British intelligence agency MI5 orders takedown of drug dealing loyalist gangs UVF and UDA

UVF veteran Chief of Staff John `Bunter’ Graham told members he is coming under increasing pressure from UK agencies

Johnny Adair pictured along side Jim Spence© Richard Sullivan

The MI5 headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood

Richard SullivanSunday World

UK intelligence chiefs have ordered a clampdown on loyalist paramilitaries.

Government intelligence and security agencies say patience is wearing thin at the continued failure of organisations, in particular the UVF and UDA, to move away from crime.

It is understood spooks at MI5 based in Holywood say it is time to take the kid gloves off especially when it comes to organisations involved in the drugs trade.

The Sunday World also understands the message has been delivered loud and clear to paramilitary chiefs.

The Sunday World understands that with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) a few short months away, the continued presence of the terror groups represents a failure.

The GFA has never been under such pressure. Paramilitary umbrella group the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) has made it clear loyalist paramilitaries have withdrawn their support for the Agreement.

And in a strongly worded statement hinted a return to violence is possible should the controversial Irish Sea Border enshrined in the Protocol is not scrapped.

According to security sources there is concern that rather than moving away from paramilitary activity these groups are stepping up their threats.

It prompted MI5 to issue their order and it is understood they are pressuring the PSNI to step up operations against the UVF and UDA.

The MI5 headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood

The police have enjoyed significant success in targeting organised crime particularly in a series of high profile raids and a significant number of arrests in connection with the UVF in East Belfast.

The Paramilitary Crime Task Force has also successfully targeted drug operations in Carrickfergus and on the Shankill, all connected to the UDA.

“The paramilitaries have been told that the government will no longer tolerate what they call the ``twin track’’ approach,” a well placed security source told us.

“In other words you can’t continue with the jobs for the boys thing, community projects funded by the taxpayer.”

It’s not the first time the government has warned they will turn off the cash tap should paramilitaries not reform.

There is concern at the number of people who are still members of the UVF and UDA who hold down taxpayer-funded jobs at a time when the organisations remain involved in organised crime.

The Irish government has already ordered a full audit of all grant aid spent in the North since the signing of the GFA.

Increased pressure prompted a number of meetings involving terror group chiefs in the days leaded up to Christmas.

Sources have told us UVF veteran Chief of Staff John `Bunter’ Graham, in a meeting with members of his Brigade Staff told them he is coming under increasing pressure from UK agencies.

He said he did not want the organisation’s legacy to be one of organised crime and drug running.

Graham, who has previously warned that any UVF member found to be involved in dealing drugs would be expelled, repeated his warned that dealers are ``on their own.”

His warning comes in the wake of a concerted move against dealers in the Shankill area.

The UVF initially ordered two UDA linker dealers out of the area and warned there was more to come.

UDA counterparts in the west Belfast leadership joined them in a two approach. Five more alleged dealers were hit with hefty fines ranging from £5,000 to £100,000 and at least one further man was kicked off the Shankill.

Jim Spence

The Sunday World understands two people hit with £100k fines, one of which is believed to be UDA Commander Jim Spence, have refused to pay up.

Spence, who oversaw and controlled a lucrative drug dealing racket across the north and west of the city and into North Down, has taken a step back from his UDA role in recent months and is understood to have denied he has been targeted in the latest purge.

A close associate of Spence is the other facing the £100,000 levy, who has been warned he faces further sanction if he doesn’t pay up.

Spence also denies UDA membership or involved in criminal activity.

It had been hoped the expulsions and fines might have eased pressure from the UK but it is understood spooks and security chiefs are anxious to remove any cloud hanging over the GFA anniversary.

“MI5 has made it clear as far as they are concerned there is no such thing as `untouchables’’ it’s time to take the kid gloves off, “ a security source told us.

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