South East Antrim UDA crime boss Gary Fisher is facing an internal revolt with even his closest lieutenants saying his time is up.
But moves against him have been put on hold because no one within the drug gang wants to take over as ‘brigadier’.
Three senior SEA UDA ‘commanders’ — two of whom are killers — have both said they have no interest in leading the organisation. The third individual, a convicted extortionist who is in court on cocaine dealing charges, has also rejected the role.
This is despite the trio making it known that Fisher should be replaced because the intense media scrutiny he brings is causing major disruption to their crime rackets.
The PSNI’s Paramilitary Crime Task Force raided two houses in Ballyclare last Wednesday during a major investigation into SEA UDA drug dealing.
This is the latest police action against the gang which rakes in an estimated £2.5m per year from the sale of cocaine and cannabis, using an employee of a courier firm to ship its drugs from England.
Explaining the internal moves against Fisher, a UDA source said: “Two leaders of the UFF — the military wing of the UDA — have made it known that Gary Fisher should be moved aside as brigadier.
“The problem they have is that no one wants the job. Whoever gets it knows it will end up with them being splashed all over the newspapers and TV.”
The UFF chiefs who want Fisher replaced, but who have no interest in succeeding him, were responsible for the 2002 murder of Catholic postman Danny McColgan and the UDA feud killing of rival loyalist Alan McCullough the following year.
Both are based in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey along with the third senior figure who is facing drug dealing charges. According to our sources these men are “the engine to the SEA UDA”.
All three are deeply unhappy at revelations by this newspaper that Fisher agreed to allow heroin dealing hitman Jamie Smith (42) onto the loyalist wing of Maghaberry Prison under his protection. UDA sources say the Liverpool-born gunman, who was convicted of murdering rival dealer Dougie Morrison in Bangor, paid £30,000 for the transfer. This has caused uproar in SEA UDA ranks as it is known that before he was jailed Smith was north Belfast drug dealer Gary McKeown’s main supplier.
McKeown (34) was a passenger in a car driven by his mother Alison McKeown which ran over and killed teenage SEA UDA member Thomas McDonald in 2001. She was jailed for two years for the 16-year-old’s manslaughter.
Our UDA source added: “Loyalists are now referring to Fisher as a traitor, complaining about how he is putting money from a heroin dealer before the memory of SEA UDA members who were killed in the conflict.
“That is why the UFF leaders in Rathcoole are saying he has to go, but for the moment they are content to have him around because they can’t find a willing replacement and he takes all the flak for the organisation.”
The pressure is clearly getting to Fisher — a fitness fanatic who often spends his weekends doing 50-mile cycle rides — because he is refusing to talk to his men over the phone.
“You’ll see him in Rathcoole on occasion walking with his commanders, it seems that all his business is being done outside to avoid being recorded,” said our UDA insider.
“The UFF leader who wants Fisher replaced is even more paranoid. He’s a drug addict, and is worried about the cops raiding his house. It’s because of this he keeps his cocaine stash in the nearby home of a young man who was recently arrested for hitting his partner.
“This UFF fella also has his aunt, who is nearly 60, selling drugs for him from her house. She’s the oldest drug dealer in the estate.”
Keen to capitalise on the internal SEA UDA turmoil the rival UVF — which is under new leadership in East Antrim — has been moving in on its territory.
Billboards of masked UVF gunmen were recently erected by the gang next to the Fern Lodge pub off the Doagh Road at the entrance to the Rathcoole estate.
The area has been traditionally run by the SEA UDA, which has been left furious by what it sees as an “incursion”.
Its ‘commander’ in Rathcoole responded by ordering a makeover for a nearby UDA mural and placing the terror group’s flags on lamp-posts all around the UVF billboards.
There is also an internal clamour to have him ‘stood down’ following a series of gaffes that included forcing a disabled man to take part in recent loyalist anti-protocol rioting and threatening Housing Executive contractors. He also ensured a young relative escaped punishment for a broken bottle attack on a UDA member at last year’s Rathcoole bonfire.
Ending the SEA UDA’s criminality remains a priority for the PSNI, with senior officers accusing it of hiding its criminality “under the banner of a paramilitary organisation”.
Speaking after last Wednesday’s drug raids in Ballyclare, the Paramilitary Crime Task Force’s Inspector O’Neill said: “South East Antrim UDA continues to be involved in all forms of organised criminality and looks to control local communities by stopping people giving information to police, leaving it free to continue to exploit ordinary members of the public.”