Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Now comrades will rain on McDonald's parade

The sidelining of Jackie McDonald could throw the UDA into turmoil. But the truth is it has been fatally split for years, says Alan Murray

When the two most powerful figures on your management committee publicly tell you that you are out of step, your P45 can't be far away.

Hence, Jackie McDonald and those around him, realistically, must now be counting the days before he departs the UDA stage.

Andy Tyrie accepted a similar inevitability of departure from his role as the 'chairman' of the loyalist terror group in 1988, shortly after the IRA murdered John McMichael.

McDonald, to be fair, has never claimed to be the UDA's 21st century 'chairman', but he has basked in the limelight of a high-profile role the media has advanced for him.

The reality behind the scenes in the UDA was that McDonald never wielded real power. His power-base, such as it was, was meagre in comparison with other 'brigade' figures.

The west Belfast UDA brigade has always wielded the main power around Belfast and the statement from it yesterday, alongside similar epithets from the north Antrim/Londonderry brigade, would seem to present McDonald with insurmountable opposition.

He will enjoy loyalty from the decimated north Belfast brigade and from the east Belfast and south Belfast brigades. But for how long?

The withering criticism of McDonald contained in Tuesday's two Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) statements are bodyblows that the convicted racketeer is unlikely to recover from.

As a senior figure in one of the brigades put it yesterday, "In the past, when he was pulled about some of the things he said, Jackie told brigadiers that he had been misquoted. He can't use that defence about what he said on the radio the other day about the Twelfth - we all heard it."

For the last four years, the south Belfast-based UDA brigadier has been skating on thin ice with some of the more hardline elements in the UDA, who, within their own brigade areas, have expressed severe criticism of McDonald's frequent trips to Dublin and his readiness to openly embrace Sinn Fein figures.

His close relationship with Martin McAleese, husband of the former Irish president, Mary McAleese, has caused unease within the north Antrim/Londonderry and west Belfast brigades, in particular. In the former, he is openly vilified among the membership and was disowned as a spokesman for them last year.

Asked if McDonald would be deposed as the primary spokesman for the UDA, one senior figure in north Antrim said: "He hasn't been speaking for us for a long time.''

The senior UDA figure added: "Jackie has been ploughing a furrow that has nothing to do with us and what he said about the Twelfth merely confirmed that he is out on a limb as far as the mainstream membership is concerned."

Without the support of that brigade and the equally-powerful west Belfast brigade, McDonald's mandate to speak for the entire organisation is now shredded - probably beyond repair.

The south-east Antrim brigade departed the organisation more than three years ago, while the north Belfast brigade has been severely depleted by the departure of hardline figures who supported the since-deposed Andre Shoukri.

From within his own south Belfast fiefdom there have been rumblings of discontent expressed to elements in other brigades, but to date they have not moved against McDonald, who until last weekend, had the support of the east Belfast brigadier.

Many will welcome a further division within the UDA in the expectation that it will further weaken a major terrorist organisation that murdered many innocent people during the Troubles and which could still pose a major threat to peace. The reality, though, is more complex, simply because the UDA structure is already fractured with the departure of south-east Antrim and the decimation of north Belfast.

If McDonald were to remain, there could be more UDA members outside the organisation's structure than within it.

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