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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Johnny Adair: Notorious loyalist
Johnny Adair
Johnny Adair could be released by May 2002
By the BBC's Ireland correspondent David Eades

There have been notorious paramilitaries in the times of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

But in the era of this peace process, Johnny Adair has become unquestionably the most controversial, high-profile and ubiquitous of them all.

Released in September 1999, after serving barely a third of his 16-year sentence for 'directing terrorism' - a new offence created specifically to secure his conviction - Adair emerged into a world of paramilitary ceasefires, declaring he would be working for his community.

He had been considered one of the key figures in securing the support of loyalist prisoners for the peace process, when former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam made her audacious visit to the Maze in 1998.

Now was the chance for him to put that commitment into practice.

Mo Mowlam met Adair at the Maze in 1998

He was certainly seen out and about a lot in his community.

But by the summer of 2000 - just a few months after his release - he was already considered by the police as a risk to peace.

His close ties with the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) - a splinter of the bigger Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) - with its powerbase in Portadown, County Armagh, led to mounting tensions with the UVF.

Adair was seen several times in Portadown, associating with LVF gunmen.

He was pictured in Belfast, too, as the city was brought to a standstill with roadblocks and intermittent gunfire as part of a protest at the ban on the Orange Order's Drumcree march along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

Johnny Adair
Adair's supporters say he will challenge the ruling in the courts

But it was the bitter loyalist rivalry which spilled over into the streets of the Shankill area of west Belfast, which proved decisive in Adair's return to prison.

In August a 'celebration of loyalist culture' - effectively a show of strength by Adair's group, the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Volunteer Force along the Shankill Road - sparked an outbreak of shootings, which left three people dead within days.

Swift rearrest

With party offices being attacked, taxi firms targetted and homes shot at, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson ordered his re-arrest.

Within hours he was back in prison, this time in Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn.

It was nearly four months before the Sentence Review Commission assessed Adair's record. Its preliminary indication sent a wave of shock through the Northern Ireland Office, as it suggested Adair should be released.

The commission was not convinced he had broken the terms of his early prison release; not convinced he had been involved in drugs-dealing, in paramilitary activity, or in dealing with weapons.

That all changed with the private hearing at Maghaberry Prison last week.

RUC chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan and other senior police officers provided intelligence information designed to persuade the commission to change its mind. It worked.

Adair's supporters, notably John White of the Ulster Democratic Party - a party with links to the UDA/UFF - insist he will challenge the ruling in the courts.

But in the meantime, Adair must prepare himself for an extended stay at Maghaberry.

How long is still not certain; but with consideration for remission on his original sentence of 50%, he could be released by May 2002.

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09 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Adair to remain in jail
06 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Johnny Adair: Feared loyalist leader
08 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
NIO to challenge Adair release
23 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist Adair 'linked to drugs and guns'
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