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Peter Hadden

What’s behind the loyalist feud?

(September 2000)

From Socialist Voice, No. 27, September 2000.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). (March 2103)

The bitter feud between the UDA and UVF seems set to continue. For some time relations between them have been worsening, with attacks and counter attacks across much of Antrim and Derry.

Now the dispute is concentrated in the loyalist heartland of the Shankill. Within a few days three people were shot dead in this area. Dozens of families were driven from their homes. In the lower Shankill opponents of the UDA/UFF were systematically driven out and many of their homes ransacked.

As was the case through the Troubles it is ordinary working class people who suffer most from paramilitary violence. The shooting of a young schoolgirl in Coleraine, wounded when the UVF shot up her home, is an example.

The press has put the feud down to a turf war between rival gangs, a battle for control of areas and of the drugs trade and the protection rackets. This is part of the truth but it not a true explanation of what is going on. It would be wrong to exaggerate the differences between the UVF and UDA.

Both have a bloody sectarian history. Recruitment is often less a matter of ideological difference but of what area you come from or of family connections. However an aspect of this struggle is over the peace process and the increasingly divergent approach of the UVF leadership and of a section of the UDA/UFF centred around its West Belfast leaders, John White and Johnny Adair.

Both paramilitaries are nominally for the Good Friday Agreement and for the continuation of the loyalist ceasefire, such as it is. However the Adair wing of the UDA/UFF have adopted an increasingly confrontational sectarian approach, using issues such as Drumcree to boost their hard-line credentials. Much to the annoyance of the UVF they have forged an alliance with the LVF, the right split off from the UVF.

The latest fighting began when an LVF contingent and banner appeared on a UDA march in the Shankill. UVF supporters drinking in the Rex bar tried to remove it. The UDA retaliated by shooting up the bar.

The UVF have not softened in their approach to the union with Britain or to republicanism, but they have moved more in a political direction, backing the strategy outlined by their political wing, the PUP.

The Adair wing of the UFF and his LVF allies are moving in an opposite direction. Adair is a leader of C Company, the West Belfast unit of the UDA/UFF. During the 1990’s this group was heavily infiltrated by British intelligence who used it to carry out assassinations of republicans. They allowed it to arm itself with weapons from South Africa and to run a lucrative drugs trade.

Johnny Adair was at the time a young skinhead thug part of a gang on the Shankill who were linked with the National Front and other fascist organisations in Britain. Most of this gang were recruited into the UDA. When a state enquiry into links between loyalist paramilitaries and British intelligence led to the arrest of most of the West Belfast UDA leadership, Adair and his friends took control. They inherited the weapons and the drug trade and have developed it ever since.

Now their objective is to wipe out the influence of the UVF and give themselves complete control of the area and through this achieve a commanding position in loyalism.

Adair’s position within the UDA is not unchallenged. The UDA has a federal structure with local commanders controlling their own areas. To date significant sections of the organisation have held back from the feud.

Nor does he have broad popular support. Most people view him with fear and disgust. It does not go unnoticed in the Shankill that no sooner was he released from prison than he was able to drive around in a top of the range car and take his family this year on a holiday to Jamaica. His arrest and re-imprisonment caused hardly a ripple of opposition, even in the Shankill.

The majority of people in the Shankill and other working class Protestant areas are repulsed by the tit for tat killings and want both organisations to stop. Local community activists who echoed this mood in their call fix mediation and an end to the feud.

Working class people most often feel overwhelmed and helpless in face of the seeming power of sectarian and paramilitary organizations. In fact the working class has the power to bring all this to a halt. Mass protests by working class organizations began the peace process and have kept the most bigoted paramilitaries, republican as well as loyalist, in check.

Action by community organizations as well as rank and file trade union bodies is now needed to force an end to this latest paramilitary feud to make sure it does not spill over into sectarian violence and to resist attempts by paramilitary gangsters to take control of working class areas.

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