Road and Adair and the driver were ordered out of the vehicle and onto the ground. Adair was arrested and taken to a British Army barracks before being flown by military helicopter to Maghaberry jail.

Under the terms of early release under the Good Friday Agreement, the British Secretary of State has the power to return any prisoner to jail to serve the rest of their sentence by revoking his licence. ``Nobody is untouchable, nobody is above the law,'' said Mandelson. ``That is precisely as Johnny Adair has appeared to behave in the last few days.'' Adair is expected to appeal the decision.

This latest escalation of loyalist rivalry, which has witnessed a number of killings throughout the year, began last Saturday. In a carefully orchestrated UDA paramilitary show of strength. Adair marched behind UDA and UFF banners within the ranks of several hundred masked and uniformed loyalists.

The event had been billed as a celebration of loyalist culture but the truth was that violence and the threat of violence were never far from the surface. As part of the ``celebration'' several murals, some glorifying the sectarian murder of Catholics, were unveiled.

Lines of masked loyalists marched beneath a mural depicting loyalism as the grim reaper. On the platform, Johnny Adair and Michael Stone were joined by deputy lord mayor Frank McCoubrey and UDP chair John White.

Trouble flared shortly after 3pm when loyalist bandsmen carrying an LVF banner passed a pub frequented by supporters of the UVF and drink was thrown at the marchers. A 300-strong mob of UDA members and supporters attacked the Rex Bar in which several hundred UVF members and supporters were drinking.

Shots were fired, injuring two men and a woman. A fourth person was reported as injured. Several hours later, a number of homes were attacked by a UDA mob, including the home of UVF veteran Gusty Spence, who was forced to flee.

At 10pm, the UDA returned to the Rex Bar. Three were injured during a drive by shooting. In the early hours of Sunday morning, a car pulled up outside the home of PUP Assembly member Billy Hutchinson. Apparently by mistake, gunfire was sprayed into the house next door.

Midday Monday and it was the turn of the UVF to strike. Jackie Coulter, a close associate of Johnny Adair, was sitting in a jeep on the Crumlin Road when a lone gunman opened fire. Coulter died at the scene. A second loyalist passenger, Bobby Mahood, was rushed to the Mater hospital but died of his injuries several hours later.

After 1.30pm, shots were fired at the Shankill Prisoners' Aid Office, which is also used as an office by the UDP, the political party linked to the UDA. As news of the double shooting began to filter through the Shankill, armed mobs of the UDA began roaming the streets intent on revenge.

Johnny Adair was amongst a mob which attacked the offices of the PUP, the political party linked to the UVF. The building was ransacked and set alight. An eye witness reported: ``Men ran down the Shankill shouting and screaming. Johnny Adair was with them. Adair got into a jeep and about 30 men got into a minibus.

``The vehicles drove off and were intercepted by the police. The police tried to arrest some of the men in the minibus. Adair was there and so was John White.'' Two hours later, the RUC requested British Army backup.

But as several hundred British troops were deployed in the Shankill, the feud had already spread beyond Belfast, with attacks in Derry's Waterside and Coleraine. By 10pm Tuesday, reports of Adair's detention were carried in television and radio news bulletins. The Shankill was quiet but feuding outside Belfast continued

Saturday's UDA parade may have provided the spark which lit the current crisis within loyalism, but its roots lie much deeper. Since his release last year, Johnny Adair has engaged in a systematic campaign to promote his status and expand his sphere of influence.

Adair's high profile at Drumcree put pressure on the UVF, who stayed away, but Orange protests dwindled and there was no ``victory'' to secure Adair's loyalist credentials. Meanwhile, a damning documentary exposing drug dealing in the Shankill and rumours of Adair's extravagant lifestyle did nothing to enhance his ambition.

In a cynical attempt to portray himself as a defender rather than exploiter of his own community, Adair played the sectarian card. Claiming Protestant homes were being attacked by nationalists, loyalists launched a sectarian offensive.

``Once you get you're first fenian blood, it's easy after that,'' UDA leader Johnny Adair once infamously boasted. And in this at least, Adair has always been as good as his word. Fuelled by his own hatred, Adair has directed a bloody campaign against Catholics in the North which did not end with his release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement last September.

As recently as last week, Adair and his cohorts were terrorising vulnerable Catholic neighbourhoods in orchestrated sectarian attacks on Catholic homes and property. Armed and masked loyalist mobs arrived by minibus to terrorise Catholic residents. Loyalists tried to force entry into Catholic homes, sledgehammering doors, smashing windows, thrashing residents' cars and destroying their property with paint bombs.

Adair gained and continues to sustain his status as a `hero' by appealing to the worst sectarian and racist elements within loyalism. He has revelled in his reputation of being as predatory and unpredictable as his nickname, `mad dog', suggested. Display rather than discretion has been the hallmark of Adair's notorious career as a loyalist paramilitary leader. It has also been his downfall.

Adair's inability to keep his mouth shut (he boasted of his exploits to his RUC interrogators) landed him in jail in 1995. His love of the limelight probably returned him to jail this week as British Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, decided not to ignore Adair's violent antics any longer.

A week ago, British strategy appeared prepared to absorb rather than challenge the violent intimidation of Catholic residents. This week, threatened with destabilisation within loyalism, British action was swift and decisive. It begs the question. Are the British protecting the public, as they claim, or simply shoring up their old allies?
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