Is UVF’s ‘Beast in the East’ behind new wave of riots?
He is the man with the power to bring hundreds of masked supporters onto the street overnight. It was his command that this week led to open warfare in east Belfast between loyalists and republicans armed with guns, petrol bombs and blast bombs.
As the PSNI, politicians and community leaders desperately attempt to defuse soaring tensions, there are fears that the UVF leader, known as the ‘Beast in the East’ is out of control.
The PSNI has said it believes that UVF members in the east of the city were behind the serious disorder that erupted on the streets on Monday night.
UVF guns are also believed to have been used in a bid to murder police officers who were attempting to control the situation.
Trouble flared when, at the order of this paramilitary leader, whose identity is known by this newspaper, a loyalist mob ran amok in the republican Short Strand area, attacking homes and a Catholic church — apparently in retaliation for attacks on loyalist homes over the weekend.
Within minutes up to 500 loyalists and republicans were rioting along the notorious interface area on the lower Newtownards Road.
Directing the loyalist rioters was the very man who had orchestrated the Short Strand attack. Over the past few months the ‘Beast in the East’ has been making his presence felt with the painting of new paramilitary murals on the Newtownards Road, the flying of UVF flags, and markings on a nearby bar stating ‘property of the UVF’.
There had been growing concern that it would only be a matter of time before he ordered a violent attack.
What is not known is if he is acting under the direction of the UVF leadership, or if he is ignoring orders and acting at will.
A report by the Independent Monitoring Commission released earlier this year said there was no reason to doubt the 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 sources in the area claim that the east Belfast leader is a “loose cannon”.
“He is out of favour at the minute with the UVF in the rest of the city.
“They can’t control him. He has been brought up to the Shankill Road and told to wind his neck in, but he’s not prepared to toe the line,” one source said.
If it is the case that he is beyond the control of the UVF leadership, he is not without his supporters.
Just like the Pied Piper, he has been gathering his followers and at the minute looks unstoppable.
He was responsible for bussing large crowds of loyalists from other estates into east Belfast on Monday night, and there is no doubt he has the influence to rally his troops again.
Discontent within the UVF over dissident republican activity, Historical Enquiries Team investigations and speculation about a supergrass trial involving a one-time senior UVF figure, means there are many within the organisation who would be prepared to support and copy the actions of the east Belfast boss.
In east Belfast this discontent is further fuelled by the lack of political representation in Stormont for the loyalist community following the electoral demise of the PUP.
Police have been closely monitoring the UVF in east Belfast as members step up their criminal activities. But the puppet-master at the heart of this trouble, which took such a sinister turn on Monday, is still roaming the streets.
New militancy in loyalism does not bode well for a peaceful summer, particularly with dissidents armed and ready to respond to confrontation.