Internal UDA conflict nothing new
TWO loyalist drug gangs formerly linked to the UDA are at the centre of the potentially dangerous feud gripping parts of north Down.
Formed in 1971 the UDA was initially an umbrella organisation bringing together various loyalist gangs and vigilante groups.
The Ulster Freedom Fighter (UFF), a cover name used to claim sectarian murders carried out UDA, emerged in 1973.
Although the UFF was outlawed by the British government it was almost 20 years before the UDA was eventually made illegal, in August 1992. Like the other main loyalist groups it called a ceasefire in 1994.
Traditionally the paramilitary organisation included six brigade areas, each controlled by an appointed ‘brigadier’ who were all members of Inner Council.
They met regularly to discuss strategy.
The group’s overall structure began to fall apart in the years after its ceasefire with some brigades, or units within them, operating as little more than organised crime gangs.
The notorious South East Antrim (SEA) UDA brigade extends from greater Belfast and takes in a large area of Co Antrim. Estimated to have around 2,000 members it is believed to be involved in a range of criminal activity including drug dealing and murder.
Members of the gang are believed to have killed Glen Quinn, who was beaten to death in his Carrickfergus home in January 2020.
The SEA UDA is considered a standalone organisation after a fallout with the mainstream UDA.
The current fall-out in north Down is said to have been sparked after some of its members - who are based in parts of the district - were recently expelled from the SEA cartel.
This was followed by a spate of attacks on properties across the district.
Threatening graffiti has also appeared on walls, which has been signed North Down UFF.
It includes people who were originally part of a ‘satellite’ unit known as ‘D Company’, which was affiliated to West Belfast UDA but later expelled.
It is also suspected of involvement in the drugs trade.
The grouping is said to be the largest of the warring factions and well established in north Down.
It is understood neither loyalist outfit is affiliated to the mainstream UDA, even though they both use the name.
The mainstream East Belfast UDA, which continues to operate under the authority of the Inner Council, also has a presence in north Down but is not involved in the current dispute.
The isolated SEA faction, which is outnumbered, is thought to have few friends outside its own ranks.
SEA has been caught up in loyalist fallouts in the past. Former commander, John Gregg, was shot dead by members of Johnny Adair’s ‘C’ Company in February 2003 after a short lived feud. Adair and his cohorts were later forced to flee the north after the main UDA organisation moved against them.
Today the UDA remains fractured in some districts with members locked in local power struggles.
The group in North Antrim and Derry has been dogged by infighting while members are suspected of being involved in criminal activity including murder.