It’s worth reading this News Letter report on the controversial meeting in Ballysillan Leisure Centre and the comments by self-designated intermediary, Jack McKee and interested party, Frankie Gallagher. Those comments set the scene for last night’s confrontation between the police and 300 UDA suppporters which, despite the complaints by SF, ended without further unrest. As this report points out, the trouble began earlier when police responded to reports of houses being attacked in Ballysillan and found themselves between two mobs. But don’t forget about the longer backstory on this – see below.The comments by Jack McKee, as I said earlier, set the scene for last night
Mr McKee, who has been involved in negotiations with the Ulster Political Research Group – the body which gives political advice to the UDA – said it was a “useful meeting”.
“It shows the inner council made a mistake,” he said. “There are very strong feelings about the new interim brigade staff in north Belfast.
“I will be recommending the army council stand down the interim brigade staff as that could sort the situation out.
“But what we have heard tonight would not represent the feelings of everyone in north Belfast.”
As does the response, noted in the News Letter from Frankie Gallagher who appears throughout the reports on last night.
Frankie Gallagher, of the UPRG, said it was time the people of north Belfast were “free after 35 years of conflict”.
He said: “All drug dealing is wrong. I am asking you tonight to give us the names of people selling drugs and where they are selling and it will be stopped.”
That’s the new, and approved, ‘good’ UDA message.. although he stops short of describing how “it will be stopped.”
As the BBC report the police were called out earlier yesterday evening, before the later, larger street scenes took place..
Chief Superintendent Wesley Wilson said houses had been attacked in the Ballysillan and Tyndale areas earlier in the evening by crowds armed with cudgels and baseball bats.
“Our officers went into deal with that. At one stage our officers were between two mobs and actually had to draw weapons to protect themselves – luckily they didn’t have to discharge the weapons,” he said.
A large crowd gathered very quickly and officers were ordered to go to the Westland estate area, he said.
The report also notes that..
The officer said loyalist representatives had met nationalist community leaders “and reassured them that there was no threat to nationalist residents”.
“There was a convoy of cars that left Westland Road area in the middle of the night and police did accompany them as far as the Westlink.
“This was to prevent any breach of the peace or attacks and was about preventing any loss of life.
“We realised they were people from the Westland Road area and wanted to leave the area and obviously felt under threat.
He said police were still gathering information about the occupants of the cars.
“If we can firm up on the intelligence, perhaps with this faction gone it might ease the situation – but I don’t know that as yet.”
At which point I’ll bring in Brian Feeney’s article from yesterday’s Irish News, courtesy of the excellent Newshound. It’s not often I agree with Brian’s assessment of a situation, at least not with his columnist persona’s viewpoint, but this is a case of Brian agreeing, mostly, with something I’ve been pointing to on Slugger for some time..
The message the NIO has been sending UDA bosses is that if they stop criminality and devote themselves exclusively to community service – now don’t laugh at the back there – there’ll be stacks of money for community development in their districts which UDA men can supervise, all legit.
To this end the NIO has been developing ‘good’ UDA men and showering them with approval; Jackie McDonald in south Belfast being the most obvious recipient of the flattery. If he and the NIO ‘good’ UDA can stop the violence and push out the most egregiously corrupt UDA bosses then it seems the NIO will allow its good guys to carry on as before.
For that’s the only snag with the NIO’s rope-a-dope strategy. They do carry on as before. The last IMC report concluded that ‘the UDA is responsible for most loyalist incidents. We are aware of no change in the broad pattern of UDA involvement in organised crime.’
There is an important point to add, which Brian somehow fails to include in his article.. it’s not just the NIO sending out that message in the middle of this paramilitary power play… it’s the Irish Government too.. all the way up to the President..