31 March 2005

Irish Independent

Why loyalists decided 'Doris' has had his day

31 March 2005

YESTERDAY'S announcement by the UDA that it has sacked its East Belfast Brigadier Jim Gray comes as no surprise - it was always a question of when, not if.

The forty-three-year-old nicknamed 'Doris Day' by the tabloid press had become an embarrassment to the largest of the loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Regarded as the 'figurehead' rather than the actual power within the East Belfast UDA the BMW driving Gray gave every appearance of the archetypical cash splashing, jewellery dripping loyalist paramilitary.

Yesterday morning his peers on the UDA's ruling Inner Council decided Gray would pay the price for media profile his exploits generated.

Until recently a pub owner in East Belfast the streak haired medallion man was shot by a rival Loyalist organisation in September 2002 as he paid a sympathy call to the home of a murder victim who the UDA was initially suspected of shooting. He survived after surgery.

The move against Gray by the UDA's five other Brigadiers was known only to a few before it was announced via the media yesterday morning so the full details of why the six foot plus blonde bombshell and three other senior members of the East Belfast leadership were dethroned have yet to emerge.

A suggestion that Gray was perceived as 'too pacifist', allowing other loyalist organisations in East Belfast to seize the initiative in certain parts of his fiefdom was circulated by his opponents as the reason for his removal. In the last couple of weeks loyalist sources say that the Loyalist Volunteer Force element behind Gray's shooting in 2002 has been flexing its muscles in the area.

Gray may have cut just too ridiculous a figure for the rest of the UDA's controlling Inner Council to have placed enough store in his ability to counter the challenge to the organisation in the east of the city.

That physical threat from the LVF in East Belfast may have become the main cause of concern within the rest of the UDA leadership and may indeed herald the beginning of a new round of loyalist infighting in the weeks to come.

Already two main feuds have erupted between the UDA, UVF and LVF factions since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and additional minor skirmishes between one or two individuals from different organisations continue every week in loyalist areas of the North without making the headlines.

But the release from prison two months ago of Johnny Adair the former commander of the UFF's notorious C Company in the Lower Shankill has added an element of potency which can't be ignored even if Adair is currently confined to the environs of Greater Manchester for safety reasons.

Adair has undiminished ambitions to return to the Shankill to regain his turf and in the process rout those in the UDA who forced the departure of his henchmen and his wife Gina clutching the €100,000 nest-egg Johnny left at her disposal.

There are rumblings of aggravation within other loyalist areas where the UDA has strength particularly in North Belfast where the police warned Gray's counterpart that republicans are closely studying his movements.

The consequence overall could be further upheaval within loyalist areas in the coming weeks with Gray's departure the prelude to a tougher stance coming from the direction of the UDA.

Alan Murray
in Belfast

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