The PSNI have said loyalist paramilitaries are behind threats against a number of journalists and politicians, and told one journalist he could be the target of an under-car booby trap attack.
The PSNI said the threats are from the South East Antrim UDA, a criminal gang linked to several drugs-related murders and near-murders in recent years. They said they had received information that indicates a “planned and co-ordinated campaign of intimidation”.
The Sunday Life and Sunday World tabloids, where the named journalists work, frequently publish details of the UDA’s criminal activity.
North Belfast MP John Finucane described the threats as “disgraceful” and urged police action. Mr Finucane was told of a UDA threat against his own life shortly after taking up the role of Belfast Mayor in 2019. The MP’s father, human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, was murdered by the UDA in collusion with British forces at his family home in 1989.
“Journalists play a key role in society in holding people in public office to account and shining a light on criminal gangs which are a blight on the community,” the Sinn Féin MP said.
SDLP Assembly member Patsy McGlone, Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken and Ulster Unionist Assembly member Doug Beattie were warned of threats against them from loyalists by the PSNI. Alliance MP Stephen Farry said he had also been threatened, as did Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon and several councillors.
Mr McGlone said that he will not be silenced. “In the week of VE commemorations, it is ironic and deeply sinister that they have chosen to mimic fascist attacks on journalists and elected representatives,” he said.
Steve Aiken said it was “ironic” to be threatened by loyalists, given that he had served in the British Royal Navy for 30 years.
“These threats are not normal and they should not be treated as if they are,” he said. “Threats against politicians and journalists by crime gangs are nothing less than fascism – it wouldn’t be tolerated in Glasgow, Manchester or London, and it shouldn’t be tolerated here.”
Doug Beattie, a former British soldier, made similar comments. “I have been threatened many times while serving my country in uniform and I treated those threats with contempt, as I do with this present threat,” he said.
Ms Dillon lashed out at what she called “faceless threats”.
“Politicians, like everyone, should be free to do their work and represent their constituents free from threats, fear or intimidation,” she said.