Belfast brawl sparks loyalist feud fears
Spectre of fresh bloodletting grows after rival factions clash
Tensions between two factions of the UVF have escalated to dangerous levels, sparking concerns over the potential eruption of a bloody loyalist feud.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that members of the loyalist paramilitary organisation were involved in a vicious street brawl outside an east Belfast bar yesterday morning after simmering hostilities spilled over into violence.
It is understood the clashes outside the Great Eastern Bar on the lower Newtownards Road were between members of the Shankill Road UVF and the UVF in east Belfast.
Police are now concerned about a possible escalation in violence between the warring parties.
A short time later two men were seriously hurt after a car was driven at a large crowd of people standing close to the scene of the earlier disturbances.
Another two people were less seriously injured in the incident, which happened at around 2.50am yesterday.
The car was discovered on fire in the Conway Street area of west Belfast a short time later.
Police said they are treating the incident as attempted murder and have appealed for witnesses.
Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long said she was “shocked and appalled” by the early morning attack, adding: “The person driving this car has clearly no thought for the lives of others.
“I hope that the four men injured will be able to make a swift and full recovery.”
Chairman of east Belfast District Policing Partnership, Jim Rodgers, added that people in the area were disturbed by news of the incident.
“This is supposed to be the season of goodwill, but it doesn’t seem to be goodwill to all,” the UUP councillor said.
Speaking about the fracas outside the bar, a loyalist source said: “This is between the UVF in the west and the UVF in the east.
“It is a very dangerous situation and people are bracing themselves for violent reprisals.
“We are expecting serious repercussions.”
The UVF in east Belfast has been making its presence felt over the past year with the painting of new paramilitary murals on the Newtownards Road, the flying of UVF flags, markings on a nearby bar stating ‘Property of the UVF’, and the organisation of riots at Short Strand during the summer.
This has led to tensions within the organisation, with the UVF’s east Belfast boss being ordered to stop getting involved in criminality by the leadership.
“Police are worried about what might happen next. We know that the UVF has guns — they were used to try and murder police officers during the Short Strand riots.
“There is a lot of concern about what might happen next,” the source added.
A report by the Independent Monitoring Commission released earlier this year said there was no reason to doubt the stated wish of the UVF leadership to pursue its strategy of becoming a civilian organisation.
However, concerns were raised in the report that “there are some within the organisation who are evidently not ready to accept the restraints on their behaviour which this means”.
Loyalist paramilitaries have a history of bloody internal feuds. As far back as 1975 hostilities broke out between the UDA and the UVF and several people on both sides were killed before a truce.
In 2000 another feud between Johnny Adair’s UDA ‘C’ Company and the UVF led to the deaths of at least seven people including leading figures Jackie Coulter and Bobby Mahood.
Between 1999 and 2001 the LVF, made up of breakaway UVF members, also played its full part in feuding as it shot top UVF figure Richard Jameson dead on the outskirts of Portadown.