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A View North: who wants Johnny dead?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

Now that Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair has stepped out of Maghaberry Prison to freedom, the question naturally arises as to how long he will be able to enjoy it before someone shoots him dead.

The Ulster Defense Association boss of West Belfast has already been warned by his “spokesman,” Johnny White, that it would not be a good idea for him to move back to the Shankill area, which is where he once was top dog, and maybe still is. But Adair has made so many enemies during his career as the boss of C company of the UDA that his prominence will afford him no protection. Quite the opposite, in fact. Adair is one of those figures thrown up by the conflict over the years who has managed to antagonize as many people on his own side as on the side of his opponents. In this, he resembles two other notorious characters — Lennie Murphy of the Ulster Volunteer Force, and Dominic McGlinchey of the Irish National Liberation Army, the original “Mad Dog.”

Murphy, like Adair, ran a semi-autonomous gang within the UVF, which earned the chilling sobriquet the Shankill Road Butchers because of their hallmark of hacking their Catholic victims’ throats. But in the course of the gang’s career, which lasted from about 1975 to 1977, it killed as many Protestants as Catholics, including several members of the UDA and the UVF.

Murphy served a short prison sentence and was released in 1982. The countdown to his death began even before he walked free. Two UDA men who traded information with the Provisional IRA especially wanted Murphy out of the way because he was muscling in on their rackets.

The police also knew about the plot and actually followed a Provisional hit squad into the Shankill area as they went to find their target on Nov. 11. But the IRA men were scared off by the presence of checkpoints and the hit was cancelled. The police then abandoned their surveillance, presumably because they thought that the IRA would not try to kill Murphy for a while. They were wrong. Five days later, the IRA gunned him down.

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So Johnny should take note that even though he has been told he is under around-the-clock surveillance, that will not necessarily guarantee his survival.

The case of “Mad Dog” McGlinchey is similar to that of Murphy and Adair. Like them, he was responsible for murdering quite a large number of people from his own side, including several who had connections with republicans in South Armagh. Like them, he ran his organization as if it was his own private fiefdom. He had originally been in the Provisionals IRA but had left it after a dispute — always a warning sign since people who change organizations tend to make enemies among former colleagues. McGlinchey abandoned normal republican procedures. For example, he and his wife, Mary, seem not to have bothered consulting the rest of the leadership when they decided to “execute” suspected traitors or informers or indeed anyone they believed had crossed them. It was this that eventually brought them both to a grisly end.

In July 1983, Mary and Dominic kidnapped and murdered Eamonn McMahon and Peter Mackin, suspecting them of cheating the INLA out of money. In 1987, relatives of the dead men who were prominent republicans from South Armagh murdered Mary as she bathed her children. Seven years later, they murdered her husband, shortly after he was released from jail.

Both McGlinchey and Murphy were renegades and mavericks, disowned by many within their own communities and therefore extremely vulnerable. They were also a source of instability and therefore potentially dangerous.

Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair fits into this pattern rather well. When he got out of jail in 1999, after serving three years on the charge of directing terrorist operations, almost immediately trouble flared up in North Belfast area and between the UDA on the Shankill and the UVF. There was rioting and pipe-bomb attacks against Catholics, and several were murdered. But it was his fellow loyalists who suffered most from Adair’s activities. A feud between the UDA and the UVF claimed about a dozen lives and hundreds of families in the Shankill Estate — Adair’s power base — were forced out of their homes because they belonged to the wrong side.

Adair has therefore enemies, as McGlinchey and Murphy had, in both communities. His long involvement in drug running has added yet another dimension to the danger. Adair has turned the West Belfast UDA into a mini-Mafia, antagonizing a few of his rivals in the business. Shortly after he was released the first time, a gunman tried to shoot him as he attended a concert in a Belfast park. Apparently, the shooting was connected to Adair’s drug running activities.

Doesn’t Adair have friends? Well, yes, sort of. There was a crowd of about 300 to greet him as he walked free, including Johnny White (aka Captain Black, one of the creators of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the name used by the UDA to claim responsibility for its murders). A hard core of shaven headed young men with dark glasses (though it was only 8 a.m.) some with scarves wrapped around their faces were there to take care of him. Adair declined to make a speech. But White stepped up to the microphone.

“The nationalist community have nothing to fear from Johnny Adair,” he proclaimed. “Johnny Adair will be a force for good.” One reporter who was there told me that as White spoke, Adair could be seen sniggering behind him. Certainly, the shaven-headed young toughs did not look very reassuring. White said he was trying to convince Adair to go into politics.

This added an element of the absurd to the occasion. Of course, Adair would not be the first Irish paramilitary or guerilla to go political. But Adair is not the type to make such a conversion. Up until now, Adair’s real intent and purpose has been to undermine the Good Friday agreement by fomenting violence and hoping to draw the IRA back into the conflict. During the time he spent in jail between August 200 and last week, he continued to influence events on the outside. Allegedly, it was on orders from Adair, for instance, that William Stobie, the former UDA man turned informer, was murdered last December.

So the chances of Mad Dog being house trained any time soon are, I would guess, very slim.

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