Loyalist paramilitaries declare new war of terror in Ulster: Political assassinations and no-warning bombs may be added to the tactics of Protestant gangs, reports David McKittrick

NORTHERN Ireland is bracing itself for a wave of loyalist violence. All the indications suggest that extreme Protestant groups intend to step up their activities to new levels. They have already doubled their killing rate in the past two years, but the signs are that they aim to increase it still further - and there are fears that they are planning political assassinations and the use of no-warning bombings.

Loyalists have already openly warned that they will intensify their violence 'to a ferocity never imagined'. Security sources say that this is no empty threat and intelligence reports indicate plans for violence on a scale not seen since the Seventies. They are particularly worried that loyalist rhetoric about what was described as 'the pan- nationalist front' means that not only republicans but also constitutional nationalist politicians are under threat.

The security assessment is supported by community activists in loyalist areas. One said: 'Some of these new paramilitary leaders won't listen to anybody. The old guard would at least listen to you, but some of the new ones - you just can't talk to them at all.'

The largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association, has in recent years replaced older leaders with younger and more militant men. It was banned by the Government last year, partly on the strength of intelligence reports that its leaders were uninterested in politics and were intent only on more shootings. But the ban has been of little practical help to the RUC in arresting activists, and there are signs that the detection rate is falling. Loyalist killings are at their highest point since the worst days of the Seventies. For two years now they have exceeded those of the IRA.

The traditional killing fields of north Belfast and mid-Ulster are as dangerous as ever, and violence has increased in south and east Belfast where extreme Protestants killed 16 people last year. In south Belfast, some of the killings appear to indicate loyalists venting their disapproval of a rising Catholic population.

As has always been the case, the majority of loyalist victims are non-political Catholics, often killed at random. Only four of last year's 38 victims were known republicans, and only one was involved in paramilitary activity. Eight more had a family connection with republicans but were not themselves known to be involved. In one case, the elderly parents of an IRA man were shot dead; in another, the brother of a former Sinn Fein councillor was killed.

Twenty of the dead had no known political or paramilitary associations, including eight who died in UDA 'spray jobs' - indiscriminate attacks with automatic weapons on crowded betting shops in Belfast. Loyalist groups often claim that their victims are associated with republican groups; these claims are mostly spurious, and often disputed by the families of the dead, by priests and by Sinn Fein. Most tellingly, they are often dismissed by the security forces. Police witnesses regularly testify at inquests that the victims had no republican associations.

In one recent example, at the inquest into the death of a Catholic claimed by loyalists to be a member of the IRA, a detective said: 'On the contrary, he was very well thought of in the community and he had never come under adverse police attention.'

Loyalist violence has, however, always been more nakedly sectarian than that from the republican quarter: the extreme loyalists tend to regard the Catholic community as a whole as the enemy, and lose little sleep when an uninvolved Catholic is killed.

Several factors have contributed to the steady rise in violence. In the early Eighties, loyalist activity was at a low level, but the increased polarisation and political uncertainty that followed the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement brought a rise in killings. The unmasking of the British Army's intelligence agent Brian Nelson, together with the hurried departures of two other informers, may mean that loyalist ranks are not so well penetrated by the security forces as in the past.

The new apolitical UDA leadership has been markedly less inhibited than its predecessors, while a consignment of arms as part of a deal with South African agents four years ago means the illegal armoury is probably better stocked than ever.

Another contributing factor may have been the lack of success of the Northern Ireland political talks. The huge gap that they exposed between Unionist and nationalist ideas may have reinforced the notion that the problem is beyond political resolution and can only be settled by violent means.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas