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Claire Simpson: UDA feud shows some loyalists more equal than others

Forensic officers carry out a fingertip search at the scene of the shooting of loyalist Geordie Gilmore in Carrickfergus. Picture by Mal McCann.

A feud within the UDA has already claimed the life of a man in one Co Antrim town and led to pipe bomb attacks in a village in the same county.

Last week, George Gilmore (44) was shot in his car in a busy Carrickfergus street, dying in hospital the following day.

In many ways his murder seemed depressingly predictable. Tensions in the seaside town had been high since a local row escalated. Gilmore had been under serious threat. In July last year more than 100 men marched on his Carrickfergus home in a bid to force him out.

Just days after Gilmore’s murder, 10 men armed with hammers and baseball bats attacked former leading loyalist Darren Moore in a Doagh bar.

Although the murder and the assault on Moore are not believed to be linked, such attacks show how easy it is for tensions to spill over into violence.

In the early hours of Friday, pipe bombs damaged two homes in Bushmills, a small village better known for its world-famous distillery and proximity to the Giant’s Causeway. It was only by good fortune that no one was injured by the bombs, which are believed to have been linked to the UDA feud.

Often it is difficult to remember which loyalist faction is feuding with the other. A glance back at our not-so-distant past shows a depressing list of splinter groups intent on securing their patch of ground, their little bit of power.

Moore himself, previously described in court as a ‘lieutenant’ in the UVF, had been jailed for an attack on a bar in Portadown, Co Armagh, after a clash with rival loyalist paramilitary group the LVF.

Just last year, loyalist John Boreland, a close friend of Andre Shoukri, was shot dead near his north Belfast home amid a row between UDA factions.

Unfortunately, our politicians do not seem overly interested in tackling violent loyalism.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who admitted that Gilmore’s death could lead to retaliation, put the onus on police to take action.

"There is no point in me or anyone else appealing to the two sides to back off, the police should make quick arrests and put people behind bars to send out a message that if this continues then people will be caught and they will serve long times in jail," he said shortly after the shooting.

Unfortunately, as with rows over flags and parades, police are caught in a battle between upholding the law and trying not to be accused of adding to tensions.

Policing a feud costs manpower and money. In December, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the cost of keeping the rival factions apart had already reached £1.6 million.

It seems remarkable that this issue, which has been ongoing for several years, has not been given the political attention it demands.

There is no sectarian angle here, no row that could win votes, just an mutually destructive conflict that in the last week has left a man dead.

Two years ago, the killings of former IRA members Kevin McGuigan and Jock Davison caused a row at Stormont. When the PSNI said members of the Provisional IRA were involved in Mr McGuigan’s murder, the DUP warned power-sharing would collapse.

But in this case the DUP’s approach seems to be to let the rival paramilitary groups fight it out amongst themselves.

There is no outrage, no anger, indeed no apparent political moves to protect people living in Carrickfergus who do not want to remain under the grip of paramilitaries, who do not want to see a man being shot on their doorstep on a Monday afternoon.

In putting its electoral focus on demonising Sinn Féin, the DUP could be accused of ignoring serious concerns within loyalist areas.

Instead it expects police to carry out the dirty work of arresting those involved in violence, while on the other hand allowing the UDA-linked Charter NI to be given £1.7 million of public money - this despite a senior PSNI officer saying in December that people connected with the east Belfast organisation were involved in recent paramilitary activity.

It seems that all loyalists are equal, but some loyalists are more equal than others.

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