Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

UDA rampage in Larne: Turf wars of a group tearing itself apart

Damage caused to a house on Ferris Avenue in Larne. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Damage caused to a house on Ferris Avenue in Larne. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Inside the loyalist community, the UDA in south-east Antrim has long been a law unto itself.

Only a few months ago, one of its leaders spoke publicly at a meeting in Carrickfergus of regretting his involvement in loyalist decommissioning.

There is a mood in the loyalist community that the peace process has passed them by, that their Britishness is being eroded and that it is republicans who have benefitted most.

But what happened in Larne at the weekend has nothing to do with that so-called 'cultural war' – real or imagined – but rather the internal wrangling inside the loyalist community.

To quote one senior police officer, it is about "power grabs, thuggery, money and trying to exercise muscle".

The paramilitary structure of the UDA is based on what the organisation calls 'brigade' areas, with a central leadership known as an 'inner council'.

But, for many years, the south-east Antrim chunk of the UDA has stood outside the mainstream.

In July 2007, the central leadership tried to assert its authority. A statement suggested a new interim leadership had been appointed and that the 'inner council' had expelled "the commander in charge of Carrickfergus and Larne".

It was billed as a "fight to stop our communities being destroyed by crime, criminality and drug dealers".

But the statement amounted to words on paper. Nothing changed.

That so-called 'inner council' of paramilitary leaders based in Belfast and Londonderry failed in this attempted coup. The old leadership it tried to replace in south-east Antrim remains intact. Their names are well known to the PSNI and across the loyalist community.

Given 30 years of conflict and the huge numbers that joined organisations such as the UDA, the paramilitaries were never going to just disappear.

But the organisation is no longer centrally controlled. It is is crumbling and fragmented, but in some places it still retains its grip on communities.

Almost 20 years after the original ceasefires, there are those whose interest is not in defending Ulster or their community, but rather their own money-making piece of turf.

This is today's reality.

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