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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 18:13 GMT
Feud power battle 'won and lost'

For the largest of Northern Ireland's loyalist paramilitary organisations, the Ulster Defence Association, it was a defining moment.

The group had been locked in an internal fight - in a struggle to determine who was biggest within the organisation.

The option of moving on was not given to Adair's closest associates, who found themselves in a loyalist vice which was being tightened

That battle has now been won and lost - won by those who, some months ago, expelled the most public and prominent of the paramilitaries, Johnny Adair, from their ranks, and lost by him and his closest associates.

This was a battle in which politics was buried and power and control had become the only things that mattered.

The lines inside this feud, in terms of who was standing where, had become clear and, in the re-drawing of the loyalist picture, Adair, found himself being squeezed.

Johnny Adair, Shankill loyalist
The feud erupted when Johnny Adair was expelled from the UDA last year
Last September, he and his close associate John White were thrown out of the UDA by the rest of the organisation's leadership, and the infighting grew out of that decision.

Adair had since been returned to jail, but he continued to exercise considerable control over the UDA in the lower Shankill - the part of the organisation known as "C" Company.

It had operated under the cover of the Red Hand Defenders - the name used by Adair's men when they owned up to a double murder in Belfast last weekend.

One of the victims of that ambush was John Gregg, a member of the UDA's so-called inner council and the most senior casualty of the feud so far.

And, it has been in the wake of that shooting, that the lines within loyalism have been re-drawn.

All of this happened in a choreographed way.

In the geography of the Shankill Road and who is where in the UDA, the organisation stretched far beyond Adair's base and, on Tuesday, the other parts of the group in loyalist west Belfast made their stand.

John Gregg: Loyalist leader shot dead in ambush
They said they no longer recognised the leadership of the so-called "C" Company, which was their way of telling Adair they were walking away from him.

Another of the paramilitary groups, the LVF, once seen as being close to the Shankill loyalist, also deserted him.

In a statement, the group spoke of the "unnecessary deaths" of loyalists and said it would not become involved in any act connected to the feud.

This was the LVF telling Adair and his supporters not to use its name to threaten anyone within the UDA.

And the third of the sequenced loyalist steps came from the paramilitary leadership which back in September expelled Adair and White.

Tightening vice

It welcomed the moves elsewhere within loyalism to "ostracise" the leadership of "C" Company and it told the members of this UDA unit to move elsewhere within the organisation and to do so quickly.

That option of moving on was not given to Adair's closest associates, who found themselves in a loyalist vice which was being tightened.

Late on Wednesday night, Adair's men defected and aligned themselves to the mainstream organisation and others, including Adair's wife and White, ran for their lives.

One senior UDA source said that for them, it was "holiday or hell".

For Adair and White - once two of the most prominent figures in loyalism - these were humiliating and embarrassing events, and for them there is no way back.

These are changed times within the UDA.

Its ceasefire of 1994 opened up new possibilities and provided a place within politics for its representatives in the Ulster Democratic Party.

But those representatives were marched off the political stage by the UDA itself, its ceasefire was reduced to a sham and it turned its back on the Good Friday Agreement.

Then there was the infighting and there was a view that the organisation was about to push the self-destruct button.

UDA 'in disarray'

"I'm not sure there is a future for the UDA," a government source had told me.

He meant a political future, and many would share that analysis.

An organisation, which had presented itself as a "defender of Ulster", was in disarray and had been stripped of any political credibility.

Trying to claw back lost ground will not be easy.

The organisation has become a home for drugs gangsters and few will be prepared to create space for it on a political stage.

Adair and White are gone, but this is not the end of the UDA's problems.

See also:

02 Feb 03 | N Ireland
20 Dec 02 | N Ireland
17 Dec 02 | N Ireland
26 Sep 02 | N Ireland
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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