The UDA decommissioning saga has descended into farce after a breakaway faction of the group denied that it had destroyed a small quantity of guns.

This was despite senior unionist paramilitaries confirming that an act of disarmament by the maverick south-east Antrim ‘brigade’ had taken place at the end of October.

The arms move was an apparent bid to upstage rivals in the mainstream UDA, who are under pressure for not disarming, and to seek a share of over a million pounds of funding promised to UDA-linked groups provided it disarms.

Tommy Kirkham, of the ‘Beyond Conflict’ group which represents South East Antrim Brigade, said “quite categorically, it did not happen”.

“If the south-east Antrim brigade were to carry out a significant act, as that which has been suggested, then they would make an announcement,” he said.

The faction -- which is feuding with the mainstream UDA -- is understood to have destroyed a small amount of arms in secret at Ballykinlar British Army base.

Members of the breakaway gang were present, but many of its membership were not consulted. Some have even described the act of decommissioning as “treason”.

The act replicated that of the LVF in 1998, who handed over a small number of weapons as a publicity stunt.

The destruction of the guns, numbered at between six and twelve, was apparently not supposed to be revealed until Remembrance Sunday, November 11.

The head of the IICD arms body, General De Chastelain, is understood to have delivered a report to both the London and Dublin governments within hours of the event.

But there has been no comment from the three-strong IICD, who were in the North last week.

There is no sign that the mainstream UDA is preparing to get rid of its weapons - although representatives have twice recently met with the decommissioning body.

Meanwhile, further divisions are emerging within the UDA after a leading paramilitary admitted that some of the group’s members are dealing in drugs.

A leading member of the Ulster Political Research Group, the political wing of the mainstream UDA, has admitted that some of its members are drug dealers.

Frankie Gallagher was speaking after a youth committed suicide after taking an overdose of horse sedatives supplied by a UDA dealer in north Belfast.

He called those responsible “scum” and said the UDA leadership opposed drug dealing.

He said: “All of the drug dealing that’s going on in Tigers Bay is by people in Tigers Bay.

“Some of the mothers are actually dealing drugs in Tigers Bay.

“The organisation of the UDA is absolutely dedicated and determined no members will be involved in crime or criminality.

“Any people who are masquerading as loyalists who are selling drugs are scum.”

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