UDA's mask has started to slip
Reports of the demise of the UDA may be premature, but the present power struggle within the organisation could spell the end of it in its traditional guise as a loyalist paramilitary body. Veteran leaders are being taunted by factions within the organisation and there are concerns that this could lead to street confrontations.
Of course, feuds within the UDA are nothing new.
Throughout its history, its command structure has been relatively loose, allowing ruthless individuals to create their own fiefdoms. While self-styled brigadiers were nominally in control, their influence was far from absolute. Like the UVF, the organisation has found the transition from sectarian violence to peace difficult to make, with both groups heavily involved in criminality, mainly protection rackets and drug dealing.
It is tempting to hope that the UDA is about to disappear, but that will not happen in the same way that the IRA – dissident republicans apart – managed to give up the gun. Most worrying is the thought of what will happen now. Even if the veteran leaders did not have total authority they managed to rein in some of the worst excesses of the UDA's criminal elements.
Now, it seems, whatever control was present is fading, and that those hell-bent on indulging their criminal activities will take centre stage.
The UDA is about to drop its veneer – however slim that was – of an organisation to protect loyalist areas and become just a mafia-type criminal gang or collection of gangs.
That will be a morale-sapping blow to ordinary people living in the areas where the UDA is strong. It is imperative that the PSNI clamps down on criminality in those areas to offer residents hope. Recently the police have been accused of going easy on UVF elements, particularly in east Belfast, and this has caused considerable anger in that community.
They must not make the same mistake again and local people should help get the gangsters off their back by providing as much information as possible to the police.