UDA did not threaten Irish diplomat – leading loyalist

Loyalists have no reason to threaten official, who has worked closely with President's husband, Martin McAleese. By Frank Connolly and Justine McCarthy

A leading loyalist has told Village that the UDA did not threaten a Department of Foreign Affairs official based in Belfast. Reports in the Irish Indepdent and the Irish Times on 20 Septmeber said that the official, Aine de Baróid, had been recalled to Dublin from Belfast because of a loyalist death threat.

Aine de Baróid has worked in recent years with accessing funding and investment for mainly loyalist areas of north Belfast and east Antrim where the UDA is the dominant political force. She has also been prominent in organising visits to the Republic, including to Áras an Uachtaráin, for people from loyalist areas in the North.

She has worked closely with Martin McAleese, the husband of President Mary McAleese in developing closer ties with the larger loyalist para-military grouping.

Martin McAleese and the President have recently defended their ongoing work with the UDA and its allied political grouping the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG).

Martin McAleese has controversially befriended Jackie McDonald, the main UDA commander in south Belfast with whom he has frequently played golf.

"Aine de Baróid is very well respected in the loyalist communities and her work has brought benefits to hundreds of groups," Frankie Gallagher, a senior member of the UPRG, told Village.

According to Frankie Gallagher the threats did not emanate from UDA members who have reason, he said, to appreciate the work Ms de Baróid has done for loyalist areas in recent years.

He also said that reports blaming dissident loyalists, including the Shoukri brothers in south Antrim who were recently expelled from the UDA, were unlikely to be true.

"They are criminals and drug dealers who would not be capable of threatening a diplomat," he said.

He said that it was evident that every time good news emerges from the loyalist community there appeared to be an attempt to blacken the work of the UDA and the UPRG.

"Last week the Secretary of State Peter Hain announced the formation of the Conflict Transformation Initiative which is aimed at creating an environment in loyalist areas where there is no need for guns," Frankie Gallagher said.

Loyalist groups have been promised finance of Stg£130,000 (€194,000) under the transformation scheme which is aimed at pressing the loyalist para-militaries to decommission their weapons and adopt exclusively political methods.

The apparent death threat against Aine de Baróid made by confidential telephone to the PSNI was an attempt to disrupt this political process and her important work within the loyalist community, he claimed.

David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party said that those loyalists involved in the threat should "wise up".

"The advice from the rest of loyalism is wise up. Most people are very supportive of Aine De Baróid. Her job was about building a relationship and I think she did it very well. Clearly, there were others who weren't happy about building a relationship close to the Irish administration and the Irish presidency but isn't it great that its only a small number of people who aren't happy about that?" he told Village.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it had "no comment" to make on the matter.