The latest loyalist feud – a direct outcome of British policy
25 July 2007
Serious violence has broken out in Carrickfergus over the last week, with sporadic rioting culminating in the shooting of a PSNI officer on 21 July. Several people have been beaten, and more forced out of their homes. This represents a renewed outbreak of feuding between rival loyalist death squads.
The current feud is between the “mainstream” UDA, led by Jackie McDonald, and its breakaway group in South East Antrim, which seceded from the UDA last year and dominates the Rathcoole-Carrickfergus-Larne corridor on the north shore of Belfast Lough. As we reported at the time (Socialist Democracy, 13 October 2006), the breakaway group set up an initiative called Beyond Conflict, and promised to give up criminality if the British government would agree to an £8.5 million investment plan drawn up by themselves. Since then, they have been complaining that the British were not taking them seriously.
It is striking that the current feud follows a distinct pattern which we have seen several times in recent years. One loyalist paramilitary group, usually a larger one, will be designated as the “mainstream” and allowed to crush smaller rival groups or internal dissent with impunity. This happened when the UVF wiped out the smaller LVF. It has happened repeatedly with the UDA, first with the ousting of Johnny Adair’s gang from the Shankill, then with the Shoukri brothers being driven out of North Belfast, and now with the move against the South East Antrim faction, which significantly includes Shoukri supporters who had moved out of North Belfast to the Carrickfergus area.
It is not surprising, then, that the police have taken a low profile, and arrested loyalists have been quickly released on soft bail conditions. This is what usually happens. And, with no police presence to upset the balance of forces, the larger group will win, and the South East Antrim UDA will either be wiped out or brought firmly back under Jackie McDonald’s control. The question is, what is Britain’s role in this feud?
It is well known that throughout the peace process the British have showered money on the loyalist gangs. They have also been courted by the Irish government, although most of the money has come from Britain. The public subsidy to the loyalists is supposed to get them to stop extorting, pimping and drug dealing, although there is little evidence of that. Meanwhile, these enormous grants have increased the prestige of the paramilitary organisations and allowed them to set themselves up as “community leaders” despite failing to gain any significant electoral support from Protestant workers. The British and Irish governments have therefore been complicit in strengthening the paramilitaries’ hold over communities that have decisively rejected those paramilitaries whenever they had a chance.
So, from the UDA’s perspective, the feud is all about money. George Gilmore of the Beyond Conflict group, the front for the South East Antrim UDA, was quoted by the BBC (23 July) as saying: “The mainstream UDA have got funding from the government and they are being told that they need the full six brigadiers. They need the UDA as a whole or they are not getting their funding - this is down to money, that all that this is down to.” There is no reason to believe that Gilmore is not being truthful – his version of events fits perfectly with how British policy and loyalism have interacted in recent years.
From Britain’s perspective, we should assume that British policy wants to keep loyalism under control. Since they have accepted Jackie McDonald as a partner, it makes sense to have a cohesive UDA under McDonald’s leadership, rather than dozens of tiny groups all following their own agenda. McDonald has also played his part, following the British agenda closely and not becoming a nuisance like Johnny Adair.
However, the strategy of buying off loyalism is a strategy doomed to fail. The UDA have bluntly refused to even talk about decommissioning, while according to the British government’s own monitoring commission both the UDA and UVF are heavily involved in criminality. All the injection of money is going to do is lead to more South East Antrim situations, where rival loyalist warlords fight over their slice of the pie.
The British will never learn from this because there is more than one policy issue built into their subsidies to the loyalists. The difficulty in controlling the federation of sectarian gangsters is secondary to the British determination to keep a loyalist movement as ballast, ensuring that the sectarian settlement they have constructed will not fade away, but will be maintained by their force of state-sponsored thugs. We can expect a future of constant instability with constant British intervention, supporting the ‘good’ UDA against the ‘bad’, with the odd moment of hilarity as each group thrusts forward spokespeople who have swallowed a conflict resolution dictionary.
Change will only come when the working class realise that the promises of a gradual decline in sectarianism are the merest hocus-pocus and that these gangsters are meant to keep them imprisoned in the sectarian state.