Gun attack | 

Government feared IRA involvement in Johnny Adair UB40 murder attempt, State Papers reveal

The terror boss was shot in the back of the head at a UB40 concert in Belfast

Ex-terror chief Johnny Adair


Secret files revealed Government fears over possible IRA involvement in the attempted murder of feared loyalist paramilitary leader Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair at a UB40 concert in Belfast.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was liaising closely with the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast and the RUC over precisely who was behind the May 1999 attack at a time when the IRA was on ceasefire and the Northern Ireland peace process was reaching a critical phase.

The files detailed urgent contacts between Dublin and Belfast over the attack on Adair which was reportedly only foiled due to the use of damp ammunition by the would-be killer.

The Ulster Freedom Fighter godfather escaped serious injury at the Botanic Gardens attack – but later presented himself at a Belfast hospital to have shrapnel removed from his head.

On May 5, 1999, secret memos between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Anglo-Irish Secretariat revealed urgent attempts to determine who was involved in the murder bid.

Four years earlier Adair became the first person charged in Northern Ireland with directing terrorism.

He also served as a brigadier within the West Belfast UDA.

The department noted that: “There have been no authoritative statements from republican quarters denying responsibility for the incident, apart from denials attributed to ‘republican sources’ in media reports at the weekend.

“Some media reports also suggest that the attack was carried out by dissident loyalist elements.”

A follow-up memo noted that the RUC were coming under pressure to attribute the attack to some group.

Government officials noted that UDP member John White had blamed the IRA for the attack.

However, it also noted that republican officials had now denied attempting to shoot the loyalist paramilitary – with some Belfast media outlets strongly hinting that the attack was linked to a drugs feud rather than specific paramilitary rivalry.

“BBC Radio quotes Sinn Féin South Belfast Council stating that the IRA was not behind the attack on Adair and that the IRA ceasefire remains intact.”

Government officials also noted the fatal shooting of Brendan ‘Speedy’ Fegan in Newry which both police and paramilitary sources were linking to a drug feud.

A link between the two incidents was drawn in one memo which said: “...the person who shot Adair was a drug dealer well known on the E Tab scene in Ulster who has been an associate in the past of drugs godfathers like Brendan ‘Speedy’ Fegan and Liam ‘Fat Boy’ Mooney”.

Fegan, who was shot dead as he was drinking in a Newry pub, had survived a murder attempt the previous February.

Meanwhile, confidential files also noted concern over the impact that another loyalist godfather, Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright, might have after being transferred to the Maze Prison.

Wright, who was eventually expelled from the UVF, founded the Loyalist Volunteer Force and became a staunch opponent of the peace process which he described as a sell-out to nationalism.

The Government was concerned at the influence Wright might exert at the Maze where prison officers had already been subjected to threats from loyalist prisoners.

Irish officials raised their concerns with Northern Ireland Prison Service chief executive Alan Shannon at a dinner on April 30, 1997.

Mr Shannon warned that they were “between a rock and a hard place” in terms of Wright’s prison accommodation.

“On arrival at Maghaberry, Wright had to be placed in a secure unit for 23 hours a day on Special Branch advice because of threats to his life,” he said.

“He objected strongly to this, demanded to be moved to his own segregation wing and threatened to go on hunger strike unless this was granted.”

Prison officials feared Wright’s supporters would attack Catholic prisoners, destroy their unit and leave “Maghaberry in flames” – at which point he would have to be moved to the Maze anyway.

Irish officials were worried that by transferring Wright to the Maze as he demanded, prison officials had effectively enhanced his standing.

Today's Headlines

More Irish News

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