'Loyalists will have to fight, there's no other way'

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The Independent Online

Belfast was bathed in warm sunshine yesterday afternoon, and a dull orange glow lit Capehill, overlooking the city. But on the streets, the mood was tense and dark.

Belfast was bathed in warm sunshine yesterday afternoon, and a dull orange glow lit Capehill, overlooking the city. But on the streets, the mood was tense and dark.

What passed for normality in the rest of the city stopped at the Shankill, the traditional stronghold and recruiting ground for loyalist paramilitaries and now the scene of their murderous internecine strife. Here, Northern Ireland had slipped back to the years of the Troubles. British troops were on patrol, having arrived in force overnight, accompanied by armed officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Armoured Land Rovers cruised up and down, watched sullenly by groups of young men.

The evidence of the past two days of violence could not be missed. The offices of the Ulster Prisoners Aid, used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), had been attacked by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). This was a building once used by Johnny Adair, a commander of the UDA's paramilitary wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Mr Adair has been blamed for unleashing the current wave of violence. A few weeks ago, at this building, he gave an interview to The Independent, in which he professed to be fighting for peace and claimed he was a target of the UVF and "figures in the establishment".

Yesterday Mr Adair, who had been released early from a 16-year prison sentence for directing terrorism under the Good Friday Agreement, could be seen in the area, dressed in jeans with a flak jacket over his bare chest. But he was in no mood to talk. The police and army had set up roadblocks on every exit from the estate where he lived, and two police helicopters buzzed overhead.

A little further down, standing under a mural of death stalking a Catholic graveyard with a machine gun, a teenager who gave his name as Andy Wilson spoke of his admiration for Mr Adair. "He is the only one who is not afraid to stand up for the loyalist people," said Mr Wilson. "They are trying to get rid of him for speaking the truth. The UVF should be fighting the republicans, but they're fighting fellow loyalists, it's disgraceful. One of the men they killed [Bobby Mahood, shot on Monday] is one of their own. His crime was that he was against the so-called peace agreement. The loyalists will have to fight, there's no other way." With that he stalked off.

"What does he know about fighting?" asked a middle-aged woman who had been listening. Margaret McCalliog knew all about the violence in the Shankill district. "There's the fish shop which the IRA bombed, killing all those people. That was terrible. But that was them making a stance. Now we have Protestants killing Protestants. And that young fella will probably get sucked into it. Well, he'd better walk away from all this, or he is likely to end up dead."

Most of the shops were boarded up behind steel shutters, but some had remained open. A young woman stacking the shelves at a general store said: "They wanted all the businesses to shut at two in the afternoon. But some of us negotiated to keep open a bit longer - but we'll have to shut down soon, there's a lot of trouble in the air."

Who were "they"? Was it Johnny Adair and the UFF, or the UVF?

"I am not saying," she replied. "I've got to live around here. But it's crazy shutting down businesses, I bet that's not happening at The Falls."

The nationalist Falls Road runs parallel to the Shankill, divided by a "peace line". Here they were savouring the irony of what was going on among their loyalist neighbours. Waiting for a bus, 33-year-old Martin Corrigan smiled: "So they are killing each other. Well, they can do what they like, as long as they don't start their nonsense anywhere else."

But Thomas Green, out shopping with his seven-year-old grandson, said: "Johnny Adair has been trying to blame nationalists for attacks on Protestant homes. We know that's not true, but our fear is that he was going to use that to start killing Catholics again.

"They are now distracted by fighting among themselves. But the guns are out and I can see nothing but trouble, and they will turn on the Catholics sooner or later. I am 68 years old and I had hoped all this nonsense was over."