The Crying Game; in North Belfast, Loyalist Paramilitaries Were Once Vigilantes Fighting the IRA. Now They Are Criminals Involved in Extortion, Drugs and Robbery, and Their Community Continues to Pay a Bitter Price

By McKay, Susan | New Statesman (1996), June 9, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Crying Game; in North Belfast, Loyalist Paramilitaries Were Once Vigilantes Fighting the IRA. Now They Are Criminals Involved in Extortion, Drugs and Robbery, and Their Community Continues to Pay a Bitter Price


McKay, Susan, New Statesman (1996)


Jack Clarke lives in Tiger's Bay in north Belfast. He is only nine but already he is on antidepressants and is seeing a psychiatrist. "It's for the dreams and the crying," says his mother, Alison who is worried sick about her youngest son.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The dreams are about Jack's 16-year-old brother, Dean, and the crying is about him, too, because last year Dean killed himself. Jack's dreams also feature the man who drives up and down his street and smiles at him, because he is the man who sold Dean the 22 tablets he took before he hanged himself.

The drug dealer is in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and the small Tiger's Bay enclave of red-brick terraces was, throughout the Northern Irish conflict, one of the loyalist paramilitary army's staunchest heartlands. It has lost its strut and swagger and its Union Jacks are tattered. However, one local minister estimates that about 80 per cent of the men in the area have been, or currently are, members. When people in "the Bay" talk about "the men", they mean the UDA.

The UDA started out in 1971 as a vigilante organisation. It claimed it was defending Ulster from the IRA, but specialised in the doorstep assassinations and drive-by shootings of Catholic civilians. There is mounting evidence that British security forces colluded with its gangs. The UDA, which was banned in 1992, was responsible for 430 murders. It has always been riven with feuds and, following its ceasefire in 1994, many of its victims were loyalists.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A tentative foray into socialist politics was short-lived--the Ulster Democratic Party lacked persuasive leaders, and UDA men were soon back to supporting "the Big Man", Ian Paisley.

Killing machine

The UDA has survived as a criminal organisation, engaged in extortion, money laundering, armed robbery, prostitution and drug dealing. A local brigadier spent more than [pounds sterling]800,000 over a recent two-year period on gambling and cars. Some of the money came from charity funds.

In 2006, police raided a north Belfast bar at which the UDA was preparing for a show of strength. A speech was to be read extolling the organisation as a "well-oiled ruthless killing machine" that would never go away. Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" was to be played, from the soundtrack of the film Young Guns 2.

Jack Clarke knows nothing of the history that left his family home in a tiny Protestant ghetto, with high, fortified fences--once called peace-lines, now known as interfaces--separating it from neighbouring Catholic areas. He was born the year after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The Troubles were all but over, though the violence lingered in and around Tiger's Bay.

His brother Dean was a typical teenager of the post-Troubles generation. Known as "wee Dean", he was a keen footballer whose social life included what has become known as "recreational rioting" along the interfaces. He rang one night to say he'd been "split open on the Limestone [Road]", and when his mother picked him up, she found he was drunk on cider.

Late last October, Dean took a massive dose of "blues", crude tranquillisers the UDA is willing to sell to any child who has the necessary 50p for a tablet. Alison says her son became aggressive, and, when she sent for his father, a Catholic, from whom she is separated, Dean pulled a knife on him. He kept breaking down and saying he wanted to be with his granny, who was dead.

He kept running off. Alison says when they finally got him to hospital she tried to persuade staff to keep him there, but he told them he wanted to leave to watch Liverpool on TV and they let him go. "So he came home, watched the match, went out for a Chinese and I never saw him again," she says. "Dean hanged himself on the railings on the Limestone Road."

Alison buried her eldest son, and then she denounced the UDA.

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