Major media outlets and prominent politicians have been taken in by a bogus statement and photograph claiming to represent a new Irish republican armed group.
A garbled statement threatening ‘death’ to drug dealers was first published by the Belfast-based Irish News. It was accompanied by a photograph of five men in combat jackets in a partially wallpapered living-room.
In the statement, the group said they will ‘protect’ their membership and that those involved dealing drugs must ‘cease immediately’. The men were seen posing with unlikely-looking weapons in front of what appears to be a wallpaper pasting-table, draped over by a crisp, new Irish tricolour flag.
In the report, which was picked up by other newspapers including the Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph, the group was described under attention-grabbing headlines as a terrorist splinter organisation.
Republicans have previously made accusations of MI5-inspired ‘false flag’ operations being promoted, wittingly or unwittingly, by mainstream Irish news outlets. However, the statement published this week is understood to have been merely a prank by bored decorators and accompanied by a photograph dated April 1.
The media were also fooled this week by a statement denouncing criminality issued in the name of the three main loyalist paramilitary groups, the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
Representatives of the main loyalist paramilitary groups were seeking to ingratiate themselves to the political establishment as part of their contribution to high-profile events for the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday peace Agreement.
Loyalists claiming links to the UDA and UVF/Red Hand Commando attended a press conference in the Linen Hall Library, where they promised to fully support the rule of law and suggested any members involved in crime will be expelled.
“Individuals who use criminality to serve their own interests at the expense of loyalist communities are an affront to the true principles of loyalism,” they said.
The unlikely declaration was read by Protestant clergyman Adam Parker. It came just days after a UDA death threat to a journalist, which remains in effect. It also followed a warning by former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble that loyalist paramilitaries could imminently launch murder attacks south of the border over the Dublin government’s position on Brexit.
Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed the statement: “Some may be sceptical, but we have a duty to support all positive initiatives,” he said.
However, within 24 hours a UDA faction mounted a terrifying attack against a rival group in an ongoing drugs turf war.
Shots were fired at a man in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast on Tuesday. The attack is understood to be linked to the murder of former UDA ‘brigadier’ John Boreland in August 2016.
Deputy SDLP leader Nichola Mallon condemned the attack. “It is shocking that someone would recklessly fire shots into a residential street,” she said. “It is a miracle that no-one was seriously injured or killed.”