Irish Republican News · November 19, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Fears that cashed-up UDA is rearming


The South East Antrim UDA has obtained weapons from English-based crime networks in a move which could spark an ‘arms race’ among the various factions of the unionist paramilitary organisation, it has been revealed.

In the interview with the BBC, one UDA member spoke about how the groups continues to extort funds, some of which has been used to purchase new guns from crime organisations in Manchester. He also confirmed that large quantities of older weapons had been secretly retained, although they were supposed to have been ‘decommissioned’ several years ago.

UDA members can get their hands on weapons “within 20 minutes or half an hour” if they choose to, he told the BBC.

The man said the UDA controlled “100 per cent” of an illegal drugs network in south east Antrim. He said there were about 2,000 members of the UDA in the south east Antrim area and that the paramilitary group controls “all the criminal activity” that goes on in the local towns.

“Anybody that deals drugs, must go through the UDA, they must buy them from the UDA,” he said.

The member said the “so-called decommissioning” of paramilitary weapons earlier in the peace process had been a hoax.

“They kept all the good weapons,” the man said. “They only destroyed rubbish - rusty ones, ones that had been used on jobs and they bought some newer weapons from drug gangs in Manchester.”

There are growing concerns over the direction of the UDA which has enriched itself through political corruption and with overt support from the Stormont administration. One organisation openly headed by a UDA commander was controversially awarded 1.7 million pounds of ‘Social Investment Fund’ money by the Stormont Executive last month.

Amidst calls for that funding to be suspended, the group’s chief executive, UDA commander Dee Stitt, whose North Down gang has been linked to drug-dealing, racketeering and intimidation, has refused calls to resign. The SDLP has called for an independent review of the situation, while Sinn Fein’s Deputy Fist Minister, Martin McGuinness, this week distanced himself from the decision.

It has also emerged that two projects linked to UDA boss Jimmy Birch could be in line for more than half a million pounds of public funding. The Hanwood Trust, of which the UDA brigadier and his wife Caroline are directors, have applied for money from a slush fund known as the Belfast Investment Fund (BIF), controlled by Belfast city council.

BIF funding isn’t advertised publicly, and many community groups aren’t even aware it exists, according to the Alliance Party group leader on Belfast city council, Michael Long. In contrast, those groups in the know are in prime position to apply, and secure huge sums of money.

“There isn’t a level playing field,” he said. “It is bizarre that the council is distributing millions of pounds of community funding like this. If it was filling jobs in the same manner, there would be uproar.”

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