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Alex Kerr is a Northern Irish former loyalist paramilitary. Kerr was a brigadier in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) before becoming one of the two founders of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). He is no longer active in loyalism.

Ulster Defence Association

Kerr made his home on the Taughmonagh estate in the south-west of Belfast.[1] From this centre of UDA activity Kerr established his power base as South Belfast brigadier. The position had been held by John McMichael until he was killed in 1987 when Jackie McDonald was chosen as McMichael's replacement by Andy Tyrie. McDonald was not trusted by the rest of the leadership however and he was removed less than a year later following his arrest for extortion, allowing Kerr to become the new brigadier.[2] Kerr was on good terms with Johnny Adair, and in July 1992 he provided a bolt-hole in Taughmonagh from which Adair and his men were to launch an attack on PIRA commander Brian Gillen's Finaghy Road North home. The attack did not take place however as the C Company unit had been observed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary since leaving the Shankill Road and were all subsequently arrested.[1]

In the spring of 1991 the UDA aligned with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and its subsidiary group, the Red Hand Commando to establish the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC). This was a group designed to co-ordinate military activity and hold ad hoc discussions about political strategy. Liaison officers were appointed to the new body by each of the three groups and Kerr was chosen as the UDA's military representative.[3] Each group also appointed a political liaison officer with Kerr joined by Ray Smallwoods in this function.[4]

In early 1994 the UDA's Inner Council was made up of its six brigadiers - Kerr for South Belfast, Adair for West Belfast, Tom Reid for North Belfast, Gary Matthews for East Belfast, Billy McFarland for County Londonderry and north County Antrim and Joe English for Southeast Antrim. At the time English was attempting to build support for a ceasefire declaration by the Combined Loyalist Military Command. In this endeavour he was supported by Reid and Matthews but opposed vehemently by Adair. Along with McFarland, Kerr represented a middle group who demonstrated general agreement with English but also expressed sympathy for Adair's position that a recent upturn in UDA activity was winning the struggle against the IRA for them.[5] For his part Kerr was sympathetic to the adoption of a "doomsday" scenario in which Ireland would be repartitioned with Catholics sent to the western bank of the River Bann or an enclave in West Belfast with both areas given over the Republic of Ireland. The rest of Northern Ireland would become an autonomous region within the United Kingdom.[6]

Split from the UDA

Kerr lost faith in the Northern Ireland peace process following the 1995 publication of the Frameworks document that preceded the Belfast Agreement, as he saw this document as bringing about a united Ireland by stealth.[7] Kerr became strongly disenchanted with the strategy of the Ulster Democratic Party and argued that they, and their UVF-linked allies in the Progressive Unionist Party, were simply being used by the British government in order to get Sinn Féin into a devolved government.[8]

Seeking to begin an internal campaign against the agreement Kerr initially targeted the UDP, having supporters write "Ulster Drugs Party" on the walls of The Village area of Donegall Road, a stronghold of the South Belfast Brigade.[7] Soon Kerr ramped up his approach by giving interviews to the press in which he called for the development of a new strategy opposed to the Frameworks and a possible return to violence.[7] On 2 June 1995 nine UDA prisoners, including Greysteel massacre perpetrators Torrens Knight and Stephen Irwin, came out in support of Kerr and were eventually moved to another wing of the Maze prison under orders from Johnny Adair, who was on remand at the time and was at that point still committed to the UDP's strategy.[7]

Kerr became a regular face at the Drumcree conflict where he was often in the company of Billy Wright; before long the two were closely linked due to their shared distaste for the strategy of the loyalist political parties.[8] As part of the protests a mechanical digger appeared on the loyalist side and rumours circulated that the machine was armour plated and was to be driven at the security forces. The same rumours also put Kerr in the driving seat of the vehicle.[9] Pictures were broadcast in 1996 of the two men directing rioters on Drumcree hill against the security forces, and the CLMC decided to act against the pair after Wright's ally Clifford McKeown shot and killed a Catholic taxi driver on 1 July.[10] The UDA acted swiftly to expel Kerr and his supporters from their membership. Indeed they even sent a hit squad to his new base in Cookstown; although this attempt at assassination failed when they were intercepted by the RUC.[11] The UVF however were more recalcitrant about expelling Wright which almost caused a rift until the UVF accepted the UDA's point of view and expelled Wright. Both men were placed under death sentences.[12] Jackie McDonald replaced Kerr, becoming, for the second time, leader of the South Belfast Brigade.

Loyalist Volunteer Force

Kerr and Wright however defied the ban and instead pooled their followers into a new anti-peace process organisation to be called the Loyalist Volunteer Force. This group won the support of Jackie Mahood, a former UVF prisoner and PUP spokesman, who wanted to Wright to try to take control of the UVF. Mahood also sought to bring in Jim Spence from the West Belfast UDA, although he declined due to his mistrust of Wright.[13] The new group however did win the support of Ulster Independence Movement activists Kenny McClinton, Clifford Peoples and some other Protestant fundamentalists who disagreed with the paths being taken by mainstream loyalism.[14] Red Hand Commando dissident Frankie Curry also expressed his support for the new group although he declined to join, instead creating his own flag of convenience, the Red Hand Defenders, as a cover for his own activity as well as that of any dissident who chose to use the name.[15] The formal judgement of the CLMC, which expelled Wright and Kerr and passed death sentences on them officially, completed the split.[15] Kerr joined Wright, head of the local Orange Order Harold Gracey and Democratic Unionist Party MP William McCrea on a platform in Portadown hours before the deadline for him to leave Northern Ireland or face death was due to expire.[16] A bomb was thrown through the window of Kerr's parents' house as soon as the deadline expired.[17]

Within the LVF Kerr quickly became close to Mark "Swinger" Fulton and the two worked together in order to try to convince Wright of the desirability of a closer relationship with the UDA.[18] Seeking to demonstrate the capabilities of the new group, Kerr invited the media to an LVF show of strength at Annahilt in autumn 1996 but the publicity proved counterproductive as the RUC arrived and arrested everybody at the scene.[19] Kerr was held on remand in HMP Maghaberry after the incident.[20]

Kerr was not released from prison until 1998 when he initially settled in the LVF stronghold of Portadown, claiming that his time in paramilitarism was over.[20] Soon afterwards however Kerr fled the town under cover of darkness and left with his family for England. Fulton, who had succeeded to the leadership of the LVF following Wright's 1997 killing by the INLA, was pursuing Kerr's earlier idea of a close relationship with the UDA. He felt, however, that Kerr, who was still seen as a dissident by the UDA, was damaging the prospects of that happening and as such Kerr was out of favour with the new LVF leader.[20] The UDA's South Belfast brigade claimed that Kerr had been working for Special Branch although this denied by the UVF's military liaison officer on the CLMC who claimed that, despite being opposed to the LVF, he believed that Kerr was a "true believer" and that the informer tag was simply "black propaganda".[20]

Kerr's current whereabouts are unknown; although in 2009 UDA commander Jackie McDonald stated that Kerr, along with Johnny Adair and John White, could never return to Northern Ireland without being killed.[21]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 David Lister & Hugh Jordan, Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company, Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2004, p. 127
  2. Henry McDonald & Jim Cusack, UDA - Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2004, p. 160
  3. Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald, UVF, Dublin: Poolbeg, 1997, p. 275
  4. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2004, p. 190
  5. Lister & Jordan, Mad Dog, pp. 209-212
  6. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 263-264
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 278
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cusack & McDonald, UVF, p. 343
  9. Ian S. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p. 205
  10. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 281
  11. Cusack & McDonald, UVF, p. 347
  12. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 281-282
  13. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 282
  14. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 282-283
  15. 15.0 15.1 McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 284
  16. Thomas G. Mitchell, Native vs. settler: ethnic conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, p. 188
  17. A Chronology of the Conflict - 1996
  18. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 283-284
  19. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 285-286
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 286
  21. Adair will die if he returns to Ulster
Other offices
Preceded by
Jackie McDonald
Ulster Defence Association South Belfast Brigadier
1989–1995?
Succeeded by
Jackie McDonald

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