Veteran loyalist paramilitary ‘Harmless’ Harry Stockman had been tipped to take over the reins of the terror group in succession to livelong chief John ‘Bunter’ Graham.
But it has emerged that any designs on the top job will be scuppered by an increasingly disillusioned membership.
The Sunday World understands there was a “robust” exchange of views during a meeting of Brigade staff on the Shankill this week, with Stockman left in little doubt that his face won’t fit when it comes to taking over.
Sources have also indicated Stockman himself would be a reluctant candidate.
It is understood he does not want to put his job with Action for Community Transformation (ACT) – where his wife is also on the payroll – at risk, where they take home an estimated £70,000 in publicly funded wages.
Action for Community Transformation was set up with the sole intention of helping ex-combatants reintegrate into society and transition away from criminality.
Winston ‘Winky’ Irvine – another candidate tipped as a possible Graham successor – has also been given the cold shoulder, according to sources.
He is currently facing criminal charges after guns and ammunition were recovered from the boot of is car after being stopped by police.
Well-placed sources have told the Sunday World neither candidate would have “the strength” to take on the responsibilities of leadership.
“Can you imagine Harmless taking on East Belfast?” said our source, “Bunter has failed – so what chance would Stockman have?”
Despite repeated warnings, the UVF have failed to curb the activities of the organised crime gang in the east of the city.
Allegedly headed by Stephen Matthews, it is widely regarded as one of the main organised crime gangs operating in Northern Ireland.
Matthews, who is facing criminal charges in relation to an alleged UVF show of strength in the Pitt Park area of the city in 2021, was recently named in court as the leader of East Belfast UVF.
However, Matthews has denied UVF membership and any involvement in criminality.
“If Harmless turns up in the east he’ll be told to f**k off back over the road – it’s just not a realistic option,” the source said.
There has been much speculation in recent weeks about UVF intentions as controversy over the Protocol continues. A thinly veiled threat of violence contained in a letter released by paramilitary umbrella group the Loyalist Communities Council was down played by senior UVF figures.
This week senior sources said rather than hardening attitudes there is a growing disillusionment among members.
“That statement opened a lot of people’s eyes,” said our source, “is that where we are, issuing threats nearly 30 years after the ceasefires?
“Nobody is going to war over the Protocol, who are we going to fight?”
It had been thought the UVF might use Remembrance Sunday as an opportunity to release a further statement as their intentions, but this year there is unlikely to be any major announcement.
But according to well-informed sources the mood among UVF veterans is one of disillusionment.
“They give the impression that we’re on a war footing. Nonsense,” one said.
He also dismissed speculation that so-called “dissident” loyalists are plotting a power grab in the UVF.
“Not going to happen, there are a lot of people within the UVF who are not happy but their anger is directed at the leadership and the DUP for getting us to where we are.”
He said Graham and the rest of the leadership had ignored repeated warnings as the organisation began to fragment.
Veteran members, he said, wanted to see the UVF disbanding.
“They want disbandment. We do not have the capability or the desire or the manpower to carry out our threats, it just makes us look even weaker than we are.
“I can’t see a point where we can threaten foreign powers or bring the country to a standstill, those days are long gone.”
Long-standing UVF Chief of Staff Graham has been dogged by ill-health in recent years, fuelling speculation about how long he can stay in place.
He has made repeated pledges over the years to oversee the transition of the organisation from paramilitary group to veterans’ organisation.
He has failed to deliver, however, and with the organisation’s younger leadership deeply involved in drug dealing and other criminal ventures, their reputation has plummeted in loyalist areas.
“We need to leave it to the politicians to sort out the Protocol, violence isn’t going to get us anywhere,” the source said.