Giving a Dog a Bad Name
"A load of old women," is how UFF commander Johnny Adair once described his colleagues in the Ulster Democratic Party. Recently, Adair dismissed UDP leader Gary McMichael as 'toothless'. So you can imagine how taken he is by his UVF and PUP cousins.
To dismiss the UFF/UVF feud as a 'turf war' over drugs and racketeering would be a grave error. What is taking place is a realignment within loyalist paramilitarism with the objective of destroying the Agreement.
While the UVF has butchered Catholics in the past, it appears to be committed to the peace process, despite evidence that it has imported new weapons. It is less corrupt than the UFF - though all these things are relative. Its political wing, the PUP, has at least a mandate, though small, with two representatives, Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine in the Assembly. The UFF, on the other hand, has little stake in politics, and is divided over the Agreement.
Under Adair the Shankill Brigade of the UFF was responsible for the attacks on the Devenish Arms and the depot in Kennedy Way, the deaths of Philomena Hanna, Damien Walsh, and Alan Lundy, among others. It was around this time that Adair earned the sobriquet, 'Mad Dog', of which he is proud. Last week he cheerily introduced his two-year-old son to a reporter as 'Mad Pup'.
Whilst driving a journalist from the 'Guardian' around the Shankill in 1993 he discovered she was a Catholic and told her with grisly connotation that Catholics normally travelled in the boot of his car. He also boasted to RUC men in the street about his activities and that he was untouchable. He didn't know that he was being secretly recorded until he was arrested and charged in 1994 with 'directing terrorism'. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to sixteen years.
In the H-Blocks he was filmed by a BBC documentary team against a back-drop of wall murals, some of which read: 'Yabba, Yabba, Doo,/Any Fenian Will Do'; 'Kill 'Em All,/ Let God Sort 'Em Out'.
Released last September he made no attempt to usurp the current Brigade Commander of the Shankill UFF simply because this man was an ally who shared Adair's opposition to the Belfast Agreement. And, anyway, Adair's authority and following, derived from his reputation for ruthlessness, stretches well beyond Belfast. Dismissive of the more reasonable Gary McMichael, he preferred the company of the UDP's John White, a double murderer, who enjoys a lavish lifestyle but denies being a drug baron. He says that he has been lucky in property speculation and with his investments. Of course.
The LVF was set up by the late Billy Wright who split from the UVF over its cease-fire. It is based mainly in Portadown and in parts of County Antrim. Three years ago the UVF unsuccessfully attempted to crush it. After Wright's assassination in Long Kesh the LVF floundered for a time but last January it killed UVF Commander, Bobby Jameson. The killings then spread to Belfast as the LVF appeared to become more assertive. However, the UVF strongly suspected that although the shootings were either claimed by or attributed to the LVF, the fingerprints of a certain UFF area commander were all over them.
This summer Adair attempted to emulate his hero, the late Billy Wright, by appearing alongside the Portadown Orangemen at Drumcree. His appearance a short time later, clapping an LVF show of strength, was meant to emphasise a continuity. When the Orange demand to get marching down Garvaghy Road was backed up by UFF and LVF violence, mainstream unionists were dismayed at the destruction. The presence of Johnny Adair, and the refusal of Mr Eloquence, District Master Harold Gracey, to condemn the violence, resulted in a debacle for the Orangemen at Drumcree.
All the evidence points to Adair trying to establish a new organisation (reportedly to be called the Loyalist Freedom Fighters) made up from the LVF, his UFF associates, and religious fundamentalists in the Orange Volunteers and Red Hand Commandos. It was his 'C' Company that in July threatened to carry out reprisals against Catholics for 'a recent series of attacks on Protestant homes', only for the Housing Executive, supported by the RUC, to deny that Protestants had been attacked. Figures showed that the only people recently intimidated from their homes were eleven Catholic families. Homework is not one of Johnny's strong points.
Days later a number of houses on the Shankill Road did have their windows smashed in an incident which is generally believed to have been contrived. This was quickly followed by gangs of UFF men driving into Catholic areas, shooting-up streets, paint-bombing houses and smashing up cars in a blatant attempt to provoke the IRA into breaking its cease-fire and having Sinn Fein removed from the power-sharing executive.
Months of planning had gone into last week's 'carnival', an exclusively-UFF event, complete with masked and uniformed men and a firing party on stage. The centrepiece was the unveiling of sectarian and triumphalist murals along the length of the Shankill Road, effectively claiming all of it as UFF territory. The UVF believed it had an agreement with the UFF that there would be no LVF presence. As we now know an LVF flag was flaunted outside a UVF-patronised pub and the long-simmering feud was sparked.
The UVF retaliated on Monday by killing Jackie Coulter and Bobby Mahood. These killings have had the effect of uniting the UFF, some of whose Brigade Commanders, despise the megalomaniac Adair.
The significance of Peter Mandelson's decision to deploy British soldiers instead of drafting in extra RUC officers has not been lost on nationalists. Clearly, the Protestant RUC could not be totally trusted to police its own people on the Shankill. It was only after Adair repeatedly embarrassed the authorities that the RUC were ordered to arrest him. The UFF and the UVF have rejected calls for mediation and have predicted further reprisals.
Meantime, the man primarily responsible for this latest outbreak of violence, which has left the Protestant community living in sheer terror, is sitting with his feet up in a cell in Maghaberry Prison - probably the safest place for him.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison