News from Ireland: Loyalist Feud Erupts in N. Ireland

BELFAST: 8/19/00: UFF color guard on Shankill Road. (Photo by Crispin Rodwell.)

By Irish America Staff
October / November 2000

A feud between two Loyalist paramilitary groups has brought British troops back to the streets of Belfast. Fighting between the Ulster Defense Association (U.D.A.) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (U.V.F.) erupted in August after the U.D.A. organized a parade of uniformed and masked men carrying U.D.A. banners down the Shankill Road in military formation. This demonstration was purportedly to celebrate the completion of new Loyalist wall murals, but it is widely believed that the underlying reason was to display a show of strength.

A crowd of close to 400 broke away from the parade and attacked a bar frequented by U.V.F. members and supporters. Four people were injured when shots were fired into the bar. Later in the day, the attackers returned to the bar and wounded three more in a drive-by shooting.

The homes and automobiles of several U.V.F. members were set on fire, including the home of Gusty Spence, who resurrected the U.V.F. in the 1960s and negotiated the loyalist ceasefires in 1994. He was forcibly removed from his home before it was torched.

The U.V.F. were quick to retaliate, murdering two men on the Crumlin Road, including one of their own members. Jackie Coulter, a leading member of the U.D.A., died immediately, and U.V.F. member Bobbie Mahood died later in the hospital.

A U.D.A. mob also ransacked and burned the office of the Progressive Unionist Party (P.U.P.) while other armed U.D.A. members roamed the Shankill Road area searching for U.V.F. members.

One of the masterminds behind the violence is Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair, who was released recently as part of the Good Friday Agreement’s early prisoner release program. He had served five and a half of his sixteen-year sentence for directing terrorism. After this recent outbreak of violence, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson revoked Adair’s license for early release, saying, “My priority is public safety. And I cannot give freedom to an individual intent on abusing it. I am satisfied that this particular individual has breached the terms of his license.”

While Loyalists are united in the conviction that Northern Ireland should remain a part of Great Britain, it is widely believed that the rivalries between the groups have developed out of the battle to control Belfast’s illegal drug trade. Members of the U.D.A. involved in drug running need to maintain control over Loyalist communities to protect their business interests. Many believe the organization diverts attention from its illegal activities by portraying itself as a protector of the Loyalist community. To drive this point home, they have attacked Protestant homes, placing the blame on Republicans and then attacking Nationalist neighborhoods out of “revenge.”

Belfast: 8/19/00: Young girls on Shankill Road for a UFF support rally. (Photo by Crispin Rodwell.)

The U.D.A. are affiliated with the Ulster Democratic Party which failed to have any members elected to the Assembly.

The U.V.F., on the other hand, have become more political and are represented in the Assembly by David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party. The U.V.F. stand to lose by retaliating against the U.D.A., as any organization that breaks their ceasefire can have their political allies thrown out of government.

As Irish America goes to press, a 22-year-old man was shot dead by the U.D.A. in Belfast in retaliation for the Crumlin Road murders. Sam Rockett was shot in the living room of his home in front of his girlfriend and 12-month-old daughter. He is believed to have been targeted because of his family’s friendship with Billy Hutchinson of the PUP.

Belfast clergymen have called for an end to the violence. Pastor Jack McKee of the New Life Fellowship Church warned that the feud had the “potential of completely tearing this community apart.”

Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Chris McGimpsey asserted that the fighting “could completely destabilize the entire peace process.” As Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughin told the New York Times, “The history of the North is that when these dynamics are unleashed within Loyalism, the Catholic community ends up carrying the brunt of it.”

And there’s no end to the violence in sight. As one senior U.D.A. figure warned, “All bets are off.”  ♦

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