Alleged UVF chief Stephen ‘Mackers’ misses out on call-up to 50-year celebration for terror group and its sister organisation at Raven in two weeks time
ALLEGED UVF chief Stephen Matthews has been snubbed over a 50-year ‘celebration’ of the terrorist group.
Plans have been laid for a half century celebration in an East Belfast social club at the end of this month with a host of paramilitary veterans expected to attend. The event is the brainchild of a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) veteran in partnership with a long standing representative of its sister organisation the Red Hand Commando (RHC). Matthews, who denies membership of the UVF or any involvement in crime, has been described as the East Belfast Brigadier of the terror group. His position has been seen unassailable, according to sources, but in recent months his authority has been questioned and there is increased speculation about his future. The fact he has been left off the guest list for such a high profile UVF event will raise eyebrows and cast an even longer shadow over his leadership.
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The event at the Raven Social Club is billed as “50 Years East Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force & Red Hand Commandos Hand Commando” and will run from 2pm – 5pm on July 25th with memorabilia from the conflict on show as well as artefacts from Long Kesh. A flute band will put on a performance and organisers have warned that while the bar will be open, people will need to observe social distancing protocols. But it is the Matthews snub that will further heighten speculation about his position. The organisation has come under pressure since the murder in January 2019 of prominent loyalist Ian Ogle. A number of people have been charged in relation to Mr Ogle’s death, his death sparked unprecedented public criticism of the leadership. The decision in recent weeks to stand down long time close associate and second in command of the East Belfast UVF Dee McConnell coupled with Matthews’ decision to move out of the UVF heartland in Belfast has only added to the instability.
He currently lives on the outskirts of the city and metaphorically a million miles from his one time power base. There is also mounting speculation that having been recently married he is looking for a new life. A regular visitor to Benidorm, where he has a caravan, people believe he may be ready to cash in his chips and settle for life in the sun.
“The UVF of the Troubles was a different organisation to what it became under Matthews”
One well placed source told the Sunday World this week that outspoken opposition to the UVF is unprecedented. “You would never have heard a word about Mackers, but now people are openly hostile to the UVF which makes the celebration at the Raven all the more ironic,” he said.
“The UVF of the Troubles was a different organisation to what it became under Matthews, back in the day it commanded huge respect as defenders of the loyalist community, under him it became a crime gang.” Matthews earned a reputation as an uncompromising crime boss. He demanded unstinting loyalty as his organisation controlled drug and extortion rackets in the east of the city. Another reason he has seen the writing on the wall is increased attention from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) and impending legislation granting increased powers for the seizure of property and assets perceived to be the assets of crime.
“Mackers is low key, but some of those below him have flaunted their cars and jewellery, he knows it’s only a matter of time,” said our source. A senior security source once described Matthews to the Sunday World as one of the most dangerous crime bosses in the North of Ireland. He has become a priority for the security services and remains – despite questions over his leadership, as a major crime figure. “The fact he has not been invited to this do in The Raven is an indication as to how far his star has fallen, don’t be mistaken he is still the boss but he is facing a power struggle.” The Sunday World understands there have been a series of meetings involving senior UVF figures with the leadership high on the agenda.
With McConnell gone Matthews has been left vulnerable. We are aware a sizeable faction of UVF men have thrown their weight behind a one time senior UVF figure seen as a potential candidate to seize control of the organisation. Last night a spokesperson for Mr Matthews said: “Once again it appears that there is a deliberate effort to create disharmony within the loyalist community, and to place a focus on Mr Matthews. “This is a non-story, with no basis in fact or reality, which is being contrived by anonymous sources seeking to undermine the positive work ongoing within East Belfast. Mr Matthews denies any allegations of involvement in any criminality and/or membership of any proscribed organisation.”
With many thanks to the: Sunday World and Richard Sullivan for the EXCLUSIVE original story