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Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair's killer gang brought nothing but misery to Northern Ireland

By Henry McDonald

Published 03/09/2015

Johnny Adair with former associate John White in the heart of loyalist Belfast in 2002
Johnny Adair with former associate John White in the heart of loyalist Belfast in 2002

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair was in for a surprise when he arrived as an exile on the west coast of Scotland.

In an interview with this writer he was startled some of those he came across in Ayrshire that were wearing Celtic shirts weren't exactly hardline IRA supporters. Some in fact were even British soldiers on leave while others were "quietly pro union".

"It's really different over here," Adair mused in his apartment in Troon, almost happy that he was now in a radically different place.

Meanwhile, just a month or so before Scotland went to the polls last year on the independence question, none other than Sam 'Skelly' McCrory had some advice for the Orange Order. In this he had the full support of Adair who also thought the Order should create some distance from the Yes-No Scottish debate.

They urged the Scottish Orangemen and their Ulster brethren to keep the politics of Northern Ireland out of the referendum campaign. Adair and McCrory, now living in exile in Ayrshire, suggested the Orange Order even cancel its march through Edinburgh and certainly not create the perception that the No campaign was fighting exactly the same fight as Ulster loyalists and unionists across the North Channel.

Adair was, of course, delighted that Scotland said No to independence even though months later it gave a decisive Yes to ongoing Scottish National Party hegemony in his adopted homeland. By the time the SNP had routed Labour in Scotland, Adair and his friend had other things to worry about, most notably of all the trial of three men accused of plotting to kill Adair and his lifelong friend in Scotland.

Since the conviction of Donegal-born republican Antoinn Duffy alongside Paul Sands and Martin Hughes for the murder plot against the UDA 'C' company pair earlier this week, the spotlight has fallen once more on Adair and McCrory's blood-splattered track record back in Northern Ireland during the latter years of the Troubles.

The media and the commentariat are perfectly entitled to remind the public about what exactly Adair, and his killer gang did in the conflict and the misery they spread throughout Northern Irish society, the innocents they cut down, the slaughter and division that they wreaked. Their victims ranged from educationally subnormal young Protestant men to Catholic pensioners who were decorated war heroes in the British Army during the Second World War. There was nothing glorious or heroic about their campaign of assassination and sabotage, which the vast majority of the unionist electorate never supported.

But as someone once famously said during the peace, talking more about republicans than loyalists: "Just because you had a past doesn't mean you can't have a future."

Since the conviction of Duffy, Sands and Hughes, the first of this trio who had boasted about "wanting to start a war" by shooting Adair and McCrory, those once feared and loathed UDA Shankill Road militants have been enthusiastic supporters of the peace and the powersharing project.

In fact as you might have heard in his Nolan Show interview, Adair has said he is glad Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister and seems to back up Sinn Fein's protestations that it knew nothing about the Kevin McGuigan murder plot, or that the IRA leadership sanctioned the killing.

In the numerous times this writer has interviewed the duo since they were expelled by rival UDA factions after Adair's disastrous bid to take over the entire organisations, they have been consistently in favour of unionists sharing power with Sinn Fein.

Perhaps that is a small but symbolically significant indication of the peace process' durability and bedded down roots within the collective Ulster psyche.

Because here was Adair who spent his teens, 20s and 30s trying to hunt down and kill their republican enemies but now see no problem in watching their former foes run areas of life like education, agriculture and the way we rest and play.

Henry McDonald is co-author with Jim Cusack of 'UDA: Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror'

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