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What's behind the Loyalist Feud?
THE LONG-simmering feud between the UDA/UFF and UVF last week spilled over into a bloody battle for control of the Shankill area, the loyalist heartland in Belfast. Within a few days three people were shot dead and dozens of families were intimidated from their homes.
Relations between these organisations have been worsening with violent incidents across counties Antrim and Derry and in other parts of Belfast.
The press says the feud is a 'turf war' between rival gangs, a battle for control of areas and of the drugs trade and protection rackets. This is part of the truth but it's not a full explanation.
It would be wrong to exaggerate the differences between the UDA/UFF and UVF - both have a bloody sectarian history. Recruitment is often less a matter of ideological difference but of what area you come from, or of family connections.
However, part of this struggle is over the peace process and the increasingly divergent approach of the UVF leadership and of the section of the UDA/UFF centered around its West Belfast leaders, John White and Johnny Adair.
Both paramilitaries are nominally for the Good Friday Agreement and for continuing the loyalist ceasefire, such as it is. However the Adair wing of the UDA/UFF have adopted an increasingly confrontational sectarian approach, using issues such as Drumcree to boost their hardline credentials. Much to the UVF's annoyance, they have forged an alliance with the LVF, the right split-off from the UVF.
The latest fighting began when an LVF contingent and banner appeared on a UDA march in the Shankill. UVF supporters drinking in a local bar tried to remove it. The UDA retaliated by shooting up the bar.
The UVF haven't softened in their approach to the union with Britain or to republicanism, but they are leaning towards a 'political' rather than military strategy, backing the ideas outlined by their political wing, the PUP. The Adair wing of the UFF and his LVF allies are moving in an opposite direction.
ADAIR IS a leader of C Company, the UDA/UFF West Belfast unit. During the 1980s this group was heavily infiltrated by British intelligence who used it to carry out assassinations of republicans. They let it arm itself with weapons from South Africa and run a lucrative drugs trade.
Johnny Adair was at the time a young skinhead thug, part of a gang on the Shankill linked with the National Front and other fascist organisations in Britain. Most of this gang were recruited into the UDA.
When a State inquiry into links between loyalist paramilitaries and British intelligence led to the arrest of most of the West Belfast UDA leadership, Adair and his friends took control. They inherited the weapons and the drug trade and have developed it ever since.
Now they aim to wipe out the UVF influence and give themselves complete control of the area and through this achieve a commanding position in loyalism.
Adair's position within the UDA is not unchallenged. The UDA has a federal structure with local commanders controlling their own areas. To date significant sections of the organisation have held back from the feud.
Nor does he have broad popular support. Most people view him with fear and disgust.
It does not go unnoticed that no sooner was Adair released from prison than he was able to drive around in a top of the range car and take his family this year on a holiday to Jamaica. His arrest and re-imprisonment caused hardly a ripple of opposition, even in the Shankill.
The majority of people in such areas are revulsed by the tit-for-tat killings and want both organizations to stop. Under this pressure, leaders of the UVF and UDA have had to respond to the mediation efforts of local community activists and partially suspend the feud, although the basic differences remain and could erupt again at any time.
Working-class people most often feel helpless in face of the seeming power of sectarian and paramilitary organizations. In fact the working class has the power to bring all this to a halt. Mass protests by working-class organizations began the peace process and have kept the most bigoted paramilitaries, republican as well as loyalist, in check.
Action by community organizations as well as rank-and-file trade union bodies is now needed to force an end to this latest paramilitary feud, to make sure it does not overspill into sectarian violence and to resist attempts by paramilitary gangsters to take control of working-class areas.
In The Socialist 1 September 2000: