Billy Wright, a Portadown man who has become the leading public symbol of loyalist militancy, was told that he had 72 hours, from midnight last night, to leave Northern Ireland. A statement from the "Combined Loyalist Military Command," which represents the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commandos, warned that failure to comply with this "directive" would result in "summary justice". This clearly amounts to a death threat.
A similar threat was issued against Alec Kerr, a south Belfast figure who was, until recent years, associated with the UDA. The statement warned that Mr Kerr, presently in custody awaiting trial on a terrorist charge, should be kept in isolation and on his release should leave the country.
Last night Mr Wright declared that he would refuse to leave, saying that to go would be to let down his forefathers. He added: "If I must die opposing tyranny, from whatever quarter, so be it." Mr Wright has been a leading loyalist figure for many years, serving a prison sentence for UVF-linked activities.
He is believed to have been questioned by police on a number of occasions about UVF murders in the Portadown area.
Last month, the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, was criticised for privately meeting him during the Drumcree parade stand-off. Mr Wright and Mr Kerr are said to have formed an alliance objecting to the comparatively moderate line taken in recent years by the UVF and UDA leaderships.
The killing of a Catholic man near Portadown during the Drumcree crisis is said by RUC sources to have been the work of the local UVF unit. Police believe it was carried out against the wishes of the main organisation. Several weeks ago the UVF announced that it was expelling its mid-Ulster unit, with which Mr Wright had been associated. That made him a marked man and a security source said: "It's just a matter of who gets to him first - the UVF, the IRA or us. He's clever and cunning ... but doesn't really have widespread support."
Before the ceasefire, Mr Wright survived a number of IRA attempts to kill him. Police last week made arrests during what appears to have been an attempt to stage a loyalist display of arms. The UVF seems to have interpreted this as an act of defiance against its authority, leading to the move against Mr Wright and Mr Kerr.
Leaders of the four main churches in Northern Ireland yesterday condemned reports that Catholics in a number of areas are boycotting Protestant businesses in the wake of the Orange Order marching controversies.Reuse content