In his latest exclusive article for Long Kesh Insideout, former Blanket journalist and Radical Unionist political commentator, DR JOHN COULTER, assesses the threat which the violent vigilante group, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), could have on the Loyalist community.
The Loyalist community must not be lured into physically striking back at factions from the dissident republican community who seem hell-bent on re-igniting the conflict.
Dissident republican terror gangs, such as the Real and Continuity IRAs and Oglaigh na hEireann, are all vehemently opposed to theProvos’ ceasefire and the so-called Sinn Fein peace strategy at Stormont.
Initially after devolution was finally restored in 2007 after the previous year’s St Andrews Agreement, the dissident republican targeting was simply to embarrass Sinn Fein into issuing statements supporting the police.
Then their targeting became more specific. The various dissident groups wanted to attack police officers who were from the Catholic community. It was a brutal strategy which both the Official and Provisional IRAs had adopted during the Troubles.
Rather than carry out a terror campaign under the banner of one organisation, the dissident republican movement has become so paranoid about infiltration by the security forces that each organisation operates as a separate group.
The various dissident groups may share the same violent agenda, and there has even been collaboration between some of the groups.
But republican communities have faced a major crisis. As theProvosand INLA went on ceasefire and decommissioned their arsenals, criminal gangs took advantage of political developments to take over the previous republican racketeering turf.
The most lucrative area financially was the illegal drugs trade where vast fortunes could be amassed in a short time.
In the years after the mainstream republican ceasefires, the IRA set up Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD), which attacked and killed people it alleged were involved in the drugs trade.
Dissident republicans have established their own counterpart to DAAD – Republican Action Against Drugs, better known as RAAD.
Again, initially RAAD was viewed as a violent vigilante group wishing to re-assert dissident republican authority in Catholic heartlands that were once Sinn Fein strongholds.
But RAAD went in a sinister new direction earlier this year when it said it would be targeting police officers. The question was then posed – what’s the difference between dissidents like the Real IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann, and RAAD?
The Loyalist communities should not dismiss this friction between RAAD and Sinn Fein as ‘merely a republican problem’.
One of RAAD’s strategies is to provoke the Loyalist organisations into some form of retaliation. It is imperative that those with political, spiritual and community influence within Loyalism ensure that Protestants do not rise to RAAD’s bait.
To understand RAAD’s thinking, you must meet and talk with its members. The following in an interview with a source close to the leadership of RAAD.
As you read through this, Loyalists of all shades, groups and opinions must ask themselves the fundamental question – at what point does targeting Loyalists enter the equation?
More importantly, does Loyalism have an effective strategy which will ensure Loyalism – whether mainstream or factional – does not get lured into dancing to RAAD’s tune by responding with attacks on Catholic homes, property, or people.
The Troubles will be back on again – that’s the conclusion from a secret interview last night with a source close to the leadership of the vigilante group, Republican Action Against Drugs.
The source said RAAD will develop into a new, experienced dissident terror group carrying out shootings and bombings against the security forces.
In past months, while RAAD has been terrorising people it alleges are connected with the drugs trade, it recently announced it was to begin targeting police officers – the same strategy being adopted by dissident republican terror groups.
Senior police officers have consistently said this year that the threat from such dissident groups remains high.
The source said RAAD was a “very secretive organisation”, but that “people could expect all sorts of things in the coming weeks”.
The source claimed: “The majority of RAAD is comprised of former Provisionals from recent times.
“While there are new members in RAAD, they were like the Provisionals who joined Direct Action Against Drugs and were doing the same thing.”
In the aftermath of the Provisional IRA ceasefire of 1994 and the subsequent Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a republican group emerged called DAAD, which murdered a number of people it alleged were drug dealers.
There have also been reports that Loyalist hardliners have launched their own anti-drugs vigilante group. However, it appears the threat to the peace process from RAAD remains the most serious.
My republican source added: “It was an inevitable progression that because RAAD began in the republican community, the organisation would start attacking the police. RAAD is a new army emerging against the police.
“This is a natural progression. They (RAAD) want the war. They started out attacking drug dealers, but the police goaded RAAD into attacking the police.
“The police were saying they knew who was in RAAD and the police would sort them out. This only served to stir RAAD up.”
The source claimed RAAD could progress to the top of the dissident republican terror league because it contained members who were older and more experienced than other dissident groups, such as the Real and Continuity IRAs and Oglaigh na hEireann.
“RAAD will stay separate from these other groups. They believe in the view that of there are a lot of these groups, it makes it harder for the police and MI5 to penetrate them.
“RAAD did collaborate with the Real IRA for a time, but RAAD members didn’t like being told what to do with Real IRA people who were less experienced.
“The various organisations will stay separate and RAAD will not become an umbrella group for the other dissident groups. But RAAD will not criticise these groups.
“I know of members of some families who are connected with both organisations – some are in RAAD, others in the Real IRA.
“RAAD certainly appears to have expanded quite a bit and has members in Derry,Belfastand Tyrone. They certainly seem to have access to guns and explosives.
“I am not sure why RAAD has held back from attacking the police until now. I would have expected it sooner.
“However, I am not sure that RAAD will want to implement a long war strategy which the Provisional IRA favoured.
“But that could well happen if RAAD gains more experienced members. In the early years of the war, there were splits between the different groups like the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. But not now.
“There is a totally different attitude than even 20 years ago. Another reason for staying a separate group as well as the security is to make sure the leadership doesn’t get carried away.
“There is a lot more co-operation between these groups. For example, at a recent funeral of a former INLA man, the INLA could not fire a volley of shots over his coffin because the INLA is supposed to be on ceasefire.
“So supporters of the dead man brought in another group. RAAD wants co-operation, not fall-outs.
“As for a long war strategy, while RAAD has the experience for this, it still lacks the weapons and means to carry this on.
“I believe the situation will stay the same with dissident groups doing their own individual things. But the big advantage for RAAD is the same as in business – experience works,” said my source close to the RAAD leadership.
Loyalists cannot simply dismiss RAAD as troublesome psychos. RAAD is comprised of experienced republican terrorists who have a clearly defined strategy.
While the security forces and intelligence community attempt to contain the RAAD threat, Loyalism should also be playing its part by ensuring combatants do not resort to armed struggle no matter how badly they are provoked.
By keeping the lid of any so-called Loyalist retaliatory action, Loyalism’s leadership will be showing tremendous political maturity. This is certainly one way in which the peace process legacy of Loyalist icons such as David Ervine and Gusty Spence can be maintained.