fragmented  | 

Last generation of paramilitary chiefs fading away as terror groups in north splinter

Groups like the UVF and UDA bear no resemblance to what they once were

Brigadier Matt Kincaid

Richard Sullivan

Terror groups are calling time on the last generation of paramilitary chiefs.

The era of the brigadiers and commanders is set to be consigned to history as organisations continue to fracture into criminal gangs.

Command structures in the two main loyalist paramilitary organisation have disintegrated in recent years as various districts break away from the central command.

The UDA was controlled by the ruling Inner Council which comprised the organisation’s six brigadiers – but the committee has not met for years as the organisation has split and fractured.

At its height, the UDA commanded an estimated 40,000 members, nowadays it is nearer 5,000, but they almost exclusively owe their allegiance to local leaders and not an over-arching ruling body.

Loyalist sources say both the UDA and UVF are paramilitary groups in name only and bear little or no resemblance to the forces they once were.

Once-prominent figures such as Billy ‘The Mexican’ McFarland, who was brigadier in north Antrim, have either been forced out or stepped down.

Once strictly controlled by the Inner Council, brigadiers and commanders have not been replaced as they’ve left the stage.

Other high-profile figures such as Jackie McDonald in south Belfast have all but retired. There is no discussion as to who might succeed him as leader but he is known to be one of the older paramilitary chiefs who has been working towards standing the UDA down.

“There are no brigadiers any more,” said our source. “They are a relic of the past. The conflict is over, the UDA as we knew it doesn’t exist any more, the modern day UDA is a scattering of organised drug gangs.”

None of the existing UDA groups is answerable to a central structure. West Belfast, believed to be under the leadership of Matt Kincaid, is a stand-alone criminal gang deeply involved in the drugs trade.

Similarly, South East Antrim which broke away from the Inner Council in 2007, is wholly independent of any other UDA faction.

Gary Fisher became brigadier following the murder in 2003 of his predecessor John ‘Grug’ Gregg, but he is known to be looking for a way out of the organisation.

Sources in Carrickfergus say that while he retains the title he is no longer regarded as a brigadier, with the crime gang now controlled by a three-man ‘committee.’

Similarly, the UVF’s command structure, while still in place, no longer commands control.

Veteran Chief of Staff John ‘Bunter’ Graham is in poor health and is known to be one of those trying to move the organisation from criminality.

John 'Bunter' Graham

It is understood the disappearance of the old ranking regime and central leadership structure is being viewed as another small step toward disbandment of the UDA and UVF.

“It’s just out of date, it’s almost comical, the few that still hold those titles are the last in the line,” said our source.

Today's Headlines

More Irish Crime

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos