Peace pledge rings hollow after UDA forces Belfast man to flee
The UDA has forced a young man to leave Northern Ireland just weeks after denouncing criminality and pledging to make a "meaningful contribution" to loyalist communities.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the Belfast man was ordered to leave his family, job and home just weeks before Christmas and warned never to return.
He was told that if he did not go he would be "severely punished".
The threat from the loyalist terror group comes less than two weeks after it was accused of attacking north Down community worker Aaron McMahon with hammers for daring to stand up to it.
"I can understand what this man is going through, worrying about his family and his safety," Mr McMahon, from Bangor, said last night.
"These thugs are being allowed to oppress local communities and there is no real political or policing will to admit it or to do anything about it.
"There is supposed to be a move away from criminality, which everyone welcomes, and yet now a community is living in fear from a faction of a paramilitary group.
"There has been widespread condemnation, but who is going to address this? These are the questions we need answered."
A police source said the Belfast man was warned by officers last week that there was a threat against him. His home is understood to have been under police guard for a number of days and officers stepped up patrols in his local area until he left.
The source said that the threat against the man was "very real" and "very serious".
"I am aware that some members of the UDA were making up allegations against this man to try and justify the threat," the source added.
"These were completely unfounded allegations and a young man has been forced to leave his family just because he has annoyed the wrong people."
The PSNI refused to discuss the incident.
However, a spokesman added: "If we receive information that a person's life may be at risk, we will inform them accordingly. We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk. No inference should be drawn from this."
In October the UDA joined other loyalist terror groups to announce support for a new Loyalist Communities Council to "address criminality, encourage renewed confidence and widen the democratic process".
The UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando said they were "recommitting" to the 1998 Agreement. "We eschew all violence and criminality," they declared.
"If there are those who attempt to use current or past associations with our organisations to further criminality, they will be disowned and should be aware that they will not be permitted to use the cover of loyalism," their declaration added.
However, last month Mr McMahon, a voluntary community worker, was attacked by masked men wielding hammers at his family home and business. The UDA was blamed because of the married father-of-three's refusal to stop campaigning against paramilitaries.
Margaret Richie MP - who in 2007 withdrew Stormont funding to a loyalist initiative following UDA-linked violence when she was Social Development Minister - said it was time to "stop ignoring the obvious".
She said: "I am appalled to hear that a young man has been forced to leave the country by UDA thugs. Who do they think they are, ordering people away from their home and family? Despite all the pledges they are still bullying and intimidating communities."
She added: "I think the political will to properly address this is weak."