UVF show of strength in east Belfast ‘linked to internal tensions over drugs’

A high-profile paramilitary show of strength in east Belfast has been linked to internal tensions within loyalism over criminality and drug dealing.

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 4th February 2021, 7:20 am

Forty men wearing masks and hoods were videoed in the Pitt Park area of east Belfast on Tuesday, with some police also seen in the clip. It is widely reported the men were in the UVF.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said the incident represented a “severe escalation” of local tensions in recent weeks.

PUP deputy leader Dr John Kyle said the scenes were “very disturbing”.

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“There has been a build up of criminal activity and intimidation going back a few weeks now coming visibly to a head,” the East Belfast councillor told the News Letter.

“This is primarily an issue that the police need to deal with as it is linked to intimidation and threats which are causing great danger and fear to local residents.”

The Ballymac Friendship Centre, an active community centre in east Belfast, said yesterday on Facebook that it has closed until further notice “due to threats”.

Dr Kyle said the centre does “excellent work” but that its closure appears linked to the same gang.

“It has recently been outspoken in condemning criminality and drug dealing and this may have provoked a reaction. I would blame dissident paramilitary elements.”

He said that those involved were born after the paramilitary ceasefires and that it is “well known” that their actions are “very much opposed by older ex-combatants”.

Dr Kyle also echoed the PSNI analysis that threats being made against workers at Larne Port in recent weeks were not emanating from mainstream loyalism.

Belfast PSNI District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said as soon as police became aware of Tuesday’s show of strength resources were deployed.

“We have launched an investigation and are currently reviewing evidence gathered at the time,” he said. “Police resources in the area have been increased and will be maintained for the coming days.”

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly questioned why police “merely shepherded” the crowd.

“It has been reported that the mob were preparing to attack a home and instead of challenging those involved the PSNI merely shepherded the gang out of the area,” he said.

There are also reports of families being evicted from their homes. A PSNI spokesman confirmed officers had responded to reports of “suspicious masked men”.

East Belfast MLA and Alliance leader Naomi Long has asked the chief constable for a meeting on the issues. “The continued activity of paramilitary organisations right across our community remains a matter of profound concern,” she said.

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Alistair Bushe