Ousted UDA man sends message to leadership
A crowd of around 1,000 has heard one of two men who the UDA's Inner Council said it had expelled from the organisation send a defiant message to his former comrades.
Newtownabbey councillor Tommy Kirkham told a crowd at Queen's Park in Glengormley on Friday night that he would not be coerced by the British and Irish Governments to become Irish overnight.
"South East Antrim stands alone, but by standing alone we can decide our own destiny and our own way forward," he said.
At the loyalist event to mark the 13th anniversary of the INLA killing of UDA man Gerry Evans, Kirkham said he was being reviled by his former comrades because he couldn't be bought.
"What is it that I have that they all fear? Is it the fact that I cannot be bought, is it the fact that I still have a love for my country and the organisation I represent. Or are we just a piece of everyone else's conscience."
Kirkham said that for nine months he had been vilified and told that he and others in the area had no support.
He said attempts had been made using the media to stain the characters of many loyalists in South East Antrim by labelling them as gangsters, extortionists and drug dealers who controlled property portfolios and ran brothels.
"There is criminality within all communities, but in South East Antrim there is no place for loyalist criminals, only loyalists. The criminals must be dealt with by the PSNI.
"We said in the past to Sir Hugh Orde, if you pursue loyalists for being loyalists then we will protest at the very highest level, but if you pursue loyalists for criminality then you have our full support," he said.
Kirkham said that Protestant areas across Northern Ireland had been neglected by the Government.
But senior UPRG representative, Frankie Gallagher, hit out at his former colleague's claims.
Added Mr Gallagher: "If these people think they can sit in splendid isolation and ignore or fail to show leadership in dealing with criminality by merely passing the responsibility on to the police, they are out of touch with reality.
"An example of this is when the Shoukris had nowhere to go. It was Tommy Kirkham who gave them sanctuary and now the same gang around these people are robbing Larne. Our reports on Tommy Kirkham's oration, which was supposed to be a memorial service for a fallen comrade, was that it was politicised and disgraceful.
"A call has gone out to the good members of south east Antrim from the UDA. Kirkham or anyone else will not threaten these men.
"The view of the organisation of which this man is no longer a member is that we cannot allow paramilitary structures to be left for the use of gangsters and criminals."
Kirkham reveals death threat
KIRKHAM received a death threat just 24 hours after Sunday Life revealed he led a delegation linked to a breakaway UDA group to meet the IMC paramilitary watchdog group.
He revealed how police warned him of the threat, which he believes is linked to the mainstream UDA.
The South East Antrim politician said: "The police wouldn't say how they knew or where the threat came from, but just warned me to be careful because they had information that a paramilitary organisation wanted to harm me. "
Kirkham added he suspects the intelligence information came from within the UDA's Inner Council faction.
Kirkham was one of two men the Inner Council said it had "expelled" from the UDA last month, but the councillor says he was not a member of an illegal organisation.
Last week he led a delegation of representatives from eight areas in South East Antrim who told the IMC's full panel that they wanted help to bring about an end to all paramilitary activities in their area.
The group, which supports the Beyond Conflict initiative to dismantle paramilitary structures, said it understood the UDA in South East Antrim was prepared to consider meeting General John de Chastelain to discuss the possible decommissioning of weapons.
It is believed the group's approach to the IMC angered the UDA's Inner Council, which is led by South Belfast Brigadier Jackie McDonald, and which wants to be the sole representative of the entire UDA structure. It successfully removed the previous leadership of the UDA's North Belfast Brigade, once controlled by Andre Shoukri, and planned to remove the leadership of the organisation in South East Antrim and install a new figurehead.
But so far this has been resisted in the area and the UDA remains under the control of the leaders who approved the meeting with the IMC.
The move means that when the next IMC Report is written, there will be a separate chapter created to refer to the UDA in South East Antrim as a separate entity, a development likely to further enrage the Inner Council faction.
The IMC's latest report published on Wednesday confirmed reports that UDA members had continued to be involved in acts of violence "at an increased rate" from the beginning of the year.
"The UDA was responsible for a number of shooting incidents and for the bulk of the loyalist assaults to which we refer," the report said.
"We believe these incidents were largely as a result of friction within the organisation or as a result of perceived anti-social behaviour".
While the report said there had been some improvement in UDA activity, it concluded that "the pace of movement had been too slow".