North of Ireland: Loyalist violence

FRFI 157 October  / November 2000
The end of August saw an escalation of loyalist violence directed firstly against the nationalist community before turning into a murderous feud between the Ulster Defence Association (UDA)/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The violence centred on the ambitions of Johnny Adair and the Lower Shankill Road gang of the UFF following his release under the terms of the `peace agreement'.
Adair's aim is to lead the anti-peace agreement movement, hence his alliance with the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and his leading role in organising loyalist demonstrations at Drumcree. However the Drumcree protests failed in their bid to mobilise loyalists across the north of Ireland in any sustained campaign against the `peace agreement'.

In their bid to be seen as the true defenders of unionism and to re-assert their control over the Shankill Road, Adair and his gang turned their sights onto the nationalist community of Belfast. At the beginning of August the West Belfast Brigade of the UDA/UFF held a press conference where it declared that 30 loyalist homes had been attacked in the area, and then threatened to kill anyone attacking Protestant homes. Their claim was a lie, as even the Housing Executive announced that they hadn't recorded any attacks on loyalist homes. But they had recorded 21 attacks on Catholic homes in the period leading up to Drumcree. The UDA/UFF statement was in fact just a cover for their sectarian campaign:

  • On Sunday 13 August at 7.30 in the morning a mini-bus full of masked and armed loyalists spewed out its contents into a nationalist enclave off the Limestone Road in the north of Belfast. Using sledgehammers they attempted to batter down the front doors of Catholic homes, attacking residents, paint-bombing the outside of houses and smashing up parked cars. The RUC arrived when it was all over, predictably ignoring the masked loyalists as they marched away.
  • The following morning, petrol was poured through the letter box of a Catholic home in Bawnmore, north Belfast and set alight, whilst a day later, a house in the nationalist Cliftonville district of Belfast was sprayed with bullets, smashing the front windows but luckily missing the occupants.
  • On Thursday 17 August, shortly before midnight, three homes in the nationalist district of the Lower Falls, Belfast, were attacked by a loyalist mob. Paint-bombs were thrown and windows smashed.
  • Three days later, loyalist gangs stoned a rally in the Clonard area of Belfast, marking the opening of a memorial garden to commemorate those who had lost their lives in the struggle against British occupation.
  • The attempt by Adair and his UDA/UFF gang to gain control of the Shankill has led to bitter conflict with the UVF and their political wing the Popular Unionist Party (PUP), who support the `peace agreement'. The struggle also involves control of protection rackets and the drug trade.
Violence erupted on 20 August when Adair along with hundreds of masked and uniformed members and supporters of the UDA/UFF marched along the Shankill Road in a celebration of loyalist `culture'. The rally ended with a gun attack on the Rex Bar, a pub used by supporters of the UVF, injuring at least four people. Later, a UDA/UFF mob attacked the homes of several UVF/PUP members, forcing them to flee. The UVF retaliated by killing two men associated with the UDA/UFF as they sat in their car. In response, the PUP office on the Shankill Road was attacked and burnt out. Armed mobs of the UDA/UFF roamed the streets looking for revenge, Adair prominent amongst them. The RUC, unable and unwilling to confront the rioters, called for British army backup. Soldiers were deployed onto the streets within hours. The next day Adair was re-arrested.
The feud however continues. A man associated with the UVF was murdered the day after, and attacks on homes have continued with hundreds of people having to move house. A bomb destroyed the prisoners' aid offices of the UDA/UFF on the Shankill Road on 18 September. Significant sections of the loyalist working class sense that their privileged position in relation to the nationalist working class is being undermined by the `peace agreement', and are now lashing out. It was against this backdrop that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who also oppose the `peace agreement', won a by-election at South Antrim, taking the seat from the `pro-peace' Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Anti-agreement forces within the UUP, alongside the DUP, are rallying around opposition to the Patten Report and any reform of the RUC. They are using the present situation to attempt to force even more concessions from the Labour government. The position of Trimble as leader of the UUP is again under threat. A `steering group' in the UUP has now resurrected the issue of IRA decommissioning, calling for a new three month time limit on the IRA to destroy some of its weapons.

Labour's policing bill is already a much watered-down implementation of the Patten Report. But Sinn Fein is so tied to the peace process that it can do nothing about it, and has retreated from calling for the disbandment of the RUC to a demand for the implementation of the Patten Report. Differences in the republican movement over the `peace agreement' came into the open once more with the missile attack on MI6 headquarters in London at the end of September. Labour's imperialist `peace agreement' is in danger of unravelling.

Bob Shepherd


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed