Johnny Adair (1963- ) was a prominent Loyalist, paramilitary volunteer and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) commander.
Adair was born in Lower Oldpark in Belfast, a tough interface area prone to sectarian violence. Adair was one of seven children in a working-class Protestant family; his father Jimmy was a quiet, humble man with no political affiliations. As a child, Johnny Adair played in the streets with local Catholic children, a habit that ended abruptly when the Troubles erupted just before his ninth birthday.
Adair became a rebellious teenager, attending school infrequently and eventually dropping out. He obtained work in a local sawmill, where his father was also employed, but this was also sporadic and short-lived. Adair and his friends formed a ‘skinhead’ gang called the ‘NF Skinz’ that embraced Nazi ideas, symbols and culture. The gang generally spent their days drinking, glue-sniffing, looking for fights or performing in punk rock bands.
By 1983, Adair and his gang had a reputation for hooliganism, petty crime and harassment of locals. Several of Adair’s gang were ‘kneecapped’ by the UDA for violent attacks on Protestant civilians. Adair escaped this punishment by promising to join the UDA himself.
During the mid-1980s, Adair channelled his predilection for violence into UDA operations. His hand-picked team, C Company, targeted prominent Nationalists and those with suspected links to the IRA, as well as random attacks on Catholic businesses and civilians. His group was suspected of killing dozens of people, many of them civilians, during the early and mid-1990s.
Adair became the brigadier or commander of the UDA’s West Belfast Brigade in 1993. High in profile compared to other paramilitary chiefs, Adair was a target for both retaliation and arrest. The Provisional IRA tried assassinating him twice. One of these attempts, the October 1993 bombing of Frizzell’s Fish Shop on Shankill Road, missed Adair but killed ten other people.
Adair’s boasting eventually brought him undone. In 1995, he was arrested and charged with directing a terrorist organisation. Adair’s willingness to talk about his exploits was a gift for prosecutors. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. While in the Maze Adair continued to influence the UDA and its volunteers.
In January 1998 Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam visited Adair in the Maze, to convince him to support the peace process. Adair was given early release in 1999, against the wishes of police and British officials. He was arrested and jailed again between 2000 and 2005, this time for internecine violence against other Loyalists. Adair was expelled from the UDA in September 2002.
After his release, Adair and his wife Gina relocated to northern England, where they live today.