By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The murder of a 35-year-old loyalist in North Belfast on Friday and two more shootings in the last week have heightened fears of an escalating feud among loyalist paramilitary groups.
John White, a leading member of the Ulster Democratic Party, which is linked to the paramilitary Ulster Defense Association, has asked for mediation to prevent further bloodshed.
But community leaders fear that even if an agreed mediator can be found, it will not stop the violence. Tensions among the UDA, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and its rivals, the Ulster Volunteer Force, have been simmering for some time.
Relations between the UVF and UDA reached a low in the loyalist heartland Shankill Road area recently with both sides attacking each other’s murals.
Friday’s murder of Martin Taylor has put the UVF on the defensive again and any retaliation could lead to a spate of bloody tit-for-tat killings. Taylor was not believed to be the intended target of the shooting, but another man who escaped unharmed was allegedly a UVF member.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
That attack was thought to be a retaliation for an abortive UVF attack on Wednesday on a Dungannon man, who the group held partly responsible for the murder of Richard Jameson, one of the UVF’s leading members. Jameson, who supported the peace process, was shot dead on Jan. 10 in Portadown.
Wednesday’s shooting outside a grocery store in north Belfast failed with two gunmen escaping on a motorcycle after missing their target. Then a second UVF attack came on Sunday night when more than 30 shots were fired from an assault rifle at a house in Ballygowan, outside Belfast.
No one was injured in that attack, but it sent a clear message to other loyalists that the UVF was not planning to ignore the Jameson and Taylor murders.
Rivalry between the two groups worsened since Jameson was murdered. The UVF promised bloody retaliation against the smaller but more volatile LVF after the Jameson murder. But many LVF members went into hiding.
Sources also say there has been increased rapprochement between the LVF and UDA, in both mid-Ulster and north Belfast. Both groups are involved in gangsterism and drug-dealing.
UDA commander, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, has been seen socializing with leading LVF men in Portadown and is said to enjoy the added notoriety from his links with loyalists outside Belfast.
Taylor’s wife was just returning home when Friday’s attack began and witnessed the shooting of her husband. A second man, who got away, was the gunmen’s real target. The gunmen chased him by car, shooting at him wildly, but only injured a passing horse.