By Jack Holland
Last weekend, for the first time in almost 30 years, the North’s largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association, did something unusual — it claimed responsibility for an act of violence in its own name.
Daniel McColgan, a 20-year-old Catholic postman who was shot dead in North Belfast by UDA gunmen on Saturday has the grim distinction of being the first victim that the UDA has claimed, though it has killed hundreds. The last time the UDA acknowledged an act of violence was in December 1972, when it said that it had carried out bomb attacks on a pub and a soft drinks factory in Donegal.
“We warn the Eire government to clamp down on the IRA. Every time the IRA strike in the North, we will strike twice as hard in the South,” that statement said.
But about six months later, the UDA began claiming responsibility for its attacks in the name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters in order, it was thought, to avoid being proscribed. It succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. During almost a quarter of a century of killings, when the UDA claimed almost 400 victims, most of them Catholics, the organization remained perfectly legal, not being outlawed until 1992.
In October 1994 the UFF declared a cease-fire and the UDA’s political wing, the Ulster Democratic Party, became part of the peace process.
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Last year, as UDA violence grew, the UDP dissolved and the group began using the name Red Hand Defenders to claim its attacks. In October, the British government announced that the UDA had broken its cease-fire.
A security source in Belfast commented on the UDA claim: “What do they have to lose? It demonstrates the lack of any sanction against them.”