'infiltrated' | 

Loyalist threats of violence over Protocol ‘hoax’ says senior UVF figure

‘The security services are all over us, the fact is we are completely infiltrated’

Harry Stockman

UVF Shankill roads 1st Battalion commander Harry Stockman (pictured) is set to replace his long time mentor John 'Bunter' Graham as the UVF Chief of Staff

Richard SullivanSunday World

Loyalist threats of a return to violence over the Protocol are a hoax, it has been claimed.

A senior figure in the UVF has told the Sunday World the prospect of an organised campaign of violence is so remote it should not even be considered.

He didn’t rule out civic disruption such as the events witnessed last year when masked and armed men hijacked and set on fire a bus.

There were other sporadic outbursts of street violence.

However, the senior figure admitted the organisation would be “completely unable’’ to mount any significant attack.

He admitted they did not have the expertise, equipment or manpower to launch any kind of concerted campaign.

He also admitted it would be “virtually impossible’’ to mount such a campaign as “we are completely infiltrated’’ (by security services.)

“The security services are all over us, the fact is we are completely infiltrated.”

He said the threat of violence was discussed at a high level meeting of the UVF leadership on the Shankill last week, including Chief of Staff John ‘Bunter’ Graham, his sidekick ‘Harmless’ Harry Stockman and their brigade staff.

The Sunday World understands “big gesture’’ attacks were ruled out but agreed the threat of violence might focus minds.

A statement issued by paramilitary umbrella group the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) last week contained warnings to Irish ministers crossing the border, and a thinly veiled threat of a violent reaction.

The LCC letter questioned the continuation of the 1994 ceasefire over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

UVF Shankill roads 1st Battalion commander Harry Stockman (pictured) is set to replace his long time mentor John 'Bunter' Graham as the UVF Chief of Staff

It was followed up with a statement from PUP leader Billy Hutchinson who warned tensions within loyalism are as high as he had ever known.

But according to our source, that will not translate into violence.

“Despite what you’ve heard, there is no appetite in loyalist areas for a return to violence,” he said.

“Who would carry out these attacks? The only people capable and with the knowledge are veterans, people who served during the Troubles, they’re old men now, they have grandchildren.

“There is absolutely no chance they will put their liberty at risk over something like this.”

He said the current younger membership have no notion of what it would take to launch such a campaign.

“They’ve no interest, too busy making money selling drugs. How could anyone trust these young lads with a bomb in their hand.”

There were reports this week that a planned attack on an Irish government building in the south was aborted at the last moment after the government issued a statement insisting joint authority is not an option.

It came on the back of warnings from the LCC and in the past the UVF, that Irish government ministers were not welcome in the north.

“I suspect the bomb thing was a bit of sabre rattling,” he said.

The terror group was behind a bomb threat which forced Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney to abandon his speech at a peace event in Belfast.

Mr Coveney returned last week to fulfil the engagement.

Our source said the UVF’s capabilities stretch to “disruption’’ and while dismissing the likelihood of large scale violent events, he said there was “genuine anger’’ within loyalist communities.

Last week, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the Policing Board there was no “heightened threat of violence’’ from within loyalism.

Tensions have also been raised in light of recent suggestions by the Taoiseach Micheal Martin for joint responsibility for the Republic of Ireland with Westminster, if devolution fails at Stormont.

At the Policing Board in Belfast on Thursday, Mr Byrne answered questions regarding recent tensions from UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly.

At present, the chief constable believes there is no rise in the threat of violence, and said he wanted to calm the “rhetoric”.

“We have not, to date, seen any corroboration of a heightened threat of violence and disorder from loyalist paramilitaries,” Mr Byrne said.

“We are conscious that tensions are higher. It would be foolish to sit and pretend that nothing has changed, that is self-evident.

“We don’t assess in the short-term, imminent capacity and capability to carry out some of the planned attacks that have been talked about in the media.”

Mr Byrne also called for care when discussing recent controversies and concerns about a return to violence in light of loyalist concerns.

“I am also conscious that we don’t want to, as the police service, talk up the rhetoric to heighten people’s anxiety and undermine the confidence we should expect, that we have got plans and preparations to deal with any shift in paramilitary response and activity,” Mr Byrne continued.

Mr Nesbitt asked the Chief Constable about the capabilities of the police force if there were to be a violent response by loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Byrne detailed the efforts to ensure security and safety in the community.

“In terms of what we are doing to address the overlap between terrorism from a prescribed organisation and criminal activity, Mark McEwan is in London looking at relationships with the National Crime Agency as just one part of our armoury in terms of using powers and tactics and resources to tackle threats to public safety,” said Mr Byrne.

“We want to make sure the assets at our disposal are being used to their fullest intent to make sure that we have got foresight of a planned campaign if that is what people are intent on doing. But equally it is about trying to give reassurance to communities and we are not talking up the rhetoric ourselves.”

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