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World Exclusive: Interview with Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair

Johnny Adair
Johnny Adair

Loyalist godfather Johnny Adair says he regrets the “wasted years” of the Troubles.

In an exclusive interview, former terror chief Mad Dog reveals his disdain and contempt for the rump of loyalism and the pointless dirty dissident war, and laments the needless deaths of thousands during the conflict.

The closest Adair can get to his old stomping ground is a wistful gaze across the Irish Sea – the memories of the halcyon days when he was top dog and the most feared military commander in the country are never far from the surface.

They are memories tinged with remorse.

“I was at war with republicans, I’m no longer at war. I was that person because I was a leader of an organisation engaged in fighting the enemy, so I had to be a leader and being a leader you do different things,” he said,

“I’m not in that situation now because there is peace. I’m living in Scotland and living a normal life, the life I wish I could have had 40 years ago.

“I’m getting back the years I wasted during the conflict, they were wasted years. I’m not going to be a hypocrite, I did what I did because at the time I believed in it.”

He praises paramilitary leaders like Shankill Butcher Lenny Murphy, mass killer Stephen McKeag and Red Hand Commando assassin Frankie Curry but admits regret over his life as head of the most feared UFF unit in the country.

      Johnny Adair speaks to the Sunday World in Scotland 

As commander of C Company in the lower Shankill estate, Adair was the most prominent and best-known terror chief in Ulster.

He was the first person to be convicted of directing terrorism, a charge which earned him a 16-year tariff and the rumour that it was a charge tailor-made for Adair.

“Do I regret it? Yes. Were they wasted years? Yes.

“I look back at the fighting, the bombing and the murdering and I ask what the f**k was achieved, what the f**k was it all about?

“I just wish (Ian) Paisley and (Martin) McGuinness had done in 1969 what they eventually did. I’m delighted. It’s a better place now and hope it will be for a long time to come.”

Today’s Adair is a different man – the snarling loyalist pin-up boy has been replaced by a more reflective man, pained by the death of his son and with the advantage of being on the outside looking in, the former UFF commander delivers a damning verdict on the conflict he helped shape.

He regrets he was the man that he was, forced into the terror machine that made him public enemy number one.

Now he claims he is sickened to the stomach by the actions of the loyalist gang he once controlled, baffled by dissident republicans in a war no one can win and no one wants to fight.

“We have come 20-odd years now from the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

“Born of that was dissident republicans, under all sorts of titles – Real IRA, New IRA, Continuity IRA Oglaigh na hEireann the names go on and on and on. They’re just criminals to be honest but they were born out of the Good Friday Agreement."

Any semblance of fighting for a cause has long been abandoned – by both sides. 

“They (dissidents) have killed more Catholics than they have what they would call the enemy, British soldiers,” he said.

“In my estimation they have killed two British soldiers, one ex-UDR man, two RUC men and two prison officers but they have been murdering scores of their own people, Catholics.”

A lifelong foe, he has nothing but disdain for the current dissident flag wavers, and to make matter worse he can see little difference with the modern day loyalist paramilitaries.

“They are supposed to be defenders of Ireland, all they are defending is their own territories and again like loyalists they are just criminals. The republicans, they are masters at cigarette smuggling, fuel laundering, drugs and all. 

“They are even working together, they are working hand and hand with each other.”

Adair ruled the lower Shankill with an iron fist, his notorious C Company was ruthless – anyone standing in his way could expect the ultimate sanction. Like every former paramilitary leader he looks back on his time as something of a golden era, but his condemnation of the current loyalist leadership and their foot soldiers is strongly felt.

“I would say dissidents are worse and that’s saying something but it wasn’t too long ago that the UDA in the Shankill nailed a man to the table, nailed him, crucified him. They did that to Jesus, you know what I mean? In the biblical times. They’re doing this in modern times and what for... I mean crucifying somebody at a time of peace – f**k!

“That wouldn’t have happened in my day. That’s barbaric, that’s people who don’t think things through and don’t have experience of leadership. They are just criminals, typical criminals. Gangsters, mafia, that’s what mafia do and that is what that has turned into.

“You look what they did to Geordie Legge, that was a mafia act. They butchered and brutalised him, wrapped him into a carpet and dumped him up in the fields. I mean that’s the way the mafia deal with people.”

East Belfast UDA man Legge was tortured and beaten in a back room at the Bunch of Grapes bar off the Castlereagh Road and his body dumped in a field in the Castlereagh Hills. 

Recent attacks carried out under the guise of republicans also dismay the man who once was the leader of the most feared loyalist killing machine. The summary execution of low-level drug dealer Joe Reilly in west Belfast last month and the murder of family man Michael McGibbon in Ardoyne in April drew stinging criticism. 

“That wee guy (Joe Reilly) was shot for a ten deal or something of heroin or smack. I get it, but you don’t get shot dead for that, come on the f**k! That other guy in Ardoyne (Michael McGibbon), he was shot for saying something to some wee girl in a taxi, come on to f**k! That’s out of order. They don’t even do paedophiles who, rightly so, should be chopped up.

“If the IRA were in command things like that wouldn’t happen because they would be the police and now because of the Good Friday Agreement they want their areas policed and Sinn Féin want their supporters to support the police. Sometimes the PSNI just aren’t as effective as the PIRA was. They kept law and order, the PSNI can’t.”

A criminal and a terrorist, 53-year-old Adair sat at the head of a crime syndicate that ran loan sharking and extortion rackets, but he claims the modern day paramilitaries exist for one cause only – money.

“It’s over, it’s time to build bridges. In my opinion will we never go back? No. There was one loyalist community leader quoted on the Nolan Show Live last week saying the reason why loyalist paramilitaries need to exist is because of the violent threat of dissident republicanism.

“Well let me say that the violent threat from dissident republicans has been there for almost 20 years. Now they have done what they have done, they have killed, they have blown up a town and other things. What have the loyalist paramilitaries done against them? Not one thing.

“There is the comparison. The late great Billy Wright, Lieutenant Lenny Murphy, John Bingham, Frenchie Merchant, Frankie Curry, Stevie McKeag and John McMichael. Now if these men were alive today I believe they would have a different outlook on dissident republicans. If those boys were alive today they would go after them.

“The only thing the UDA is doing is harming their own people, punishing their own people, selling their own people drugs, bullying their own people, forcing them out of their homes. That’s what loyalist paramilitaries do, they aren’t doing anything about dissident republicans.”

© Sunday World