07 April 2005

Daily Ireland

UDA power struggle at boiling point

An internal power struggle is raging within the UDA between long-standing members of the paramilitary organisation and its younger members, loyalist sources warned last night.
News of the UDA’s latest internal difficulties emerged amid reports that its leaders in north and west Belfast, Andre Shoukri and Jim Spence, are to be dismissed.
The expulsion threat hanging over their heads is being seen as the latest attempt by long-term UDA south Belfast commander, Jackie McDonald, to gain control of the organisation.
McDonald was heavily involved in the removal of Jim Gray and five of his closest associates as UDA leaders in east Belfast last week.
Although Shoukri and Spence have not yet been expelled, their positions within the organisation are said to be severely compromised.
Loyalist sources have accused Shoukri of skimming money from UDA funds to pay for a severe gambling addiction.
Loyalist leaders are also allegedly becoming increasingly concerned with Spence and the rumours that persist about him being a Special Branch informer.
Attempts to oust Shoukri in north Belfast could be difficult given that the 26-year-old self-styled “brigadier” has a loyal following among young UDA members in the hardline Tiger’s Bay, Westland and Ballysillan areas.
However, Spence represents a much softer target with many of west Belfast Shankill Road’s UDA rank and file willing to turn against him. In the summer of 2003, Spence incurred their wrath when he “stood down” a number of veteran UDA men.
Loyalist sources claimed the expulsion threats represented a clash of ideology between the group’s older and younger members.
One said: “The UDA is a money-making machine, whether it is through drugs, extortion or prostitution.
“The older members like to keep their activities quiet, but the younger ones think they are celebrities and love the fact their pictures appear in the newspapers every other week.
“They were warned at a meeting a couple of weeks ago to adopt a low-profile, but it hasn’t happened.
“Open any newspaper on a Sunday and you will find pictures of Spence, Shoukri and Jim Gray. That is why they are being kicked out.”
It is understood the man behind the current expulsion drive, convicted extortionist Jackie McDonald, is attempting to seize control of the entire UDA which has traditionally been split into six brigade areas – north, south, east and west Belfast, south Antrim, and Derry/north Antrim.
Reacting to the current internal difficulties facing the UDA, north Belfast SDLP member Alban Maginness said the group cannot be allowed to find a permanent niche in society through the cosmetic expulsions of high-profile leaders.
Mr Maginness said: “The expulsion of Jim Spence and Andre Shoukri will not change the nature of the UDA or make it acceptable.
“The transfer of power from the bully boys of the north and west of Belfast to the smooth-talking brigadiers of south Belfast is a PR exercise. It is not enough for a few people to be expelled for drug-dealing. The UDA needs to wind up or be shut down.”

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