Throughout Nationalist communities in the six counties, there’s been the telltale signs of a plague: sunken eyes, emaciated bodies, and families facing the tragedy of burying their young before their time. The culprit behind this is the drug epidemic, which has gripped all of Ireland from the lowest to the highest. Practically every family in Ireland has dealt with the shadow of this crisis and had it impact their lives in one way or another; however, in the six counties, this vice trade has another, more sinister aspect: being the fuel that propels the engine of the Loyalist paramilitaries.

The Loyalist drug empire has its origins during the late 1980s in the port of Larne in County Antrim. Before this time, the Loyalists funded themselves through racketeering, control of their pub networks, and robberies: the streets of the six counties were generally free of the drugs that had become the scourge of many nations by this point in time. The change would come, however, when cannabis began to enter through shipments in Larne. Drugs opened up a whole new avenue for profit, and the South East Antrim UDA was in the right place to be at the centre of it. The South East Antrim UDA began to distribute cannabis to other Loyalist groups in the six counties, especially those within Belfast. In a short time, this city, previously free of the tidal wave of drugs enveloping others across Western Europe, was drowned by the illicit trade coming in through the shipments from Larne. The South East Antrim UDA from this point would grow greatly in wealth as a result of its central position in the trade and would only increase in its aggressiveness when John “Grugg” Gregg was released from prison in 1993 and eventually forced out the former brigadier Joe English, who was sceptical of the growing prominence of the drug trade within the UDA.

One of the pioneers of this new means of funding for the Loyalist paramilitaries was Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair. Adair, leader of the infamous ‘C’ Company of the West Belfast Brigade of the UDA, built his renewed terror campaign against the Nationalist people of Belfast off of the extensive dealing in ecstasy and cocaine, which had started coming into the six counties during the early 90s and begun eating into the market for cannabis. The UVF at this point had also become dependent on the funding of the drug trade and Billy “King Rat” Wright’s Mid-Ulster UVF gained notoriety for their ruthlessness in pushing drugs upon the population of Armagh and Tyrone. By the mid-1990s, the UDA and the UVF’s drug dealing resembled a well-oiled machine and began to overshadow their purpose in engaging in violence against the Nationalist population of the six counties. This process would only accelerate with the ceasefire, the Good Friday Agreement, and the eventual purge of hardliners like Adair from the ranks of Loyalism. With their purpose fading out, what remained was the structure of an immensely valuable criminal enterprise.

By the 2000s, the UDA and the UVF were in the perfect position to monopolise the growing drug trade in the six counties. They had their structure inherited from the Troubles: arms, muscle and an already established position in the trade dating from the late 80s. With the Troubles at an end and violence between the Nationalist and Unionist populations becoming ever more controlled, the Loyalists turned full-time to criminal activity. The drug trade in the six counties would grow by leaps and bounds throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with ever more profit to be made from the sale of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, prescription tablets, etc. The UDA and the UVF would be at the very centre of all this, gaining a foothold with every drug dealer who wished to have a sure supply.

The South East Antrim UDA under Gary Fisher’s leadership after John Gregg’s assassination in 2003 and the East Belfast UVF would come out as the most prominent distributors in the post-Troubles period. Independent from the greater UDA since 2007, Fisher’s UDA and the East Belfast UVF have had a chokehold on the cocaine supply in the six counties, and if anyone sells cocaine, it’s most likely to be traced back to Loyalist sources or those that they’re affiliated with. The South East Antrim UDA jealously guards its supremacy by forcing non-affiliated drug dealers to kneel through coercion and direct violence, which is a pattern seen throughout the six counties as the different UDA and UVF groupings use their muscle to maintain their dominance.

The Loyalist paramilitaries influence the Nationalist community through a means which is commonly known, yet hardly ever directly stated by the so-called politicians who claim to represent the interests of the Nationalist community or those who claim to be their defenders: their collaboration and supply of Nationalist drug dealers. Nationalist areas throughout the same time frame that this article has gone through have also had great growth in the drug trade, yet there are no organisations with the same power as the UDA and the UVF. Republican paramilitary organisations have been policed and harassed to a much greater extent by the state than have the Loyalist paramilitaries, leaving them at a great organisational and numerical disadvantage. Loyalist paramilitaries have made it a first-order strategy to prop up Nationalist drug kingpins in Nationalist areas throughout the six counties. Fisher’s South East Antrim UDA in particular has made it a point to direct a great flow of cocaine into the Nationalist areas of Belfast through their collaborators in those areas. The Nationalist people suffer and rot at the hands of this scourge, and nothing seems to be done to stop this deliberate poisoning of the people. This use of drug-dealing collaborators in Nationalist areas has created a form of dependency for the Loyalists, as one of the unspoken reasons for their climb down during the Irish Sea Border Riots of April 2021 was the endangerment of their lucrative drug networks in Nationalist areas.

In recent years, another element has also entered the picture of the Loyalist drug trade: their alliance with drug cartels in the twenty-six counties. With the ever-changing winds of the drug trade, the UDA and the UVF have come to forge a close alliance with the Kinahan crime family. Starting around the mid-2010s, the older supply networks of cocaine for the UDA and the UVF began to dry up, which led to them forging connections with the Kinahans to keep their supply networks operational. This has resulted in an increasing flow of traffic from the twenty-six counties to the six counties, to the point where the majority of the cocaine for the Loyalist paramilitaries now appears to come from the Kinahans. In addition to their Loyalist connections the Kinahans also have their own direct connections within the Nationalist community, meaning that increasingly the ultimate source of cocaine within the six counties is cornered by them. The Kinahan connection illustrates how parasitic organisations in both the Free State and six counties collaborate in exploiting the crisis afflicting the Irish people.

While the Nationalist people have become the victims of a cadre of traitorous poison pushers who collaborate with entities that, in other circumstances, have shot and butchered their people, what have the political organisations that are supposed to represent these people done? There’s a chilling silence as the Nationalist community of the six counties is reduced to husks, utterly dependent on the dope rolled out by a hand tinged in orange. Until an organisation rises which isn’t compromised by dirty political deals or the dark money of the drug trade our people will continue to suffer at the hands of criminal jackals.

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