Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Loyalist fascism exposes Brits

By Laura Friel

The red lettering against a background of black dyed carnations reads ``C18''. Combat 18 is a British neo-Nazi paramilitary group with a history of racist attacks on Britain's Asian and West Indian communities. A man in his thirties dressed formally carries the wreath at the funeral of loyalist and former close associate of Johnny Adair, Stephen McKeag. As the cortege makes its way from the family home in Denmark Street to Roselawn cemetery, the Lower Shankill comes to a standstill.

The sectarian pathology at the heart of loyalism was recruited organised, armed and deployed to meet a British agenda
In a week in which the Stevens' investigation confirmed that the British army regarded loyalist paramilitaries as an ``operational arm'' and colluded in the killing of republicans and nationalist in the North, the presence of Combat 18 at the funeral of a UDA killer, known by his associates as `Top Gun'' further exposed the ethos underpinning British rule in Ireland.

Stephen McKeag had once been Johnny Adair's right hand man. When Adair was imprisoned in 1994 on charges of directing terrorism, McKeag stepped into Adair's shoes as UDA leader on the Shankill Road. Adair may have retained nominal control, but the day to day operation of the UDA's notorious C Company passed into the hands of McKeag.

In 1994 McKeag had faced murder charges, after he was accused of shooting Catholic father of three Sean Hughes. The 40-year-old businessman had been in his hairdressing shop on the Falls Road, when a loyalist gang ran into the premises. Sean was shot six times, five times in the back after he fell to the ground. The gunmen laughed and whooped with delight as they made their getaway.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hughes murder, Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor described the killing as ``something which may be helpful because they (Catholics) are now beginning to appreciate more clearly the fear that has existed within the Protestant community.''

Taylor's comments didn't stop there. He later went on to describe loyalist violence as having ``achieved something which perhaps the security forces would never have achieved.'' He described loyalist paramilitaries as ``making a significant contribution to the IRA finally accepting that they couldn't win.''

The charges against McKeag were dropped because the judge was not satisfied with the identification evidence, which placed McKeag at the centre of the killing. McKeag was not convicted but his commitment to loyalist violence has never been in doubt. For the gunman who took part in at least a dozen sectarian killings, wearing a gold medallion of an automatic rifle around his neck was a small affectation.

But killing Catholics was not McKeag's only stock in trade, and it was his other more lucrative role as a drug dealer that led to tension between McKeag and his boss Johnny Adair. Earlier this summer Adair and McKeag appeared together at a joint LVF/UDA function. Their close working relationship faltered only after McKeag cheated Adair out of his share of a 70,000 cocaine deal.

Speculation, which initially placed McKeag's death at the door of the UVF as part of the ongoing feud, was swiftly quashed by the UDA. A few months earlier, McKeag had been severely beaten by Adair's men. At the time of his death, McKeag was being shunned by his former UDA colleagues. But in the end McKeag died, accidentally or by his own design, because of a drug overdose.

At his funeral, a representative from a British fascist group carried a wreath bearing their insignia, which alludes to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi reign of racial terror. Combat 18 has been linked to violence all over Europe and has been linked to both the UDA and LVF, most recently during last summer's Drumcree protests.

Under British occupation, reactionary and racist forces like the UDA and UVF have been nurtured and sustained. The sectarian pathology at the heart of loyalism was recruited organised, armed and deployed to meet a British agenda.

So unless Tony Blair's government is prepared to face up to the reactionary role British forces have played in the past and may continue to play in the North of Ireland, progressive ideals his party adheres to will collapse into cynicism.

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