Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

13 February 2003 Edition

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Never again?


There was an understandable public debate among loyalists and particularly people, elected representatives and community leaders on the Shankill Road in Belfast about the immediate future for the people of the Lower Shankill following the humiliating collapse of the remnants of Johhny Adair's 'C' Company.

Or as wits disparagingly dubbed it, 'Seacat Company', the name of the shipping company that transported the fleeing loyalists to Scotland.

Lifetime community worker Baroness May Blood summed up the feelings of the people on the Shankill Road: "Adair's gone. We don't want another with a different face and name". Vox pops carried out on the Shankill showed a community with a burden lifted from their shoulders.

Their voices were a mixture of fear and elation but all welcomed the departure of Adair, his sidekick John White, and their enforcers. Unionist politicians who were noticeably silent while Adair wreaked havoc on his community over the last five years found their voices again.

The subtext of all the people's emotions could be summed up in the phrase 'never again'.

But how realistic a hope is it for the people of the Shankill, and in particular those, from the Lower Shankill, to live their lives free from the influence of the UDA?

The issues of concern to the people of the Shankill and further afield are about the criminal activities of the UDA and to a lesser extent the UVF. These activities include drug peddling on a huge scale, racketeering, prostitution, intimidation and, of course, feuding between loyalists which result in the deaths of those involved and those uninvolved.

For nationalists and republicans, it also involves the sectarian campaign of killing and attempted killings by the UDA in the main.

Into this mix we also have to put the interests of the various British military forces. So what are the PSNI Special Branch going to do with the UDA post Adair? What is MI5/MI6 going to do with their operatives in this organisation?

Are we at the stage in the peace process where the British securocrats, who have effectively used the UDA to serve their interests, are going to stop using them now?

A good start to this era would be truthful statements from those closest to the situation. So we have Paul Murphy, British Secretary of State, saying loyalists had to choose between politics and gangsterism, as if his forces are not responsible for the situation. Will Paul Murphy instruct his intelligence agencies to back off the UDA? Will he instruct the PSNI to isolate those involved in criminal activity and deal with them?

The same applies to those who now see their role as 'cleaning up the UDA's image', like Frankie Gallagher of the 'Ulster Political Research Group'. His early comments are not very encouraging. Over the last week he has been trying to beatify John Gregg as a peacemaker, as a man who tried to challenge Adair and died doing so. He has conveniently airbrushed Gregg's history as a sectarian killer and a tormentor of the Catholic people of North and East Antrim.

May Blood has good reason to fear that Adair's replacement will be every bit as bad as he was but the difference will be it will mostly happen off camera. Within minutes of White fleeing the Lower Shankill, Mo Courtney, a tried and trusted friend of Adairs a member of his 'C' Company and one of his henchmen for years was filmed throwing paint over one of Adair's much loved wall murals.

This was Courtney very publicly laying claim to Adair's 'throne'.

The other reality facing the people of the Shankill and other loyalist areas is that the UDA as an organisation is more or less a criminal conspiracy. The quality of life for the people of the Lower Shankill was on camera for all to see. But the UDA existed in other parts of the Shankill as well.

As North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said: "This is not about a good UDA and a bad UDA. It is about the UDA as an organisation."

And on cue arriving at Belfast's docks into the arms of the PSNI last Sunday morning was a lorry load of drugs valued at £3 million. The UDA is believed to be involved in this shipment.

Also at the start of the week they piped bombed the home of three pensioners with one of the largest and deadliest pipe bombs. It wrecked their home. Where? Tennents Street, Shankill Road.

It is going to take more than a desire, no matter how genuinely expressed, to release the UDA's grip on working class areas and push them into exclusively political activity.


UDA is a sectarian killing machine... with or without Adair


Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that UDA members were part of a legitimate organisation, instead of a sectarian killer gang. The media was addressing UDA leaders respectfully as, "Mr Adair" or "Mr Gregg" and by their self-awarded titles - "Brigadier".
Gosh and golly, what could be tougher than being a unionist paramilitary in "Nor'n Iron" this past week?

On the evening of Saturday, 1 February, as they returned from a Rangers game in Scotland, UDA leader John "Grug" Gregg and another UDA man, Robert "Rab" Carson, were gunned down in a taxi in the Docks area of Belfast. The taxi driver remains in critical condition.

Blame for the Gregg killing immediately fell onto Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair's "C" company, who have been involved in a vicious feud with the mainstream UDA. It didn't matter that Adair was sitting in Maghaberry prison at the time of the shooting. Everyone knew who gave the order.

With this latest brazen act, Adair and his gang had effectively thrown down the gauntlet of loyalist violence in no uncertain terms and all that remained to be seen was who would be left standing after the smoke had cleared.

On Tuesday, 4 February, only days after the Gregg/Carson killing, the ruling UDA leadership issued a statement saying that members of 'C' company had 48 hours to distance themselves from Adair or "face the consequences". If they refused, said the statement, they would be "treated the same as the enemies of Ulster".

Catholic nationalists knew exactly what they meant, and so did the UDA's rank and file.

Remaining UDA companies in West Belfast rushed to their telephones to condemn Adair and his cohorts, saying that they "no longer recognised 'C' Company's current leadership". Members of Adair's own group headed into nearby pubs to formally switch sides and declare their allegiance. Even Adair's allies in the LVF, whom he sided with in the past as a further challenge to his UDA adversaries, washed their hands of the whole mess, saying "the LVF have not and would not become involved in any act connected to this ongoing problem".

Within days of Gregg's killing, the UDA leadership issued a further statement, announcing plans for a mass mobilisation on Adair's home turf in the Lower Shankill the following Saturday. A UDA spokesman was quoted as saying, "this was an act of war, and there will be no hiding place for those responsible".

What was left of Adair's dwindling faction responded with the usual bravado, saying it would meet any attacks with "a measured military response against the aggressors", and that it, in turn, was planning "a street party" for the same day.

Later that night, John White defiantly told a reporter he was "indifferent" to Gregg's killing. "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword," he said.

Infuriated, the rest of the UDA decided not to wait until Saturday for their show of strength. Instead, at about midnight on Wednesday 5 February, they flooded into the lower Shankill.

Hand to hand fighting took place, homes were attacked, shots were fired, and in the ensuing chaos, 'C' Company phoned the PSNI for protection - prompting Chief Constable Hugh Orde to remark that "those who live by the sword, as soon as it starts to get difficult, call the police for help".

Within hours, the remaining Adair gang - including John White, Adair's wife Gina, his children, and other 'C' company allies were packing their bags and fleeing to Scotland under PSNI escort. The violent clash that had been anxiously anticipated became a bloodless coup as the "corporate" UDA re-established its dominance.

While the British tabloids rushed to splash pictures of Johnny Adair's abandoned dogs onto their front pages and think up amusing captions for the morning headlines, the remaining members of Adair's notorious "C" company were sitting in a Scottish hotel, hunched over plates of haggis and looking over their shoulders with every hurried bite.

And so, the latest unionist episode of the Sopranos comes to a temporary close - not with a bang, but a whimper. Within the Six Counties anyway.

"It wouldn't matter if they went to the Mediterranean," a UDA source was quoted as saying. "John Gregg is lying in a coffin and that is a disgrace. It's never over until it's over. There is still work to do."

Over the course of the past several years, infighting within unionist paramilitary groups has led to the deaths of more than a dozen loyalists.

According to PSNI statistics, aside from internal conflicts, unionist paramilitaries were also responsible for 114 shootings and 89 serious assaults in 2002 alone.

Their reign of terror has also resulted in seven dead Catholics (including young Ciaran Cummings and postman Daniel McColgan,) a journalist, (Martin O'Hagan) and several dead Protestants killed in the mistaken belief that they were Catholics - Gavin Brett and David Cupples among them.

However, one of the most disturbing trends that has emerged out of recent events is the way in which the British press has been portraying the UDA and other unionist paramilitaries.

Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that UDA members were part of a legitimate organisation, instead of a sectarian killer gang. The media was addressing UDA leaders respectfully as, "Mr Adair" or "Mr Gregg" and by their self-awarded titles - "Brigadier".

There was, one might conclude, a "Good UDA' and a "Bad UDA" and by the end of the feud the press seemed content to paint Adair as the bad guy and John Gregg as one of the good ones.

Ulster Political Research Group spokesman Sammy Duddy described Gregg's death as "a terrible waste."

"It is sad when loyalists die in feuds," lamented Duddy. "John Gregg was interested in building bridges not starting feuds."

That was not all John Gregg was interested in.

He, Adair, and the other thugs of the UDA, earned their reputation and status by engaging in vicious sectarian murders and treacherous criminal pursuits such as drug dealing, prostitution and extortion.

The bloody feud that threatened to tear their organisation apart was not about political differences. It was about the UDA reasserting its power and control. It was about money, power and influence.

Indeed, after the speedy Shankill exodus of Adair's gang, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly pointedly remarked, "the replacement of one group of sectarian killers and drug dealers with another will do little to benefit the people of the Lower Shankill".

And as republicans know only too well, a reunited UDA does little to reassure nationalists. Historically, every time a split or shake up has occurred within the unionist arena, Catholics die. After all, nothing brings unionist paramilitaries together like a good progrom.

So, as the feud ran its course nationalist politicians in interface areas - like Kelly and Sinn Féin's Gerard Brophy - were already warning their communities to remain vigilant. It wasn't fear mongering. It was common knowledge. The fact is, the UDA was, and remains, a sectarian killing machine. After all, it was set up to kill Catholics. That was its original mandate.

Unionist paramilitaries have always been encouraged to kill Catholics, and they have no qualms about doing so. They have long operated as a covert extension of the physical force of the British state, and were an effective method of instilling fear and terror in the civilian population.

On the same day that John Gregg was buried - the day John White claimed in a telephone call from Scotland that he would soon return to the Six Counties - the Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, was being informed by the PSNI that his personal details were in the hands of UDA death squads and his life was again under threat.

And no sooner had things grown quiet in the Shankill then trouble began yet again in interface areas of North Belfast, with an orchestrated attack on the Limestone Road.

Over on the Shankill, another unionist paramiltary was solemnly telling a journalist that "the turnout today was a clear sign that 'C' Company stood for the cancer in loyalism. The days of loyalists shooting loyalists have to be finished."

So there is definitely something tougher than being a poor, misunderstood unionist paramilitary - being a Catholic who happens to live next door to one.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1