THE UDA in Ballymoney have moved to quash media reports of a split in their leadership and say that any suggestion of rival factions tearing the organisation apart is without foundation.
They have also dismissed claims that there has been a change at the top and insist that the present C.O., Billy McFarlane, remains in charge with the full support of his membership.
In an unprecedented move, senior members, including McFarlane as well as local leaders and a representative of the UPRG, have gone public to counter newspaper reports of a split and in a face-to-face interview with this newspaper, say the local Battalion are “totally committed to the hierarchy in North Antrim/Londonderry.”
“To say that two of the North West units have broken away from the mainstream organisation is complete nonsense. We speak with a united voice and no one has an issue with who is in charge or how things are run and the local public are aware of that,” a spokesperson for the Ulster Political Research Group who provide political analysis for the UDA said.
At the meeting, representatives from across North Antrim and Londonderry displayed their whole-hearted support for McFarlane, otherwise known as ‘The Mexican’ and made clear that their support remained rock solid. They say there has been no fundamental differences of opinion to warrant any change.
The UPRG spokesperson went on: “The UDA in North Antrim and Londonderry have existed for 40 years because of the goodwill of the people and because they represented the people.
“They have played a major part in the peace process in spite of severe provocation surrounding parades.
“There seems to be two ways of dealing with certain issues where Republicans can carry out actions which are deemed acceptable while loyalists cannot parade down the street without first negotiating with Republicans.
“There is plenty of evidence of this in the North Antrim area as well as throughout Northern Ireland. It’s one law for one and one law for the other.”
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He said: “It seems that everyone in this peace process is allowed to move on except loyalists - it is more of an appeasement process than a peace process where Republicans are continually rewarded for past actions and in a re-writing of history where loyalism is demonised and degraded at every opportunity.”
The spokesperson admitted there was now a different set of circumstances in which former members would be playing a full and positive role in society.
He also reiterated the UDA’s stance on drugs and flatly rejected the notion that the organisation was engaged in selling or distributing drugs in this area as had been suggested in media reports.
McFarlane said: “Everyone knows my stance on drugs - I am totally against their use and would not tolerate any of our members dealing in them. It seems that the UDA gets the blame everytime someone who might call themselves a loyalist is prosecuted for drugs offences. They are automatically linked to us.
“It has been claimed that we are buying drugs from ex-Provos in Ballycastle. This is nonsense. We are aware of an individual who is dealing in drugs and running with ex-Provos and who some might think was in the UDA. He never was and had absolutely no connection with the organisation.
“If anyone has any proof of our membership dealing in drugs let them name that person and we will fully co-operate with any PSNI investigation. We cannot be clearer than that.”
The UDA have also come under attack for allegedly staging a sheebeen at an Eleventh Night bonfire in the Glebe estate.
Countering any allegations of wrongdoing, the spokesperson for the UPRG said: “The bonfire was organised by Glebe Rangers FC and had been given proper funding. An outside security company, perfectly legitimate and with trained and fully licensed staff, were in charge. The UDA had no connection with this at all.
“No one is denying that drink wasn’t being taken at the bonfire, but again this is another example of the UDA being implicated over something they had nothing to do with and none of our members sold drink. We categorically deny anything to the contrary.”
While a sizeable proportion of the population would have nothing to do with any paramilitary organisation, McFarlane said: “People are very quick to make a judgement on us. On occasions, blame is very often placed at our doorstep when we have had absolutely nothing to answer for.
“These latest allegations about a split haven’t angered us because we know where they came from and everyone knows they are wrong.”