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Never a dull moment in loyalist stronghold

(James Kelly, Irish News)

We have been to the crossroads with Terence O'Neill and now we are experiencing something laughably akin to the Flight of the Earls with the clearance of the feudal loyalist stronghold of the lower Shankill as Johnny Adair's henchmen and their families flee the wrath of the UDA-UVF murder inc.

Never a dull moment in union flag-bedecked north and west Belfast, so when Adair's gunmen murdered UDA leader Gregg it was war to the knife. Within four days – suitably tanked up – came the response, an armed invasion of the lower Shankill.

Cut-throat White – who has been holding the fort since his mad dog leader, the ESN Adair, was lodged back in prison – fled in seven cars with his closest adherents. It was 'speed Bonnie boat over the sea' to Cairnryan in Scotland. They bought one way tickets on the ferry. They have been told not to come back to Erin... ever!

The Scottish police, who have been arresting other terrorists linked with Saddam Hussein, were there to meet them and afterwards claimed that they did not know where the Ulster refugees were headed. A likely story!

Later it transpired that they sought temporary asylum in a hotel in Ayr. They left yesterday (Friday) and are likely to be on the run again to a more remote place.

One earlier report suggested that, with Adair's cash-flow still intact from the slow-moving local criminal assets bureau – still trying to catch up with the Dublin bureau's astonishing success – they might be heading for one of three Western Scots' isles. From Mallaig it's just a short trip by ferry to Rhum Eigg and Muck.

The last named tiny island seems eminently suitable but the inhabitants, especially the wee fress, might not welcome this particular brand of loyalist bigot. However, money could do the trick. Come to think of it, the islands of Rhum and Eigg might one day welcome the remaining loyalist thugs and give the uninvolved people of Upper Shankill a long-sought after respite from crime and intimidation.

That seems a long way off with the rest of the population of these areas forced to bow the knee to their so-called defenders.

The political leaders who have deliberately created the vacuum in which this skulduggery thrives are sparing in their condemnation of this extraordinary situation in the unionist heartlands. Why are they so coy about these loyalist criminal activities?

Well, with a Stormont election only a few months ahead you have to watch your words. In the present, tense, hothouse atmosphere, they can't afford to open a door or a window to let in the fresh air can they?

With devolution in the six counties in cold storage yet again at least you could expect the powerful business community to be up in arms at the lack of action, but not on your nelly. A business analyst reports in a back page commentary that they remain bemused, or should it be struck dumb?

Meantime, US Ambassador Richard Haass, has been here telling the local politicians that the White House is still interested in the Northern Ireland peace process in spite of the preoccupation with a threatened Gulf War. He spoke of possible 'bold steps' coming up inside a six-week deadline and warns the unionists to be ready to grasp the opportunity. Does he know something which is going on behind the scenes?

There have been a whole series of denials about 'this and that' involving Sinn Féin, the DUP and the police. It reminds me of the old journalistic admonition not to believe certain statements until they have been officially denied twice by the London Times!!

A lot can happen in six weeks both here and Washington.

February 10, 2003

This article appeared first in the February 8, 2003 edition of the Irish News.

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