An edited transcript of yesterday’s Stephen Nolan interview with Johnny Adair on Radio Ulster.
Stephen Nolan: Three men were jailed earlier this week for planning to murder former UDA leader Johnny Adair. Antoin Duffy, his cousin Martin Hughes and Paul Sands had denied plotting to kill Adair and his mate Sam McCrory in Scotland. One of the most notorious paramilitaries of the Troubles, Johnny Adair was blamed for provoking vicious feuds in loyalism. I began by asking him about the murder plot.
Johnny Adair: I’ve been faced with attempts on my life for most of my life and that’s something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life and for that reason I do take sincerely measures and I do believe that someone out there, it might be dissidents or even disgruntled loyalists will maybe one day at some stage have an attack on me.
SN: When did you first find out about this particular plot?
JA: I went over for my 50th birthday and the police pulled me into the side and warned me. I thought it was just an ordinary security check but when I got into the room, the police warned me that they’d appeared in court earlier on that day with plotting and conspiring to murder me.
SN: And did you know them?
JA: I didn’t. When the police put the names to me, none of the names rung a bell.
SN: Pretty fair to say that some people wouldn’t shed too many tears if you were taken out?
JA: Absolutely and I understand that. That’s just life and there’s nothing I can do about that. People have their opinions and I’m sure some people would be upset. I’m sure many people would be grateful. That’s no skin off my nose. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.
SN: Do you regret what you did?
JA: I don’t regret what I did. I believed in what I was doing and I just regret that the politicians haven’t done what they are doing now 30 odd years ago, probably all that violence wouldn’t have happened.
SN: And you’ve had time to look back on what you did — in other words, direct terrorism. Now that you’re older, you’re not able to look back and say I regretted inflicting that amount of pain on people?
JA: When I was doing what I was doing, I believed that there was no alternative other than us to incite violence with violence. We believed that the government and the police force wasn’t doing enough to prevent what the republicans were doing to our country and our people.
SN: How many murders did your company carry out, then?
JA: I don’t know. You’d have to ask them.
SN: Well you gave the order.
JA: I didn’t give the order.
SN: What do you mean you didn’t give the orders? You were done for directing terrorism.
JA: I was, aye, but I didn’t specifically say that I ordered a specific murder. I have been questioned about numerous murders but intelligence is not evidence. I was never charged with a murder. I was questioned on numerous occasions but the reason being probably because informers were pointing the finger at the wrong people.
SN: It’s been over a decade since I spoke to you and I wondered now that you are older and wiser whether you were going to come on the radio and be wiser and say look, of course you have sleepless nights, of course you regret some of what you did. There’s not a jot of it, is there?
JA: It’s like everybody, every human being, there’s lots of things that they regret. Do I regret doing what I was doing? I’d be a hypocrite if I said to you now, even in peacetime, I regret doing what I done. If I was to say that then I wouldn’t have believed in what I was doing. I believed that what I was doing at the time was right.
SN: What about the current situation in Northern Ireland? We’ve seen what the chief constable has said that members of the IRA were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
JA: There’s no doubt that the IRA was involved in that. I’ve the sense to realise that the IRA did not go away. They did call a ceasefire many years ago. I was happy with that. The people that voted for the Good Friday Agreement were happy with that. They were happy for the reason that once they called a ceasefire, they were not going to kill our people and they were not going to bomb our country but we didn’t believe that the IRA was just going to disappear magically. There were hundreds, if not thousands of Provisional IRA members who were dedicated soldiers, who fought for years and years and some of them died. We were leaving it over to our political people but that didn’t mean that they were going to go away. Where were they going to go? These people have hundreds of clubs throughout Northern Ireland.
SN: We’re not suggesting that they literally were going to go away, as in the human beings disappear but people did think that the IRA had disbanded and the structures around them had disappeared, that the entity that was the IRA had disappeared. It seems to me that the chief constable is saying that hasn’t happened.
JA: But Stephen when you are met with hundreds of thousands of ex-paramilitaries, you talk about the Northern Bank, they did that. They sent guns from America, they did that. There’s other things they’ve done Stephen but they were never going away and they won’t go away. They’ll still be there and they’ll still, I have no doubt, in the future probably do what happened the other week. Someone crosses them or their people, they will deem it really serious, they will take action and that will be the kind of action. The IRA is a disciplined army and if you cross that army, they will take action and they will camouflage it to the best that they can.
SN: But who would be giving an order to shoot someone? That needs to be a senior member of an existing structured IRA army, which the people of this country have been told has disbanded. Sinn Fein say they don’t exist.
JA: The IRA leadership do not need to meet and call an army council meeting to have an operation carried out. I don’t believe they will have went to Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams or Alex Maskey, who took most of the flack and had to answer questions. I do not believe that the ones responsible for that went to Connolly House, sat down with them, had a cup of tea and said ‘Right now Gerry. We’re going to whack someone here tomorrow.’Therefore, they put their political party in a sticky situation. When you see Alex Maskey and other members of Sinn Fein coming on and saying it wasn’t the IRA, I believe they are genuine.
SN: What type of structures do you think still exist around loyalist paramilitaries. How active are they?
JA: I have a good insight into them as I’m still very good friends with many of them and indeed many of their leaders. They are still intact. They are still taking dues from their rank and file members. They still force them to go to dances and dos. They still sell drugs. They are trying to procure weapons.
SN: Who is this you are talking about? UDA? UVF? Who?
JA: I’m speaking for UDA but in general it would be all loyalist paramilitaries. The UVF killed a man not too long ago for standing up for his family — Bobby Moffat. The UDA are crucifying people who are members of their own community.
SN: Not too dissimilar from some of the stuff you directed in the past.
JA: I never directed anything like that. I believe that when I was charged with directing, I was directing military operations and that’s what we were doing and I’ve no regrets whatsoever about it.
SN: It just comes back to that cold killer in you Johnny, doesn’t it?
JA: Well it doesn’t. There’s peace now. I support peace. I’m on a different mindset Stephen. Boys like us who were on the ground doing what we believed was right and there’s no need for that now.
SN: No need for it ever.
JA: No, absolutely Stephen. We had it for over 30 years and we suffered. Many many people suffered. Everybody suffered Stephen on both sides.
SN: Are they extorting money out of their own communities much?
JA: They haven’t stopped it. The IRA is a disciplined organisation. They were not involved in drugs. In fact, they killed the drug dealers. Loyalist paramilitaries sell drugs. The Provisional IRA despise drugs. They kill drug dealers. Loyalist paramilitaries sell them.
SN: Loyalist paramilitaries when you were in charge were selling them too, weren’t they?
JA: Of course they were.
SN: And you were making money out of it?
JA: I didn’t make any money out of it.
SN: Sorry, so you were in charge of loyalist paramilitaries?
SN: And they were selling drugs and you weren’t getting any money out of it? How does that work?
JA: I don’t know. You may ask the financiers. I was a military man.
SN: What’s the level of protection money racket in loyalist circles at the minute?
JA: Building sites in the immediate area, every single one of them pay and I know places like Chinese takeaways, they pay a hefty sum every week. I know that for a fact.
SN: What type of money would a Chinese takeaway be paying each week?
JA: Between £300 and £500 a week.
SN: Per week?
JA: Per week.
SN: And that £300-£500 a week, where does that money go?
JA: Into the coffers. That’s me telling the truth. There’s no war machine. That’s why they live in these big luxury houses and drive their luxury cars and don’t have a worry. Karma is a wonderful thing and Karma will come back and bite them all.
SN: Will you ever come back to Northern Ireland?
JA: I’m happy where I am now. They were backstabbing and mostly informants and I can’t stand informers. How can I go back to live amongst people who I would call comrades but the majority of them at a senior leadership level mostly are working for the police or the powers that be or agencies of that.
SN: So Johnny, get over it. You were all a pack of thugs and you were driven out.
JA: They still are a pack of thugs.
SN: You included. You want morality among thugs, do you?
JA: Well Stephen, what will be will be. I am where I am now and I am quite happy where I am now, Stephen.
SN: Driven out of your own country, driven out of your own community?
JA: I wasn’t driven out Stephen. I was in prison. Let’s get it right. Nobody forced me out. And nobody would have forced me out had I been there.
SN: Well you can’t go back. You are living in exile.
JA: Stephen, you just heard what I said. I do go back.
SN: You couldn’t walk up the Shankill road now.
JA: I wouldn’t want to Stephen. Why would I want to go back amongst the people who I call comrades when all they are is a pack of informants who are still passing on information to the security forces?
SN: Have you changed any?
JA: What way changed? I’m still the same person. Depends what you mean. I’m not that person that I was when I was part of that.
SN: And what does that mean?
JA: I don’t need to be the person that I was when I was involved with the paramilitaries.
SN: It was about power then, though.
JA: You’ve got your opinion.
SN: You try to present this picture, right? You try to present this scenario that you were this soldier and you were fighting for a just cause, actually you were doing was you were off on a power trip and you were walking around your territory intimidating people and probably directing that people lost their lives.
JA: That’s your opinion. My opinion was, turn on the news every day of the week and there was either a policeman, a UDR man, an RUC, a protestant town or village blown up by the Provisional IRA. We said we know who some of them are. Let’s take it to there and see if they like it. Now that’s my opinion of what I was doing and I believed in that.
SN: There were a lot of loyalists killed by loyalists as well.
JA: There was indeed and it was wrong but it happened. The finger of that cannot be pointed at one person. These people that were shooting against each other were made up of a command structure with staff. That was not made up of one individual. Sadly, most of these cowards pointed the finger at an individual. But that’s the actions of a coward. They should stand up and be counted. I could stand up and be counted.
SN: What do you mean?
JA: Most of these people don’t have any integrity. They’ll do something, they’ll order something and then when it happens. They will say ‘That wasn’t us that was him’ and it’s easy to blame somebody who is always in the public domain. But I don’t care, I have thick shoulders.
SN: How do you feel when you see Martin in government?
JA: Well I’m glad whereas 20 years ago, if I saw him on TV it would have turned my stomach. I’m glad that someone like him, who was a one-time leader of the IRA, has changed and realised that we were getting nowhere through violence and said ‘Let’s try politics’. I’m pleased for him and I’m pleased for them all, up there trying to sort the country out without using a gun or a bomb.
SN: How do you feel about the unionist leaders?
JA: I don’t think that they should have walked out the way they did. It can only get worse now on the actions of the Ulster Unionist Party.
SN: And do you think loyalist communities have confidence in the Unionist leaders?
JA: It’s not about having confidence. I think the loyalist communities are happy that there’s no bombs or violence going on on a daily basis. People can live with what’s going on like parades and all and hoping for one day we will get these sorted. People are just happy to be getting on with their lives. Hopefully the politicians will sort it out but at the end of the day it’s not a live or die situation and they don’t want to go back to where they were 20 years ago.
SN: What do you think the potential is to go back to that level of violence?
JA: I don’t think it will. I think the only potential to that would be if these dissident Republicans were to hit a loyalist. They’ve killed police, they’ve killed soldiers, they’ve killed their own for being informers. They’ve never once attacked a loyalist. In fact, I am the only one that they have conspired to kill. If that was to happen, and I hope it doesn’t happen, that would be the spark that lit the fire.
SN: And do you think loyalists have the capacity to go back to fighting again?
JA: No, and I don’t even think the IRA do either. When people get the taste of peace and they’re not getting a knock on the door at 6 o’clock in the morning or they’re not getting their door sledgehammered in and interrogated, the paramilitaries in themselves are happy now that’s not happening and they are living a kind of normal life.
SN: What did Special Branch do to you?
JA: I was a thorn in their side. Special Branch tried to recruit me. They offered me suitcases of money.
SN: What did they say to you?
JA: They tried to get me to work for them.
SN: What did they offer you?
JA: Thousands and thousands of pounds. They offered me immunity from prosecution and a free ticket from jail. They tried everything. They tried a woman. Don’t get me wrong, them boys were good and them girls. The Special Branch in my opinion were the unsung heroes of what went on over there. I hated them because they hated me.
SN: And now you’re calling them the unsung heroes?
JA: I’m being real. They were treacherous but they had to be because they were up against it. They were the ones that were doing all the hard work on the ground, trying to get people like me.
SN: And you never cracked?
JA: Not once, no. Nor would I. The worst thing you could do is betray your friends and your comrades for 30 pieces of silver and for a free ticket out of jail.