A brutal murder by the unionist paramilitary UDA of a feud rival and its subsequent election endorsement of the DUP has dramatically raised the issue of collusion between unionist politicians and loyalist murder gangs ahead of next week’s Westminster election.
The murder of Colin Horner (left) last Sunday was notable for the brutality of the killing, carried out in front of his terrified three-year-old son. The attack took place in public in Bangor, County Down, which was filled with bank holiday shoppers. Witnesses said the 35-year-old was shot between four and six times in a supermarket car park, and could not be revived.
It was the latest killing in an ongoing power struggle over UDA territory and the proceeds of narcotics and organised crime.
The feud involves two factions of the UDA in East Antrim. It erupted last summer in Carrickfergus after a fight between a number of women related to UDA figures escalated. Horner was a close friend of former UDA commander Geordie Gilmore, who was murdered in March of this year as part of the feud.
Within hours of the killing, the Ulster Political Research Group, said to ‘provide political advice’ to the UDA, endorsed the DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly for the South Belfast constituency.
A loyalist magazine also called on UDA supporters to vote for the DUP in return for the party’s backing for the Social Investment Fund (SIF). The fund has been used in the past to quietly channel millions of pounds to UDA-linked groups.
And within 48 hours of the bloody killing, party leader Arlene Foster (right) chatted with one notorious UDA boss, Jackie McDonald. The murder of Colin Horner wasn’t even discussed, it was confirmed later.
At her party’s manifesto launch, Mrs Foster said she had “no need” to confront McDonald over the murder.
“If people want to move away from criminality, from terrorism, we will help them to do that, but anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity should stop, should desist, and if they don’t they should be open to the full rigour of the law,” she said.
The DUP leader has previously been criticised for being pictured with alleged north Down UDA commander Dee Stitt, who operates Charter NI, a “community organisation” that received 1.7m pounds of Stormont funding last year.
Sinn Fein representative John O’Dowd said: “It beggars belief that only two days after the UDA murdered Colin Horner in Bangor that Arlene Foster did not challenge a senior UDA leader to disband the armed loyalist gang.
“There is a responsibility on all in political leadership to challenge the very existence of paramilitary groups.
“However, 20 years on since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, political unionism has so far failed to step up to the plate in facing down violent loyalist extremism.”