Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Just who is in control of UDA?

In the wake of fresh UDA violence, Telegraph Crime Correspondent Deborah McAleese asks just who is in control of this organisation?

After claims the UDA is committed to peaceful means, attacks on police have shown otherwise

It must be embarrassing for the leadership of the UDA. Just two weeks ago the group's so-called Inner Council gathered together to publicly pledge that "criminals have no place in the UDA".

The group's political wing - the Ulster Political Research Group - also stated that those involved in selling drugs, extortion or other crime " did so without the UDA's backing".

These public claims were no doubt made in a bid to reassure the Government that the organisation is committed to peaceful means and entitled to the £1.2m pledged funding for UDA-linked community projects.

However, within 24 hours, a police officer was shot during a stand-off between feuding UDA members and police in Carrickfergus. A civilian was stabbed during the violent clashes which involved a 150-strong mob.

Less than two weeks later officers came under fire again from another UDA mob that was responsible for organising one of the worst nights of rioting in Ulster in recent years.

Seven shots were fired at police who were also attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks and stones after 200 thugs took to the streets of the loyalist Kilcooley estate in Bangor in protest against police raids.

During the raids £6,000 in cash, as well as a quantity of drugs and counterfeit goods, were allegedly seized from a number of homes.

So, if the leadership is stating that the UDA is committed to peaceful means, but yet its members have been involved in internal feuding, violence and organised criminality, the question is - who exactly is in control?

Chief Constable Hugh Orde said he believes the UDA leadership is either unable to control its members or does not want to control them.

"They (the leadership) should wise up and get their act together," Sir Hugh said.

This week's violence has led to renewed calls for Government funding for UDA-linked community projects to be halted.

Earlier this year the Government announced that £1.2m of public money would be spent on implementing a business plan from the UPRG.

The UPRG said, at the time, it hoped the project would result in the setting up of community work teams across Northern Ireland who could lead loyalists away from crime and paramilitarism and into the social and economic regeneration of their neighbourhoods.

However, although the UDA leadership is claiming to have renounced violence and criminality, the actions of its members, who opened fire on police twice in the past two weeks, tells a very different story.

Sir Hugh, who does not usually get involved in politics, took the unusual step yesterday of voicing his reservations about pledged funding to the UDA.

"It is not good enough for the UDA to say it is going to deliver a peaceful solution," he said.

" This was organised criminality by the UDA. It is the second time in two weeks my officers have come under fire.

"If you are looking for funding you need to get something in return. If you want my personal opinion, I would not give them 50p. They need to make clear they condemn criminal activity."

The UDA is increasingly being left exposed as criminals with members continually looking backwards instead of forwards.

Despite the words of leaders it is uncertain if the will to end criminality actually exists.

Many members have made lucrative livings out of extortion and drugs and may be resistant to surrender their "livelihoods ".

However, with an increasingly stable political situation in Northern Ireland, the elements of the UDA are becoming more outdated. But this does not mean that they do not retain the capacity for causing destruction and violence.

UDA leaders must reply to Sir Hugh Orde's statement - can they control their members or do they just not want to?

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