Tensions are high inside Maghaberry prison after clashes between feuding prisoners within the unionist paramilitary UDA.
A number of UDA men are understood to have been injured in the clashes, which broke out during recreation inside the prison on Friday night. One was taken to hospital with a suspected broken jaw but was returned to the jail the same evening.
The fighting is understood to have erupted when mainstream UDA prisoners refused to allow three prisoners, connected to the rival south-east Antrim UDA, to move onto their wing inside the prison.
The situation has now left prison chiefs with the problem of keeping the UDA factions apart inside Maghaberry.
There are 40 prisoners being held on the unionist paramilitary landings inside the main part of the jail. While there are a small number of UVF and LVF prisoners, the majority of prisoners are linked to either UDA faction.
The UDA gangs are believed to be evenly split among those loyal to the organisation’s ruling ‘inner council’ and those supporting the breakaway south-east Antrim leadership under Tommy Kirkham and Gary Fisher.
Andre Shoukri, whose expulsion from the UDA sparked the initial split in the organisation, was removed from the loyalist wing to a special secure unit earlier this year.
Loyalist and republican prisoners inside Maghaberry were first segregated in March 2004, but prison chiefs are resisting recognition of structures within the various organisations housed at the jail.
Planned funding to be provided by the Belfast Executive for the UDA’s claimed “conflict transformation process” has been increasingly threatened by the UDA’s continuing violence, including outbreaks of mob feuding and gun attacks.
But for the seven-figure payment to be abandoned grew further after after the UDA ‘tarred and feathered’ an alleged drug dealer in the Taughmonagh estate in Belfast this week.
The victim, a man in his thirties, was tied to a lamp post in Finwood Park on Sunday night and covered in either tar or heavy black paint and feathers. A placard bearing the words “I’m a drug-dealing scumbag” was hung around his neck.
The Minister responsible for the funding decision, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, said: “This type of behaviour has no place in a civilised society. If the UDA is involved, it is a stark demonstration of the thuggery and violence which I made clear has to end if the funding to the CTI [ Conflict Transformation Initiative] project is to continue.”
Her department offered #1.2 million ($2.4 million) in support of the scheme before the powersharing Executive was formed. Earlier this month, Ritchie warned she would withdraw the funding within 60 days if the UDA did not begin decommissioning illegal arms.