Belfast Telegraph

Embattled UDA boss Jackie McDonald bids to heal Twelfth remarks row

By Brian Rowan

One of the UDA’s most senior leaders has warned against a “war of words” within the group.

Jackie McDonald was reacting yesterday to a public rebuke from other loyalists — which has sparked fears of another split developing within the paramilitary organisation and the politically-linked UPRG.

That row centres on comments he made in this newspaper about the Twelfth day and parades.

McDonald recently described it as his “worst day of the year” — adding that he would support a “one-way ticket” to the field with no return marches.

Those comments brought a furious reaction from within sections of loyalism — his remarks branded as “disgraceful”.

And, reacting to those who criticised him, McDonald said: “I don’t know if it will be possible to sit round the same table again.

“We’ve had more difficult situations than this and we resolved them for the betterment of loyalism and all the areas concerned.”

McDonald was speaking at a news conference held in south Belfast yesterday when loyalists in that part of the city said he has their “full and unequivocal support”.

Criticism of the UDA ‘brigadier’ first emerged in a statement from the west Belfast branch of the UPRG in which he was accused of being “totally out of step with the overwhelming thinking of the majority of the wider loyalist family”.

He was also strongly rebuked in North Antrim and Londonderry.

Speaking yesterday, McDonald said: “I don’t want to get engaged in a war of words.”

But asked was his position now untenable, he responded: “I hope it doesn’t get to that stage.”

The General Secretary of the UPRG in south Belfast Paul Clissold told the Belfast Telegraph: “Jackie is the main spokesperson for south Belfast UPRG.

“He will continue to be our main spokesperson.”

McDonald added: “I will speak on behalf of UPRG in south Belfast when required — (but) probably not as much as I have in the past.”

At the news conference, he also clarified his comments about a one-way ticket to the field with no return parades — saying this was a matter for the Orange Order.

“I support the Order, I support the right to walk,” he said.

But if they decided on no return marches from the field?

“I would support it 100%,” Mc Donald responded.

The senior loyalist is clearly under pressure.

He has been criticised by influential parts of the UDA/UPRG — his comments putting him at odds with figures such as Matt Kincaid and Billy McFarland.

But, crucially, McDonald still has the support of his own men — yesterday’s conference followed a meeting of around 30 of the most senior figures in his area.

More than a storm in a Twelfth teacup

This was a news conference in which Jackie McDonald tried to re-tell the story. And, from Monday to Wednesday — the Twelfth had been transformed, writes Brian Rowan.

He started the week calling it his “worst day of the year” — but yesterday the description had changed to a now “magnificent day”.

What he doesn’t like about it are the drunken rows that every year he and other loyalists have to try to tidy up in south Belfast.

And his branch of the UPRG certainly supported what he had to say about that: “Mr McDonald was correct when he commented on the societal problem in relation to drunkenness.

“Mr McDonald neither stated nor implied that a majority of people were either drunk or behaved inappropriately,” the UPRG said.

So, there was more clarification in those comments.

But loyalists know what this row is really about.

It is not really about what Jackie McDonald had to say about the Twelfth and its parades, but about Jackie McDonald himself.

There are those who think he is too big for his loyalist boots.

This is about egos and jealousy, and about those who won’t speak on the public stages of the peace process objecting to others who do.

What we are also looking at is a falling out — not a feud.

Violence, McDonald stressed, “certainly hasn’t entered my mind, and I would certainly hope it wouldn’t enter other people’s minds.”

But he also knows this is more than a storm in a Twelfth teacup.

What has been said in recent days cannot be unsaid. Some loyalists have engaged in a war of words — in a very public way.

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