24 May 2006

Dublin suspends talks while UDA 'deals' with Shoukris


(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

The Dublin government is prepared to turn a blind eye if the UDA murder the Shoukri brothers in an act of "internal house-keeping", sources have told the Sunday Tribune.

A Department of Foreign Affairs' official in the North has suspended talks with the UDA for the past three weeks so the paramilitary group's leadership can "deal" with the brothers, it has been claimed.

The Shoukris, who control the north Belfast UDA, are at loggerheads with the UDA's south Belfast commander and de facto leader, Jackie McDonald, who is trying to expel them from the organisation.

The source said the UDA had told the Government it would try to avoid violence and not "do a Gray", but the brothers, who are of Egyptian descent, were proving difficult to tame or shift. The UDA shot dead its former east Belfast commander, Jim Gray, last October.

"It's still thought Jackie McDonald can resolve the situation peacefully but, if need be, the UDA leadership will take military action against the Shoukris," the source said. "It would be politically embarrassing for the Government to be talking to the UDA while that happened, so dialogue has been suspended in order to cover all possibilities.

"But it will be resumed the minute the Shoukri situation is done and dusted. The Government hasn't adopted a moral position on this, it's just a case of manoeuvring so it's not tainted if something eventually happens to the Shoukris."

Jackie McDonald, who has a conviction for extortion, is a close friend of President McAleese's husband, Martin. The source said the Department of Foreign Affairs' official in the North, whose name is known to the Sunday Tribune, was in regular contact with McDonald and his representatives until three weeks ago.

The Independent Monitoring Commission says the UDA is still involved in shootings, beatings and crime. When asked if it was appropriate to negotiate with such an organisation, and whether talks had been cynically suspended in case there was an attack on the Shoukris, a Department of Foreign Affairs' spokesman said: "It is our policy not to comment on issues of this nature."

Loyalist sources still believe the UDA's internal divisions can be resolved peacefully. The leadership has been conducting an internal investigation into claims the Shoukris extorted huge sums from Protestant businessmen and gambled over E1 million of UDA finances, including peace funding.

The Shoukris claim that they are being scapegoated and that other UDA figures are heavily involved in crime and drugs. When Andre Shoukri was jailed, he was replaced as north Belfast commander by his brother Ihab.

May 24, 2006

This article appeared in the May 21, 2006 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

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