THE founder of the Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD) social media parody accounts has revealed comedian Paddy Raff had a central role in producing content for the group.
John-Paul Whearty, who says he left LAD four years ago, claims the popular Belfast comic - best known for his posh Malone Road character Nigel - was one of the central LADmins (administrators of the group) and was in charge of the social media sites at the time of Mr Whearty's departure.
LAD - which has come under increasing criticism - shut down suddenly last week following calls from Mr Whearty for it to close.
Speaking to Sunday Life Mr Whearty, who is married to media pundit and café owner Barbara Whearty, described Paddy as a driving force behind LAD during what he feels was its comedic heyday.
Asked if Paddy was a member of LAD, sometimes referred to as LADfleg, he said: "Yes that's correct, Paddy Rafferty was the person who I left in charge of LAD when I left.
"Paddy was the funniest of the LADmin, Paddy is a naturally gifted comedian, he's a funny person so of course I left it in his hands.
"I don't know at what point he left, I don't know what Paddy's involvement is now but I can confirm he was involved while I was a member and he was there when I left. It was him that I entrusted to run the site.
"The guy is a naturally talented person, that's why I encouraged him to pursue that because he's funny. The problem is that he kinda used that platform to build his following and now he's a bit ashamed of it.
"The result is I have taken the flak for four years and while I deserve a lot of that, four years is a long time. I have been asked by a number of people if Paddy Rafferty was a member of LAD and the truthful answer to that is yes he was.
"There are a lot of people who were involved who are trying to distance themselves from it, it has its issues, the reason I was getting it taken down is because it had turned into a Shinnerbot account. It was nasty.
"There's some stuff that has been said in the last four years that's nasty and I don't want to stand over that or be associated with that.
"I will take responsibility for the actions that I committed while I was there in the first four years but since then I have nothing to do with it and have no interest in it, I think it's a load of s***e.
"I intended it to be a witty, satirical page with an edge and that's why people like Paddy got involved because they had a talent and they brought something to it.
"Everybody was in on the joke, I personally used the Twitter account to lobby Martin McGuinness on the state of the film industry in Northern Ireland and he responded and we had a conversation.
There was a point when it was adding to the conversation but in the last while it's been dreadful.
"I know politicians who bought T-shirts, everybody was in on the game, everybody knew, there was no big surprise.
"There was a point when it was adding to the conversation but in the last while it's been dreadful.
"Yes it was funny in the past but now it's just mean. I'm very proud of what I achieved but I'm not proud of the stuff that was s***."
When we put the revelations yesterday to Paddy Raff - who recently produced a pilot for his own comedy sketch show for the BBC - and his agent, they said: "We have no comment at this time."
However, following publication Mr Raff released a statement.
It read: "Before I started my career in stand-up comedy in early 2018, I was for a time one of the contributors to the LAD Facebook page. My contributions were comedy content including jokes, memes and parody songs (e.g. "Broadway Girl", "The Fresh Prince Of Belfast", "We didn't Start The Riot", "New Lodge, New Lodge"), comedy/satire often liked and shared by all sides of the community.
"I was in no way involved in the creation/setting up of LAD, nor did I take charge when the creator left in 2016.
"There were a number of contributors to LAD at any given time and I had no editorial oversight of its output.
"I concluded my involvement in LAD in 2017 and have made no contributions since."
Mr Whearty refuted accusations LAD had mocked working class loyalists and said he set it up to help the PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community.
He also candidly admitted to suffering from a drug problem during his time in charge of the satirical sites.
He continued: "I've been accused of making fun of people from a less educated background and if people feel that is the case, I apologise for that but what about the politicians that have allowed those systems to be in place?
"Why do we have failing schools in Protestant areas? This is the thing that everybody f***ing missed, I set up LAD because I cared.
There's nobody standing up for those people, they're failed by their politicians
"I was working with these people, there was guys from Pitt Park (in east Belfast) doing security on a film I worked on, I seen what they were going through, I understood from growing up in council housing estates in Dublin and Dundalk that life could lead you down a path unless someone stood up for you.
"There's nobody standing up for those people, they're failed by their politicians, they're ridiculed by the people who jumped on to what I was doing and I want to say enough is enough.
"It's time to heal, to stop fighting each other and deal with the issues.
"When I was running LAD I was strung out of my head on drugs, I was a proper functioning drug addict for the whole time I was running LAD.
"There are huge parts of that I don't even remember, I was holding down a full-time job running that and addicted to drugs.
"I'm not ashamed of that and I'm sober now, I'm very open about it, I had an addiction to synthetic cannabis (known by the street name Spice), it was a pathetic time in my life and it's taken me four years to rebuild myself and come through that.
"It was mad but that doesn't abdicate me of my responsibility, if people think I have wronged them there are forums that they can bring those complaints to where they will be dealt with.
"I remember enough to say there's bits of it that were s**t and I apologise, for what it's worth I'm sorry.
"That didn't come from a good place, that was an egotistical attempt to do something of worth and had it have died off four years ago perhaps (it might have been) but the fact it's kinda limped on and nobody knows who's running it and this agenda, of course it's going to anger people.
"There's a lot of stuff I've seen on social media (criticism of LAD) that I completely agree with. It's a disaster.
"I had approached my solicitor to get it taken down, we put that tweet out and whoever read that tweet took it down. It's not something that should exist anymore.
"My advice to whoever was running it would be just stop. It's served its time, just leave it."
In a wide-ranging interview Mr Whearty also admitted to admiring his long term adversary, loyalist blogger and flag protester Jamie Bryson.
He added: "Perhaps for Jamie it is a victory in a way. I know Jamie a long time, I've known him since December 2012 when I was creeping on his Facebook page to find a picture of him to post online because he was the person who had been identified as this leader of loyalism.
"We've had our back and forth, in our family we have an expression, 'What would Jamie do?'
"Jamie Bryson has been a master of what he does, I don't agree with 90 per cent of what he says but I have a huge respect for his tenacity and the way he does it because I understand the level of commitment that takes.
"Actually I would love to sit down and have a chat with him because I think what he has exposed in terms of scandals and all that kind of stuff, I think that's amazing.
"I'm gonna get laughed at here but I have a lot of respect for the guy in his tenacity, not what he represents, but his tenacity and the vigour with which he does it.
"There's a guy who is very well informed on a lot of subjects and I respect that. He makes a joke about the latte-drinking liberal elite, he's welcome any time to come and have a coffee, I'm fascinated by him.
"I think he has created a platform for himself and he holds power and I understand what that is because that's what LAD had done.
"So I respect what Jamie has done, he's a force to be reckoned with, people ridicule him but he's very well-read and that should be commended.
"I just wish that sometimes he wound it in a bit but then he'd wish the same about me so I guess we're never going to agree on that.
"If we didn't have him we'd have had nothing and vice versa, it created a forum for us to develop into the people we have become.
"We both had a valid and equal contribution to the last eight years of political life here in Northern Ireland."
THE DUP's Ian Paisley has revealed he prays for Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill every day, saying his faith is "more important to me than all of the political stuff".