UVF boss Winston ‘Winky’ Irwin was set to begin work this summer on a £258,000 taxpayer-funded loyal ex-prisoners project.
That plan, paid for by the Executive Office at Stormont through the controversial Communities in Transition (CIT) program, is intended to help re-connected former paramilitaries with society.
While on remand at Maghberry Prison facing UVF guns and ammunition charges, Irwin was to play a key role in the project, which begins in July and runs for 21 months.
Last night, the Executive Office insisted that “this tender is currently under evaluation”, explicitly stating in the documentation that work begins on July 1, but multiple sources confirmed that Winky is working on the plan. from which he would have been paid public money.
Irwin’s involvement in a publicly controlled regional personal transition program is another example of the many jobs he holds, both political and paramilitary.
As boss of the UVF ‘B’ company on Belfast’s Shankill Road, the high-profile loyalist was taking home a weekly salary of at least £1,000, but is no longer behind bars.
This comes from £5-per-week ‘Totes’, paid for by its 400-strong membership, every seven days for a total of £2,000. The remaining £1,000 is fed to UVF Central Command, led by veteran leader John ‘Bunter’ Graham.
On top of his basic ‘B’ Company salary of £1,000-a-week, Irwin also slashed his racket, including extortion, taxing criminals and money laundering through his legitimate businesses.
UVF sources say that, in a good week, Irwin was earning up to £5,000 from his position as paramilitary chief. This translates to £250,000 per year.
This income was hidden from Irwin’s plethora of ‘clean’ jobs, including his £35,000-a-year senior project manager role with the Intercom Ireland peace-building charity. The salary is funded by taxpayers and other organizations such as the International Fund for Ireland (IFI).
Until his arrest last week, Irwin sat on a panel that offered grants to loyal community groups in exchange for signing up for a safe bonfire ceremony. Again, the scheme was handled by the IFI.
Irwin is also a director of several companies including Duncairn Community Partnership and NI Research & Consultancy Ltd.
The 46-year-old is director of the Woodwell and Shankill Community Housing Association, which had a turnover of £2.4m last year.
He also sits on the boards of several property development firms.
All of these roles provided Irwin a healthy income stream, which meant he could take a mortgage on an impressive detached house, which he spent tens of thousands of pounds on repairs, and a new SUV vehicle.
Importantly, the clean cash allowed him to hide his UVF ‘B’ company ‘black’ money, which in a good year was worth as much as £250,000.
On the day he appeared in court two weeks ago, Irwin, a father of four, was about to graduate from Mayhew University with a degree in international peacebuilding and development.
While Irwin is jailed on remand, the terrorist gang has launched an investigation into how one of its most prominent members was caught in the boot of his car with handcuffs and over 200 rounds of gunpowder.
Police discovered a Sainsbury’s bag containing an 8 mm blank-firing pistol, a ME 38 .22 Brocock revolver airgun, 203 rounds of 9×19 mm ammunition, two rounds of 7.65×17 mm, two rounds of .243 Winchester and 5.56 mm ammunition. x45 mm ammunition. Nine magazines were also found, one of which is used for the SA80 assault rifle issued to the armed forces.
A subsequent search of his home also found several items of UVF memorabilia and £3,000 in cash.
A police officer told a court that Irwin initially did not comment, but when he was interviewed for the fourth time he said the weapons “had nothing to do with him”.
In the fifth interview, Irwin gave a prepared statement to officials but declined to answer any questions about its contents.
PSNI confirmed in court that an undercover unit was looking into the loyalist, who was being arrested on an “unrelated matter”.
This is understood in connection with the Hoax bombings in the presence of Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at the North Belfast Peace Conference in March.
A device hidden inside a hijacked van was left at the venue by the UVF ‘B’ company – a move that sparked fury at the highest levels of government and effectively led to the signing of Irwin’s arrest warrant.
His co-accused in the gun case is Larne loyalist Robin Workman (51). Joiner is accused by police of providing Irwin with weapons found in the boot of his car – a charge he vehemently denies.
Importantly, however, police did not see Workman handing over a bag containing firearms and ammo to Irwin, although a court was told that there was CCTV footage of his van close to the scene.
UVF sources said the terrorist gang is planning to arrest Irwin on an “unrelated matter” and does not believe the police’s claims that the alleged arms exchange took place.
“What are the variations of this? One million to one? It just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” said an insider.
“It is clear that the police was there to hand over the weapons.
“We believe that Winky was set up. The internal investigation will be determined by whom.”
Several high-ranking ‘B’ company members were seen discussing the matter on the side of Shankil Road Cafe earlier in the week.
Police raided the home of veteran loyalist Tommy Harrison on Friday as part of an investigation. He was not arrested.
The role of Irwin’s ‘B’ company commander is expected to be filled by veteran UVF man Ian ‘Spud’ Wilson, who was jailed for 10 years in 1994 for his involvement in a bomb-making factory.
Security sources fear the recent gun seizures are a sign that the UVF is bent on further violence over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The terrorist group has already warned that it is planning to target Irish government buildings if the Irish Sea border issue is not resolved.