UDA member speaks out about threats and criminality
A member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) has come forward to speak about how difficult it is to leave the paramilitary organisation.
The man told BBC News NI he cannot get out because of intimidation and threats from those at the top of the UDA.
He also gave an insight into the amount of serious crime the group is involved in, including drugs and extortion.
The UDA man spoke to BBC News NI's Kevin Magee but has not been named in order to protect him from reprisals.
Asked why he cannot just walk away from the illegal loyalist paramilitary organisation, the man said: "It's not as simple as that. That's not the way it works."
He added: "It's hard to explain to people the threat level they have against you and your family. If you walk away, they'll torture the life out of you .
"They will damage your property. They'll attack members of your family, they'll attack you. It's impossible. You just can't get out."
He said there were about 2,000 members of the UDA in the south east Antrim area and that the paramilitary group controls "all the criminal activity" that goes on in the local towns.
"Anybody that deals drugs, must go through the UDA, they must buy them from the UDA," he said.
"If they are not a member of the UDA , then they're taxed - so that they have to pay the UDA a certain percentage of the money that they get from them.
"Any stealing that goes on, if there are any break-ins in businesses or whatever, they take a cut of the money."
He said UDA members do not carry weapons but have them stashed away where they "can get their hands on them within 20 minutes or half an hour".
The member claimed that many of these were guns left over from the "so-called decommissioning" of paramilitary weapons earlier in the peace process.
"The kept all the good weapons," the man said.
"They only destroyed rubbish - rusty ones, ones that had been used on jobs and they bought some newer weapons from drug gangs in Manchester."
Asked why he had changed his mind about being a member of the paramilitary group, the man said: "They're a criminal gang. They have no interest in Ulster or politics or anything else.
"They just want to make money and I'm fed up with it. They are just gangsters.
"They control an area from Whitewell, right down as far as Larne, that takes in Rathcoole, Monkstown, all of Carrickfergus and Whitehead."
He claimed the UDA controlled "100%" of an illegal drugs network in south east Antrim but said he felt he could not report the crimes he witnessed to the police.
"If you went to do something like that you would be classed as an informer - you would have to leave the country, your life would be in danger.
"That would be the end of your life, living on some Army barracks in England in some safe house. That is no life, and if you left... they would target your family."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said there was what he described as a "distrust of police in many of these communities."
Former Ass Ch Con Alan McQuillan said the claims in the interview did not surprise him in "the slightest".
"They've been doing it for 30 years. But I would argue there isn't a UDA anymore.
"The UDA was an organisation that existed at the start of the Troubles. It then broke up into criminal gangs.
"When you talk about engaging with the UDA, it's pointless. You're engaging with criminal barons.
"This is confined to, I would guess, about four areas of Northern Ireland: Two or three areas in Belfast, south east Antrim, maybe a little bit in Derry.
"Those are the areas the UDA have any presence. It's not province-wide."
Mr McQuillan said "radical measures" should be considered to tackle the problem.
"We need to consider, when they've living in public housing, moving them out of the area, and banning them from living in the area because of their influence in organised crime groups in that area.
"You can't do this at the moment. "