TURF WARS: the deadly loyalist feud

'This feud won't end until there are two coffins going down the Shankill Road," says a senior UDA member in Belfast

'This feud won't end until there are two coffins going down the Shankill Road," says a senior UDA member in Belfast. "And those coffins will carry Johnny Adair and John White."

A long-standing loyalist, he insists his words aren't threatening or aggressive. "I'm just being realistic. That's what happens when a few individuals go against an organisation like the UDA. They can't survive. Nobody is bigger than the UDA. "Nobody can behave like those two men have and get away with it."

Graffiti in loyalist areas pronounces Adair and White "dead men walking".

Another UDA figure accuses Adair and White of "ego, arrogance and greed". They have "brought this whole mess upon themselves", he says. Only when both men are killed will the UDA negotiate with Adair's Shankill Road C-Company and end the feud, says the source. This ominous scenario will occur "sooner rather than later, in weeks not months", he claims.


Sitting in his home in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, White insists he isn't afraid: "These people will be waiting a very long time before Johnny and I are carried down the Shankill in coffins." He says it is UDA leaders who are running scared.

"They have to keep their men off work to guard them. These people aren't popular. They rule by fear. Our fight is not with ordinary UDA members. It's with individuals at the top. How could we be afraid of these men? They are criminally, not politically, minded."

Last month, the UDA leadership reportedly offered £10,000 to anyone who would kill Adair, with an additional £10,000 if he was dead by Christmas.

"That shows what type of men they are," says White. "With rank-and-file support, you wouldn't have to offer money for services."

The UDA is the largest loyalist paramilitary group in the North. It was set up in 1971 to, it claims, defend and protect the Protestant community. But it has been responsible for the murder of dozens of Catholic civilians. It wasn't banned by the British government until 1992. Its political wing, the Ulster Democratic Party, disbanded last year. The Loyalist Volunteer Force is a militant breakaway from the second largest paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The tensions that led to the current feud within the UDA have been long-simmering. According to mainstream UDA sources, Adair unsuccessfully tried to take over the leadership last year. Senior figures in the paramilitary group believed he was "out of control".

"He didn't see himself just as one commander, he saw himself as the whole UDA," says a source. "If things weren't done Johnny's way, he went crazy. He fell out with the North Belfast commander with whom he had been good friends."

Apart from personality clashes, the dispute with the UDA leadership centres on allegations of drug-dealing, brothels, and racketeering. It also involves Adair's close relationship with the rival LVF. It has little to do with politics.

The UDA is composed of six brigades - North Belfast, West Belfast, South Belfast, East Belfast, North Antrim and South East Antrim. Five brigades say they are opposed to the Belfast Agreement. Technically, only West Belfast, which is home to Adair's Shankill Road C-Company - is pro-agreement. However, loyalist sources insist this was a purely tactical decision. By supporting the peace process, the Shankill hoped to secure European and other funding for local community groups.

The internal UDA tensions boiled over last September when the UDA shot dead Stephen Warnock, a drugs dealer and senior LVF figure, in Newtownards, Co Down. He had been involved in a dispute over drugs money with mainstream UDA figures. The UDA ordered its members to boycott his funeral but Adair attended. Two more killings followed in east Belfast. The UDA shot dead Thomas Gray and the LVF killed Alex McKinney. East Belfast UDA commander, Jim Gray, was also shot in the face. "That really upped the ante," says a source.

In September, Adair and White were expelled from the UDA which hoped the West Belfast Brigade would distance itself from them. That didn't happen. West Belfast splits geographically into three "companies".

"Although many people don't support Johnny, they won't move against him or his C-Company," says a source. "This is a situation where there are fathers in B-Company and sons in C-Company." In the past three weeks, two men have been killed in the feud. Adair's supporters shot dead Jonathan Stewart (22) in north Belfast and the UDA leadership killed Roy Green (32) in south Belfast.

A loyalist source says he is "deeply saddened" by the feud and what has happened to Adair who is believed to have killed up to 20 Catholics.

"When Johnny got out of jail eight months ago, the kids on the street looked up to him. He was the man who had taken the war to the IRA.

"There were lots of stories about him. He was credited with many things he didn't do but this was a Protestant community looking for heroes. Johnny seemed genuinely concerned about the Shankill and how deprived and dilapidated it was. I thought he could have been a force for change, but things have worked out differently."

Attempts to start negotiations to resolve the feud have so far failed.

Local Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey says there is nothing from either side to indicate any appetite for compromise or conciliation. The situation is "deeply depressing", he says.

"The working-class Protestant community is sick of it. They already feel under immense pressure from the British government, the Dublin government, nationalists and republicans. Now the largest loyalist paramilitary group are running around killing each other.

"Young people might say they joined the UDA to fight for their country and defend their community. Yet some have ended up killing other Protestants," points out McGimpsey. "They need to consider where their leadership is taking them and rethink their actions."