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UDA: We’ve cleaned up our act and are no longer threat

By Deborah McAleese

Less than three years ago the UDA was neck deep in criminality. The organisation was widely involved in extortion, drug dealing, money laundering and intimidation.

Now its leaders are sitting side by side with neighbourhood police officers, government bodies and church members to discuss how best to regenerate the very areas where its members once terrorised communities.

In November 2007, the UDA leadership announced an end to violence and ordered all members not to be involved in crime or criminality.

Three years on, however, allegations of continued involvement in criminality still resound. This week the organisation was accused of intimidating families from their homes in Tiger’s Bay in north Belfast — something the UDA dismisses as “absolute nonsense”.

Following the allegations, UDA ‘brigadier’ John Bunting invited the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) to north Belfast yesterday to meet with UDA leaders in a bid to ensure the UDA organisation is given a “clean bill of health”.

The invitation to the IMC came from the North Belfast Community Development and Transition Group — previously known as North Belfast Prisoners Aid, a community group to promote the interests of UDA affiliated prisoners.

The event was also attended by neighbourhood police officers and members of Belfast City Council’s community safety partnership.

“This is us being open and transparent. It is about bringing the IMC into the community to let them see and hear for themselves. We are involved in conflict resolution. We do not extort money and we do not sell drugs,” Mr Bunting said.

“This is about bringing the IMC into north Belfast to give the organisation a clean bill of health — to let them see we can sit in an open and transparent manner,” he added.

The UDA say that former members who were evicted from the organisation for involvement in criminality have been trying to muddy its new image and discredit the good community work it says its members are deeply involved in. Jackie McDonald, widely regarded as the UDA’s most senior figure, said: “The UDA has not threatened anyone and has no intention of threatening anyone. The IMC are very concerned and we want to talk about it with them. A lot of people chose to believe the stories. This could impact on the whole peace process. If people like (Andre) Shoukri discredit the good work that is being done then they go back to the old days.

“Unfounded allegations are being directed towards the North Belfast Community Development and Transition Group, which questions the integrity of NBCD&TG. We have come a million miles from where we were but people are undermining the good work that is going on here.”

Evangelical Presbyterian minister Robert Beckett, who also attended yesterday’s meeting, said that he did not believe the UDA was behind the intimidation of any Tiger’s Bay residents and that the UDA has indeed “cleaned up its act”.

“The recent incidents in Tiger’s Bay are down to a family feud. The UDA have expelled drug dealers in the area and have handed over names of drug dealers to the police. They have expelled those involved in criminality.

“But what has happened is that those who were put out are trying everything they can to undermine their creditability.”

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