Senior loyalist Jackie McDonald has been cut adrift by the UDA leadership after he branded The Twelfth his worst day of the year.
The remarks, in which the paramilitary boss claimed he detested the annual Orange demonstration, have led to a rebuke from other figures in the terror group following fury from the loyalist community. Fears of a split among the UDA leadership are now growing.
Loyalists in Belfast, north Antrim and Londonderry branded the south Belfast brigadier’s Twelfth comments “disgraceful”, “insulting” and “offensive”.
On Monday, Mr McDonald told the Belfast Telegraph he “hated” the Twelfth; described the annual demonstration as the “worst day of his year” and urged loyalist leaders in north Belfast to abandon a contentious return leg of a feeder parade at Ardoyne.
The west Belfast branch of the UPRG (Ulster Political Research Group), political advisors to the UDA, said it had been “inundated with complaints” from its membership and wider community.
Asked if Mr McDonald would be deposed, a senior UDA source in north Antrim said: “He hasn’t been speaking for us for a long time. We do not recognise him as having anything to do with us up here.”
“Jackie has been ploughing a furrow that has nothing to do with us and what he said about the Twelfth parade merely confirmed that he is out on a limb as far as the mainstream membership is concerned.”
In a statement issued with the support of the UDA in the greater Shankill area, the UPRG said: “(We) would like to clarify our position on the disgraceful personal comments made by a member of our south Belfast branch.
“The member’s statement that the Twelfth day is his worst day of the year is in his opinion based on drunkenness and does not equate to the events including the tireless endeavours of the marshals at Ardoyne and in east Belfast and further afield and is considered by us as totally reprehensible.”
The UPRG said loyalist community workers had worked selflessly to ensure that contentious parades passed off peacefully.
“To group these men with drunken fights is totally unwarranted and deceitful,” the statement added. “These men give up their holiday time of both morning and evenings to ensure their community and their culture is protected. They have always done so soberly and diligently despite intense provocation from all sections of republicanism including personal attacks. As a consequence this individual (McDonald) would appear to be totally out of step with the overwhelming thinking of the majority of the wider loyalist family.
“The south Belfast member does not have a contested parade within his area and is therefore totally unqualified to pass comment. It is offensive to these community members to be labelled by someone who should know better than to stigmatise sections within the wider loyalist community.”
Meanwhile, a source within the north Antrim/Londonderry UDA said that they too “wish to disassociate themselves” from Mr McDonald’s remarks. “They are also baffled by comments in the press in which he stated that rioting was between different factions of loyalists and ‘there was not a Catholic for miles’,” he said.
“This is also an insult to all those from the loyalist community and loyal orders who work tirelessly to ensure such events pass off peacefully.
“Those comments do not reflect the thinking of any loyalist in the north Antrim, Londonderry area and we wish to reiterate our support for all those in lodges and bands who will be participating in the largest cultural event in Northern Ireland.”
Relations between Mr McDonald and other UDA units have been strained over the last four years with some of the more hardline elements vilifying him over his close relationship with Martin McAleese, the husband of former Irish President Mary McAleese.
Very public row aimed at isolating key figure
By Brian Rowan
This is the UDA washing its dirty linen in a very public way — deliberately letting this Twelfth row play out in the news.
And it is about trying to isolate its most public leader.
The UPRG is UDA-linked; its branches shaped to fit with the UDA ‘brigades’. And within that structure, territory is jealously protected.
So what we have is a row between McDonald and the Shankill.
Just look at the UPRG language used to criticise what McDonald had to say about the Twelfth — “reprehensible, disgraceful, offensive”, and containing the cutting sentence: “As a consequence this individual would appear to be totally out of step with the overwhelming thinking of the majority of the wider loyalist family.”
How does McDonald now sit at the same table with the UDA Shankill ‘brigadier’ Matt Kincaid?
There will be those who will see sense in the idea floated by McDonald, the suggestion of a one-way ticket to the Field on the Twelfth and no return marches.
And his description of it being “his worst day of the year” was a reference to the trouble he and other loyalists have to try to tidy up, rows often related to drink.
It was not an attack on Orange culture. But there are others who are still playing with the parades issue, and Ardoyne in north Belfast is becoming another of those “last stand” places.
In the background, UVF and UDA figures are pulling strings, as are dissidents on the other side.
And they could create a mess that others will be left to clean up.
That is what McDonald is trying to avoid.
“It’s inevitable where this is going,” a senior loyalist said, meaning an eventual UDA split.
He means a split between those who have stepped into the bright lights of the peace process, and those who still want to skulk in the dark corners of the past.