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Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.

They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

Provisional Irish Republican Army

The IRA were responsible for approx.  1,823 deaths

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IRA Bombers (IRA Documentary

 


Gaddafi and the IRA – Full

 


The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA or PIRA) was[5][6][7][8] an Irish republican paramilitary organisation that sought to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about an independent republic encompassing all of Ireland.[9][10] It was the biggest and most active republican paramilitary group during the Troubles. It saw itself as the successor to the original IRA and called itself simply the Irish Republican Army, or Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish.[11] It was also widely referred to as such by others. The IRA is designated an unlawful terrorist organisation in the UK and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][13]

The Provisional IRA emerged in December 1969, following a split in the republican movement. The Troubles had begun a year before, when a Catholic, nonviolent civil rights campaign was met with violence from both Ulster loyalists and the police, culminating in the August 1969 riots and deployment of British troops.[14]

Secret Undercover British Army Terrorist Force – Military Reaction Force Disclosed

 

The IRA initially focused on defence, but it began an offensive campaign in 1971 (see timeline). The IRA’s primary goal was to force the British to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. It used guerrilla tactics against the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary in both rural and urban areas. It also carried out a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and England against what it saw as political and economic targets. Telephoned warnings were usually sent before such bombings. The IRA called a final ceasefire in July 1997, when Sinn Féin were re-admitted into the Northern Ireland peace talks. It supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and in 2005 it disarmed under international supervision.

Overview of strategies

The IRA’s initial strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the government of Northern Ireland and to inflict enough casualties on British forces that the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from the region.[15] This policy involved recruitment of volunteers, increasing after the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident, in which the British military killed unarmed protesters, and launching attacks against British military and economic targets.[16][17] The campaign was supported by arms and funding from Libya[18] and from some groups in the United States.[19][20]

The IRA agreed to a ceasefire in February 1975, which lasted nearly a year[21] before the IRA concluded that the British were drawing them into politics without offering any guarantees in relation to the IRA’s goals (as well as launching an intelligence offensive),[22] and hopes of a quick victory receded.[23] As a result, the IRA launched a new strategy known as “the Long War”. This saw them conduct a war of attrition against the British and increase emphasis on political activity, via the political party Sinn Féin.[24]

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to the Armalite and ballot box strategy, with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The abortive attempt at an escalation of the military part of that strategy led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political compromise to end the conflict, with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government, dependent on Ulster Unionist Party votes at Westminster, then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the IRA called off its ceasefire in February 1996.

This demand was quickly dropped after the May 1997 general election in the UK. The IRA ceasefire was then reinstated in July 1997 and Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 640 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members[28] and an estimated 10,000 imprisoned at various times over the 30-year period.[1][29]

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

On 26 July 2012, it was announced that some former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were merging with the Real Irish Republican Army, other independent republican paramilitary groups and the vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (but, notably, not with the Continuity Irish Republican Army) into a unified formation known simply as the “Irish Republican Army”.[34][35] This new IRA group is estimated by Police Service of Northern Ireland intelligence sources to have between 250 and 300 active militants and many more supporting associates.[36]

Origins

An IRA badge – the Phoenix is frequently used to symbolise the origins of the Provisional IRA.

In August 1969, a confrontation between Catholic residents of the Bogside and police Londonderry ollowing an Apprentice Boys of Derry march led to a large communal riot now referred to as the Battle of the Bogside – three days of fighting between rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs and police who saturated the area with CS gas.

Protests and riots organised by NICRA in support of the Bogsiders began elsewhere in the Province sparking retaliation by Protestant mobs; the subsequent burning, damage to property and intimidation largely against the minority community forced 1,505 Catholics from their homes in Belfast in what became known as the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, with over 200 Catholic homes being destroyed or requiring major repairs[14] and a number of people were killed on both sides, some by the forces of law and order. The Irish Republican Army had been poorly armed and unable to adequately defend the Catholic community, which had been considered one of its traditional roles since the 1920s.[37]

Veteran republicans were critical of the IRA’s Dublin leadership which, for political reasons, had refused to prepare for aggressive action in advance of the violence.[38][39] On 24 August Joe Cahill, Seamus Twomey, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Billy McKee and several other future Provisional leaders came together in Belfast intending to remove the Belfast leadership and turn back to traditional militant republicanism.[40] Although the pro-Goulding commander Billy McMillen stayed in command, he was told it was only for three months and he was not to have any communication with the IRA’s Dublin based leadership.[40]

Traditional republicans formed the “Provisional” Army Council in December 1969, after an IRA Army convention was held at Knockvicar House in Boyle, County Roscommon.[41][42][43] The two main issues were the acceptance of the “National Liberation Strategy” and a motion to end abstentionism and to recognise the British, Irish and Northern Ireland parliaments. While the motion on the “National Liberation Strategy” was passed unanimously[43] the motion on abstentionism was only passed by 28 votes to 12. Opponents of this change argued strongly against the ending of abstentionism, and when the vote took place, Seán Mac Stíofáin, present as IRA Director of Intelligence, announced that he no longer considered that the IRA leadership represented republican goals.[44] However, there was not a walkout. Those opposed, who included Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, refused to go forward for election to the new IRA Executive.[45]

While others canvassed support throughout Ireland, Mac Stíofáin was a key person making a connection with the Belfast IRA under Billy McKee and Joe Cahill, who had refused to take orders from the IRA’s Dublin leadership since September 1969, in protest at their failure to defend Catholic areas in August.[46][47] Nine out of thirteen IRA units in Belfast sided with the Provisionals in December 1969, roughly 120 activists and 500 supporters.[48] The first “Provisional” Army Council was composed of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Paddy Mulcahy, Sean Tracey, Leo Martin, and Joe Cahill,[49] and issued their first public statement on 28 December 1969, stating:

We declare our allegiance to the 32 county Irish republic, proclaimed at Easter 1916, established by the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, overthrown by forces of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British-imposed six-county and twenty-six-county partition states.[50]

The Sinn Féin party split along the same lines on 11 January 1970, when a third of the delegates walked out of the Ard Fheis in protest at the party leadership’s attempt to force through the ending of abstentionism, despite its failure to achieve a two-thirds majority vote of delegates required to change the policy.[51] Despite the declared support of that faction of Sinn Féin, the early Provisional IRA was extremely suspicious of political activity, arguing rather for the primacy of armed struggle.[52]

There are allegations that the early Provisional IRA received arms and funding from the Fianna Fáil-led Irish government in 1969, resulting in the 1970 “Arms trial” in which criminal charges were pursued against two former government ministers. Roughly £100,000 was donated by the Irish government to “Defence Committees” in Catholic areas and, according to historian Richard English, “there is now no doubt that some money did go from the Dublin government to the proto-Provisionals”.[53]

The Provisionals maintained the principles of the pre-1969 IRA; they considered both British rule in Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Ireland to be illegitimate, insisting that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council was the only valid government, as head of an all-island Irish Republic. This belief was based on a series of perceived political inheritances which constructed a legal continuity from the Second Dáil.[54][55]

The Provisionals inherited most of the existing IRA organisation in the north by 1971 and the more militant IRA members in the rest of Ireland. In addition, they recruited many young nationalists from the north, who had not been involved in the IRA before, but had been radicalised by the communal violence that broke out in 1969. These people were known in republican parlance as “sixty niners”, having joined after 1969.[56] The Provisional IRA adopted the Phoenix as symbol of the Irish republican rebirth in 1969. One of its common slogans is “out of the ashes rose the provisionals”.[57]

Organisation

The Provisional IRA was organised hierarchically. At the top of the organisation was the IRA Army Council, headed by the IRA Chief of Staff.

Leadership

All levels of the organisation were entitled to send delegates to IRA General Army Conventions (GACs). The GAC was the IRA’s supreme decision-making authority. Before 1969, GACs met regularly. Since 1969, there have only been two, in 1970 and 1986, owing to the difficulty in organising such a large gathering of an illegal organisation in secret.[58][59]

The GAC in turn elected a 12-member IRA Executive, which selected seven volunteers to form the IRA Army Council.[58] For day-to-day purposes, authority was vested in the Army Council which, as well as directing policy and taking major tactical decisions, appointed a Chief of Staff from one of its number or, less commonly, from outside its ranks.[60]

PIRA re-enacment in Galbally, County Tyrone (2009)

The Chief of Staff would appoint an adjutant general as well as a General Headquarters (GHQ), which consisted of heads of the following departments:

  • Armory
  • Finance
  • Engineering
  • Training
  • Intelligence
  • Publicity
  • Operations
  • Security

Regional command

Republican colour party in Dublin – March 2009. The blue flag being carried at the front is that of “Dublin Brigade IRA”

The IRA was divided into a Northern Command, which operated in the nine Ulster counties as well as County Leitrim and County Louth, and a Southern Command, operating in the rest of Ireland. The Provisional IRA was originally commanded by a leadership based in Dublin. However, in 1977, parallel to the introduction of cell structures at local level, command of the “war-zone” was given to the Northern Command. According to Ed Moloney, these moves at reorganisation were the idea of Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams and Brian Keenan.[61]

Brigades

The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers (or óglaigh in Irish). Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers were organised in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one area formed a company as part of a battalion, which could be part of a brigade, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.

For most of its existence, the IRA had five Brigade areas within what it referred to as the “war-zone”. These Brigades were located in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Donegal and Tyrone/Monaghan.[62] The Belfast Brigade had three battalions, respectively in the west, north and east of the city. In the early years of the Troubles, the IRA in Belfast expanded rapidly. In August 1969, the Belfast Brigade had just 50 active members. By the end of 1971, it had 1,200 members, giving it a large but loosely controlled structure.[63]

The Derry Brigade had two battalions – one based in Derry City, known as the South Derry Brigade, and another in Donegal. The Derry Battalion became the Derry Brigade in 1972 after a rapid increase in membership following Bloody Sunday when British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed demonstrators at a civil rights march.[64] Volunteers based in Donegal were a part of the Derry Brigade as well. County Armagh had three battalions, two very active ones in South Armagh and a less active unit in North Armagh. For this reason the Armagh IRA unit is often referred to as the South Armagh Brigade. Similarly, the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade, which operated from around the Border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is often called the East Tyrone Brigade. Fermanagh, South Down and North Antrim had units not attached to Brigades.[65] The leadership structure at battalion and company level was the same: each had its own commanding officer, quartermaster, explosives officer and intelligence officer. There was sometimes a training officer or finance officer.

Active service units

Ulster Defence Association – Hunting The IRA (Documentary

 

From 1973, the IRA started to move away from the larger conventional military organisational principle owing to its security vulnerability.[66] A system of two parallel types of unit within an IRA brigade was introduced in place of the battalion structures. Firstly, the old “company” structures were used for tasks such as “policing” nationalist areas, intelligence gathering, and hiding weapons. These were essential support activities. However, the bulk of actual attacks were the responsibility of a second type of unit, the active service unit (ASU). To improve security and operational capacity, these ASUs were smaller, tight-knit cells, usually consisting of five to eight members. The ASU’s weapons were controlled by a brigade’s quartermaster.[67] By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was estimated that in the late 1980s the IRA had roughly 300 members in ASUs and about another 450 serving in supporting roles.[65]

The exception to this reorganisation was the South Armagh Brigade, which retained its traditional hierarchy and battalion structure and used relatively large numbers of volunteers in its actions.[68]

The IRA’s Southern Command, located in the Republic of Ireland, consists of a Dublin Brigade and a number of smaller units in rural areas. These were charged mainly with the importation and storage of arms for the Northern units and with raising finances through robberies and other means.[69]

Details on strategy 1969–1998

Initial phase

Following the violence of August 1969, the IRA began to arm and train to protect nationalist areas from further attack.[70] After the Provisionals’ split from the Official IRA the Provisional IRA began planning for an all-out offensive action against what it claimed was British occupation.[71]

The Official IRA were opposed to such a campaign because they felt it would lead to sectarian conflict, which would defeat their strategy of uniting the workers from both sides of the sectarian divide. The IRA Border Campaign in the 1950s had avoided actions in urban centres of Northern Ireland to avoid civilian casualties and resulting sectarian violence.[72] The Provisional IRA, by contrast, was primarily an urban organisation, based originally in Belfast and Derry.

The Provisional IRA’s strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict casualties on the British forces such that the British government be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland. According to journalist Brendan O’Brien, “the thinking was that the war would be short and successful. Chief of Staff Seán Mac Stíofáin decided they would ‘escalate, escalate and escalate’ until the British agreed to go”.[15] This policy involved recruitment of volunteers and carrying out attacks on British forces, as well as mounting a bombing campaign against economic targets. In the early years of the conflict, IRA slogans spoke of, “Victory 1972″ and then “Victory 1974″.[16] Its inspiration was the success of the “Old IRA” in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922). In their assessment of the IRA campaign, the British Army would describe these years, 1970–72, as the “insurgency phase”.[73]

The British government held secret talks with the IRA leadership in 1972 to try and secure a ceasefire based on a compromise settlement within Northern Ireland after the events of Bloody Sunday when IRA recruitment and support increased. The IRA agreed to a temporary ceasefire from 26 June to 9 July. In July 1972, Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ivor Bell, Seamus Twomey, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met a British delegation led by William Whitelaw. The Irish republicans refused to consider a peace settlement that did not include a commitment to British withdrawal, a retreat of the British Army to its barracks, and a release of republican prisoners. The British refused and the talks broke up.[74]

Éire Nua and the 1975 ceasefire

The Provisionals’ goal in this period was the abolition of both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland states and their replacement with a new all-Ireland federal republic, with decentralised governments and parliaments for each of the four Irish historic provinces. This programme was known as Éire Nua (New Ireland). The Éire Nua programme remained IRA policy until discontinued by the Army Council in 1979.[75] Éire Nua remained Sinn Féin policy until 1982.[76]

By the mid-1970s, the hopes of the IRA leadership for a quick military victory were receding. The British military was unsure of when it would see any substantial success against the IRA. Secret meetings between Provisional IRA leaders Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Billy McKee with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees secured an IRA ceasefire which began in February 1975. The IRA initially believed that this was the start of a long-term process of British withdrawal, but later came to the conclusion that Rees was trying to bring them into peaceful politics without offering them any guarantees.[23] Critics of the IRA leadership, most notably Gerry Adams, felt that the ceasefire was disastrous for the IRA, leading to infiltration by British informers, the arrest of many activists and a breakdown in IRA discipline resulting in sectarian killings and a feud with fellow republicans in the Official IRA. At this time, the IRA leadership, short of money, weapons and members, was on the brink of calling off the campaign. The ceasefire, however, broke down in January 1976.[21]

The “Long War

IRA political poster from the 1980s, featuring a quote from Bobby Sands – “There can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically”.

Thereafter, the IRA evolved a new strategy which they called the “Long War”. This underpinned IRA strategy for the rest of the Troubles and involved the re-organisation of the IRA into small cells, an acceptance that their campaign would last many years before being successful and an increased emphasis on political activity through Sinn Féin. A republican document of the early 1980s states, “Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign… Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement”.[77] The 1977 edition of the Green Book, an induction and training manual used by the IRA, describes the strategy of the “Long War” in these terms:

  1. A war of attrition against enemy personnel [British Army] based on causing as many deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their [the British] people at home for their withdrawal.
  2. A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy’s financial interests in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term investment in our country.
  3. To make the Six Counties… ungovernable except by colonial military rule.
  4. To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.
  5. By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.[78]

Confidential documents released on 30 December 2008 from the British state archives show that the IRA leadership proposed a ceasefire and peace talks to the British government in 1978. The British refused the offer. Prime Minister James Callaghan decided that there should be “positive rejection” of the approach on the basis that the republicans were not serious and “see their campaign as a long haul”. Irish State documents from the same period say that the IRA had made a similar offer to the British the previous year. An Irish Defence Forces document, dated 15 February 1977, states that “It is now known that feelers were sent out at Christmas by the top IRA leadership to interest the British authorities in another long ceasefire.”[79]

1981 hunger strikes and electoral politics

Insight: The 1981 Hunger Strike 20 Years On – 2001

 

IRA funeral, 1981

IRA prisoners convicted after March 1976 did not have Special Category Status applied in prison. In response, over 500 prisoners refused to wash or wear prison clothes (see Dirty protest and Blanket protest). This activity culminated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, when seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army members starved themselves to death in pursuit of political status. The hunger strike leader Bobby Sands and Anti H-Block activist Owen Carron were elected to the British Parliament, and two other protesting prisoners were elected to the Irish Dáil. In addition, there were work stoppages and large demonstrations all over Ireland in sympathy with the hunger strikers. Over 100,000 people attended the funeral of Sands, the first hunger striker to die.[80]

After the success of IRA hunger strikers in mobilising support and winning elections on an Anti H-Block platform in 1981, republicans increasingly devoted time and resources to electoral politics, through the Sinn Féin party. Danny Morrison summed up this policy at a 1981 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (annual meeting) as a “ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other”.[81]

Peace strategy

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to what was referred to by Danny Morrison as, “the Armalite and ballot box strategy” with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The perceived stalemate along with British government’s hints of a compromise[82] and secret approaches in the early 1990s led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political agreement to end the conflict,[83][84] with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the organisation called off its ceasefire in February 1996. The renewed bombings caused severe economic damage, with the Manchester bombing and the Docklands bombing causing approximately £500 million in combined damage. After the ceasefire was reinstated in July 1997, Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 630 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members,[28] of an estimated 10,000 total over the 30-year period.[1]

According to author Ed Moloney, the IRA made an attempt to escalate the conflict with the so-called “Tet Offensive” in the 1980s, which was reluctantly approved by the Army Council and did not prove successful. On the other hand, public speeches from two Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, Peter Brooke[85] and Patrick Mayhew[86] hint that, given the cessation of violence, a political compromise with the IRA was possible. Gerry Adams entered talks with John Hume, the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1993, and secret talks were also conducted since 1991 between Martin McGuinness and a senior MI6 officer, Michael Oatley.[82][84][87] Thereafter, Adams increasingly tried to disassociate Sinn Féin from the IRA, claiming they were separate organisations and refusing to speak on behalf of the IRA.[88] Within the Republican Movement (the IRA and Sinn Féin), the new strategy was described by the acronym “TUAS”, meaning either “Tactical Use of Armed Struggle” or “Totally Unarmed Strategy”.[89]

Weaponry and operations

The Armalite AR-18, obtained by the IRA from an IRA member in the United States in the early 1970s, was an emotive symbol of its armed campaign

An AK-47 assault rifle (over 1,000 of which were donated by Muammar Gaddafi to the IRA in the 1980s)

Heckler & Koch G3. 100 of these, stolen from the Norwegian police, finished up with the IRA

In the early days of the Troubles the IRA was very poorly armed, mainly with old World War II weaponry such as M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns, but starting in the early 1970s it procured large amounts of modern weaponry from such sources as supporters in the United States, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,[21] and arms dealers in Europe, America, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Libyans supplied the IRA with the RPG-7.

The RPG-7

In the first years of the conflict, the IRA’s main activities were providing firepower to support nationalist rioters and defending nationalist areas from attacks. The IRA gained much of its support from these activities, as they were widely perceived within the nationalist community as being defenders of Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic people against aggression.[90]

Grand Hotel following a bomb attack

 
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Thatcher and the IRA Dealing with Terror BBC Documentary 2014 Full

 

From 1971–1994, the IRA launched a sustained offensive armed campaign that mainly targeted the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and economic targets in Northern Ireland. In addition, some IRA members carried out attacks against Protestant civilians.[91]

The IRA was chiefly active in Northern Ireland, although it took its campaign to England and mainland Europe. The IRA also targeted certain British government officials, politicians, judges, establishment figures, British Army and police officers in England, and in other areas such as the Republic of Ireland, West Germany and the Netherlands. By the early 1990s, the bulk of the IRA activity was carried out by the South Armagh Brigade,[citation needed] well known through its sniping operations and attacks on British Army helicopters. The bombing campaign principally targeted political, economic and military targets, and approximately 60 civilians were killed by the IRA in England during the conflict.[92]

It has been argued that this bombing campaign helped convince the British government (who had hoped to contain the conflict to Northern Ireland with its Ulsterisation policy) to negotiate with Sinn Féin after the IRA ceasefires of August 1994 and July 1997.[93][94]

Ceasefires and decommissioning of arms

On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire. However, from February 1996 until July 1997, the IRA called off its 1994 ceasefire because of its dissatisfaction with the state of negotiations. They re-instated the ceasefire in July 1997, and it has been in operation since then.[95]

The IRA decommissioned all of its remaining arms between July and September 2005. The decommissioning of its weaponry was supervised by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). Among the weaponry estimated (by Jane’s Information Group) to have been destroyed as part of this process were:

A “Sniper at Work” sign in Crossmaglen. The PIRA used snipers as a tactic in south Armagh to disrupt foot patrols

Having compared the weapons destroyed with the British security forces’ estimates of the IRA weaponry, and because of the IRA’s full involvement in the process of destroying the weapons, the IICD arrived at their conclusion that all IRA weaponry has been destroyed.[97]

Since the process of decommissioning was completed, unnamed sources in MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have reported to the press that not all IRA arms were destroyed during the process. This claim remains unsubstantiated so far.[98] In its report dated April 2006 the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) stated that it had no reason to disbelieve the IRA or to suspect that it had not fully decommissioned. It believed that any weaponry that had not been handed in had been retained locally and against the wishes of the IRA leadership.[99] The Russian and British Intelligence services alleged that during the decommissioning process the IRA secretly purchased a consignment of 20 Russian special forces AN-94 rifles in Moscow.[100][101][102]

In mid-July 2013, the Gardaí displayed arms and explosives (Semtex) recently recovered from dissident republicans in the Dublin area. The Gardaí believe this Semtex to have come from the Libyan connection back in the 1980s and therefore should have been decommissioned.[103][104][105]

Other activities

Apart from its armed campaign, the IRA has also been involved in many other activities.

Sectarian attacks

IRA, purely sectarian, calculated slaughter of Protestants at Kingsmill

 

The IRA publicly condemned sectarianism and sectarian attacks.[106] However, some IRA members became involved in sectarian tit-for-tat violence and attacked Protestants in retaliation for attacks on Catholics.[106] Of those killed by the IRA, Sutton classifies 130 (about 7%) of them as sectarian killings of Protestants.[107] Unlike loyalists, the IRA denied responsibility for sectarian attacks and the members involved used covernames, such as Republican Action Force.[108][109] Many in the IRA opposed these sectarian attacks, but others deemed them effective in preventing sectarian attacks on Catholics.[110]

Some unionists allege that the IRA took part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Protestant minority in rural border areas, such as Fermanagh.[111][112] Many local Protestants allegedly believed that the IRA tried to force them into leaving. However, most Protestants killed by the IRA in these areas were members of the security forces, and there was no exodus of Protestants.[113]

Alleged involvement in organised crime

The IRA have allegedly been involved in criminal activities, including racketeering, bank robbery, fuel laundering, drug dealing and kidnapping.[114][115][116]

In 2004, £26.5m was stolen from the Northern Bank‘s vaults in Belfast city centre. The British and Irish governments agreed with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s report blaming the robbery on the IRA.[117] On 18 January 2005, the IRA issued a statement denying any involvement in the robbery.[118] In February 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission’s Fourth Report stated their belief that the robbery was carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the IRA’s leadership.[119] Commentators including Suzanne Breen have stated that the IRA was the only organisation capable of carrying out the raid.[120] In May 2009, two men were arrested in Cork, and charged with IRA membership and offences relating to the robbery.[121]

According to several sources, the organisation has also been involved in the Irish drugs trade. A 1999 report by John Horgan and Max Taylor cited Royal Ulster Constabulary reports, alleging that this involves the “licensing” of drug operations to criminal gangs and the payment of protection money, rather than direct involvement.[114][122][123] However, Chief of the RUC Drugs Squad Kevin Sheehy notes “the Provisional IRA did its best to stop volunteers from becoming directly involved [in drugs]” and noted that on one occasion an IRA member caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use was “disowned and humiliated” in his local area.[124] According to Horgan and Taylor’s report, the IRA are also involved in several legitimate businesses including taxi firms, construction, restaurants and pubs. The IRA have also been involved in racketeering, which involves the extortion of money from legitimate businesses for “protection”.[125]

Speaking at Sinn Féin 2005 Ard Fheis, Gerry Adams stated that “‘There is no place in republicanism for anyone involved in criminality”. However, he went on to say “we refuse to criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives”.[126]

In 2013 it was reported that an Italian police investigation had revealed links between the IRA and the Mafia in a €450m money laundering scheme.[127]

Vigilantism

The IRA saw itself as the police force of nationalist areas of Northern Ireland during the Troubles instead of the RUC.[128] This was made possible by a feeling of mistrust by some members of the community against the police force and army. The feeling, that the RUC, B-Specials, UDR, British Army and other arms of the Governmental apparatus in Northern Ireland were biased against the nationalist community was not new; it predated the Troubles and took in organisations like the Ulster Defence Volunteers, a home guard body of World War II, who were also widely considered sectarian.[129] Catholics did, however, serve in the UDV,[130] Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Also, the RUC and other forces of the authorities were, in some instances, reluctant to enter or patrol certain Nationalist areas unless it was in armoured Land Rovers and in convoy. Police stations were also heavily armoured because of persistent attacks from the IRA. This gave them the appearance of being fortresses. This vacuum in policing was functional for the IRA because it stopped the local community being in contact with the police which may have posed a threat if information was passed.[131] Therefore, the community would turn to the IRA first to deal with troublemakers or those practising what came to be called “anti-social behaviour”.[132] In efforts to stamp out “anti-social behaviour” and alleged instances of drug dealing reported to or noticed by the organisation, the IRA killed or otherwise attacked suspected drug dealers and other suspected criminals. These attacks varied in severity and depended on various factors. In the first instance, the IRA may warn their intended victim, with further transgressions escalated to an attack known as a “punishment beating”. The process which the IRA went through to determine an offender’s “guilt” or “innocence” was never open to debate or scrutiny.[citation needed] The IRA also engaged in attacks that broke the bones of alleged offenders, or involved shooting through the hands, or knees for persistent offenders of activities such as joyriding or drug dealing. In certain cases, for persistent offenders the IRA would intimidate the individual into leaving the country; this was known as being “put out” of the community/country, and the clear message given to individuals served with these notices was that if they returned to the community/country they would be killed. This practice was frequently criticised by all sections of the political establishment in Northern Ireland as “summary justice“.[citation needed]

Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, speaking in the Dáil Éireann, challenged Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, over allegations of sexual abuse cover up by Sinn Féin/IRA. In the same debate Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said victims of sex abuse by IRA members were sworn to silence. Adams denied there was any Sinn Féin cover up and accused Kenny and Martin of politicising the issue.[133] Adams also apologised to abuse victims who he said were “let down” by the IRA’s failure to properly investigate their claims of abuse.[134]

Killing of alleged informers

IRA execute suspected informer | South Armagh | 20th July 1991

 

In an effort to stamp out what the IRA termed “collaboration with British forces” and “informing”, they killed a number of Catholic civilians, such as Joseph Fenton. Purges against these individuals, whom the IRA considered traitors to their own community and to the cause of nationalism, were most prevalent when the IRA found itself persistently vulnerable to infiltration. Investigations into informers and infiltration are suspected to have been dealt with by an IRA unit called the Internal Security Unit (ISU), known colloquially as the “Nutting Squad”. This unit is said to be directly attached to IRA GHQ. Where a confession was solicited, the victim was often exiled or executed with a bullet in the back of the head. The body was either buried or, later in the IRA campaign, left in a public place, often in South Armagh.

One particular example of the killing of a person deemed by the IRA to have been an informer that is the source of continuing controversy is that of Jean McConville from Belfast, who was killed by the IRA. Ed Moloney and IRA sources continue to claim she was an informer despite the Police Ombudsman recently stating that this was not the case. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) have described the killing as a “war crime“. Her family contend that she was killed as a punishment for aiding a dying British soldier in West Belfast, however this claim has been rejected in an official investigation,[135] while neither the Sutton Index or Lost Lives record the death of any British soldier near her home prior to her killing.[136] In March 2014, Ivor Bell – former IRA Chief of Staff – was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting in the murder of Jean McConville.[137] In April 2014, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned by PSNI detectives in relation to the abduction and murder of Jean McConville.[138] He was released four days later without charge.[139]

In March 2007, Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan announced that there would be an inquiry into claims of collusion between IRA members working as agents for the Special Branch and other agencies and the British security forces.[140]

Conflict with other republican paramilitaries

The IRA has also feuded with other republican paramilitary groups such as the Official IRA in the 1970s and the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation in the 1990s.

Leading Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) member Joseph O’Connor was shot dead in Ballymurphy, west Belfast on 11 October 2000. Claims have been made by O’Connor’s family and people associated with the RIRA that he was killed by the IRA as the result of a feud between the organisations,[141] but Sinn Féin denied the claims.[142] No-one has been charged with his killing.

Casualties

This is a summary. For a detailed breakdown of casualties caused by and inflicted on the IRA see Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997#Casualties

An IRA signpost with the word “Provoland” underneath in Strathroy, Omagh, County Tyrone.

The IRA was responsible for more deaths than any other organisation during the Troubles.[143] Two detailed studies of deaths in the Troubles, the CAIN project at the University of Ulster, and the book Lost Lives,[144] differ slightly on the numbers killed by the IRA. CAIN gives a minimum figure of 1,707 and a maximum of 1,823, while Lost Lives gives a figure of 1,781. Of these, about 1,100 were members or former members of the security forces (the British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary etc.), while between 510[145] and 640[27] were civilians. The civilian figure also includes civilians employed by British forces, politicians, members of the judiciary, and alleged criminals and informers. The remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitary members (including over 100 IRA members accidentally killed by their own bombs or shot for being security force agents or informers).

A little under 300 IRA members were killed in the Troubles.[146] In addition, roughly 50–60 members of Sinn Féin were killed.[147] However, many more IRA volunteers were imprisoned than killed. Journalists Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop estimate in their book The Provisional IRA that roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest (senior officers are required to surrender their post after being arrested), retiring from the armed campaign or “disillusionment”. They give 10,000 as the total number of past and present IRA members at that time.[148]

Categorisation

The IRA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000[12] and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland under the Offences Against the State Acts.[149] Harold Wilson‘s secret 1971 meeting with IRA leaders with the help of John O’Connell angered the Irish government; Garret FitzGerald wrote 30 years later that “the strength of the feelings of our democratic leaders … was not, however, publicly ventilated at the time” because Wilson was a former and possible future British prime minister.[150] Members of IRA are tried in the Republic of Ireland in the Special Criminal Court. In Northern Ireland, the IRA are referred to as terrorists by the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland,[151] and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.[152] On the island of Ireland, the largest political party to state that the IRA is not a terrorist organisation is Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is widely regarded as the political wing of the IRA, but the party insists that the two organisations are separate.[153]

Peter Mandelson, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, contrasted the post-1997 activities of the IRA with those of Al-Qaeda, describing the latter as “terrorists” and the former as “freedom fighters” (though Mandelson subsequently denied this sentiment).[154] The IRA prefer the terms freedom fighter, soldier, or volunteer.[155][156][157] The US Department of State lists them in the category ‘other selected terrorist groups also deemed of relevance in the global war on terrorism.’[153] The organisation has also been described as a “private army” by a number of commentators and politicians.[158][159][160]

The IRA described its actions throughout “The Troubles” as a military campaign waged against the British Army, the RUC, other security forces, judiciary, loyalist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, England and Europe. The IRA considers these groups to be all part of the same apparatus. As noted above, the IRA seeks to draw a direct descendancy from the original IRA and those who engaged in the Irish War of Independence. The IRA sees the previous conflict as a guerrilla war which accomplished some of its aims, with some remaining “unfinished business”.[161]

A process called “Criminalisation” was begun in the mid-1970s as part of a British strategy of “Criminalisation, Ulsterisation, and Normalisation”. The policy was outlined in a 1975 British strategy paper titled “The Way Ahead”, which was not published but was referred to by Labour’s first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees, and came to be the dominant British political theme in the conflict as it raged into the 1980s.[citation needed]

Another categorisation avoids the terms “guerrilla” or “terrorist” but does view the conflict in military terms. The phrase originated with the British military strategist Frank Kitson who was active in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. In Kitson’s view, the violence of the IRA represented an “insurrection” situation, with the enveloping atmosphere of belligerence representing a “low intensity conflict” – a conflict where the forces involved in fighting operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer combatants, at a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner.[citation needed]

Membership of the IRA remains illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but IRA prisoners convicted of offences committed before 1998 have been granted conditional early release as part of the Good Friday Agreement.[162] In the United Kingdom a person convicted of membership of a “proscribed organisation”, such as the IRA, still nominally faces imprisonment for up to 10 years.[163]

Strength and support

Numerical strength

In the early to mid-1970s, the numbers recruited by the IRA may have reached several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organised its structures from 1977 onwards. An RUC report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland.[65] This does not take into consideration the IRA units in the Republic of Ireland or those in Britain, continental Europe, and throughout the world. In 2005, the then Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell told the Dáil that the organisation had “between 1,000 and 1,500″ active members.[164]

According to the book The Provisional IRA (by Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest, “retirement” or disillusionment.[148] In later years, the IRA’s strength has been somewhat weakened by members leaving the organisation to join hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. According to former Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, these organisations have little more than 150 members each.[164]

Electoral and popular support

The popular support for the IRA’s campaign in the Troubles is hard to gauge, given that Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, did not stand in elections until the early 1980s. Most nationalists in Northern Ireland voted for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) until 2001. After the 1981 hunger strike, Sinn Féin mobilised large electoral support and won 105,000 votes, or 43% of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom general election, 1983, only 34,000 votes behind the SDLP.[165] However, by the 1992 UK General Election, the SDLP won 184,445 votes and four seats to Sinn Féin’s 78,291 votes and no seats.[166] In the 1993 Local District Council Elections in Northern Ireland, the SDLP won 136,760 votes to Sinn Féin’s 77,600 votes.[167]

Few Protestant voters voted for Sinn Féin. In 1992, many of them voted for SDLP West Belfast candidate Joe Hendron rather than a unionist candidate to make sure Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin lost his seat in the constituency.[168]

An IRA wall mural in Coalisland, County Tyrone

The IRA enjoyed some popular support in the Republic of Ireland in the early 70s. However, the movement’s appeal was hurt badly by bombings such as the killing of civilians attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen in 1987 (Remembrance Day bombing), and the death of two children when a bomb exploded in Warrington, which led to tens of thousands of people demonstrating on O’Connell Street in Dublin to call for an end to the IRA’s campaign. In the 1987 Irish General Election, they won only 1.7% of the votes cast.[169] They did not make significant electoral gains in the Republic until after the IRA ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. By the 2011 Irish general election Sinn Féin’s proportion of the popular vote had reached 9.9 percent.

Sinn Féin now has 27 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (out of 108), five Westminster MPs (out of 18 from Northern Ireland) and 14 Republic of Ireland TDs (out of 166).

Support from other countries and organisations

The IRA have had contacts with foreign governments and other illegal armed organisations.

Libya has been the biggest single supplier of arms and funds to the IRA, donating large amounts: three shipments of arms in the early 1970s and another three in the mid-1980s, the latter reputedly enough to arm two regular infantry battalions.[18]

The IRA has also received weapons and logistical support from Irish Americans in the United States. Apart from the Libyan aid, this has been the main source of overseas IRA support. American support has been weakened by the War against Terrorism, and the fallout from the events of 11 September 2001.[19][20]

In the United States in November 1982, five men were acquitted of smuggling arms to the IRA after they claimed the Central Intelligence Agency had approved the shipment, although the CIA denied this.[170] There are allegations of contact with the East German Stasi, based on the testimony of a Soviet defector to British intelligence Vasili Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin revealed that although the Soviet KGB gave some weapons to the Marxist Official IRA, it had little sympathy with the Provisionals.[171] The IRA has received some training and support from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1977, the Provisionals received a ‘sizeable’ arms shipment from the PLO, including small arms, rocket launchers and explosives, but this was intercepted at Antwerp after the Israeli intelligence alerted its European counterparts.[172] According to Dr Mir Ali Montazam, one-time first secretary at the Iranian embassy, Iran played a key part in funding the IRA during the 1980s. Iranian officials deposited £4 million into a secret Jersey bank account, funded by the sale of artwork from the Iranian Embassy in London. Hadi Ghaffari, the “machinegun mullah”, was sent to Belfast and organised the distribution of the money via sympathetic Irish businessmen.[173]

Falls Road in 1981

It has been alleged that the IRA had a co-operative relationship with Basque militant group ETA since the early 1970s. In 1973 it was accused of providing explosives for the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in Madrid.[174] In the 1970s, ETA also exchanged a quantity of handguns for training in explosives with the IRA.[175] In addition, the leaders of the political wings of the respective Irish republican and Basque separatist movements have exchanged visits on several occasions to express solidarity with each other’s cause.[176] Prominent former IRA prisoners such as Brendan McFarlane and Brendan Hughes have campaigned for the release of ETA prisoners.[177][178] In the mid-1990s after the IRA ceasefire, Basque media outlets followed the process carefully, sending a team to follow the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday as they campaigned for apology.[citation needed]

IRA propaganda poster

In May 1996, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s internal security service, publicly accused Estonia of arms smuggling, and claimed that the IRA had contacted representatives of Estonia’s volunteer defence force, Kaitseliit, and some non-government groups to buy weapons.[179][180] In 2001, three Irish men, who later became known as the Colombia Three, were arrested after allegedly training Colombian guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in bomb making and urban warfare techniques. The US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in its report of 24 April 2002 concluded “Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for these specific terror tactics now being employed by the FARC, other than IRA training”.[181]

In December 2013 the report of the Smithwick Tribunal concluded that “on the balance of probability” collusion took place between the IRA and members of the Garda Síochána in the 1989 killing of two RUC officers; however, the report could not conclusively prove this.[182]

Aftermath of Manchester bombing

Good Friday Agreement

Main article: Good Friday Agreement

The IRA ceasefire in 1997 formed part of a process that led to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. One aim of the Agreement is that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000.

Calls from Sinn Féin led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that was monitored by Canadian General John de Chastelain‘s decommissioning body in October 2001. However, following the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing government in 2002, which was partly triggered by allegations that republican spies were operating within Parliament Buildings and the Civil Service, the IRA temporarily broke off contact with General de Chastelain.[citation needed]

In December 2004, attempts to persuade the IRA to disarm entirely collapsed when the Democratic Unionist Party, under Ian Paisley, insisted on photographic evidence. Justice Minister Michael McDowell (in public, and often) insisted that there would need to be a complete end to IRA activity.[citation needed]

At the beginning of February 2005, the IRA declared that it was withdrawing from the disarmament process, but in July 2005 it declared that its campaign of violence was over, and that transparent mechanisms would be used, under the de Chastelain process, to satisfy the Northern Ireland communities that it was disarming totally.

End of the armed campaign

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

In a statement read by Séanna Breathnach, the organisation stated that it had instructed its members to dump all weapons and not to engage in “any other activities whatsoever” apart from assisting “the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”. Furthermore, the organisation authorised its representatives to engage immediately with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) to verifiably put its arms beyond use “in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible”.[30]

This is not the first time that organisations styling themselves IRA have issued orders to dump arms.[183] After its defeat in the Irish Civil War in 1924 and at the end of its unsuccessful Border Campaign in 1962, the IRA Army Council issued similar orders. However, this is the first time in Irish republicanism that any organisation has voluntarily decided to dispose of its arms.[184] Some authors, like Patrick McCarthy, Peter Taylor and Brendan O’Brien concluded that, unlike previous IRA campaigns, the provisionals were not defeated.[185][186][187]

On 25 September 2005, international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the IRA, a long-sought goal of Northern Ireland’s peace process. The office of IICD chairman John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general who oversaw the weapons’ decommissioning at secret locations, released details regarding the scrapping of many tons of IRA weaponry at a news conference in Belfast on 26 September. He said the arms had been “put beyond use” and that they were “satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA’s arsenal.”

The IRA permitted two independent witnesses, including a Methodist minister, Rev. Harold Good, and Father Alec Reid, a Roman Catholic priest close to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, to view the secret disarmament work.[188] Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), complained that since the witnesses were appointed by the IRA themselves, rather than being appointed by the British or Irish governments, they therefore could not be said to be unbiased witnesses to the decommissioning. Nationalists and Catholics viewed his comments as reflecting his refusal to support devolution in Northern Ireland with Catholics in power.[189]

In 2011 Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “The war is over. The IRA is gone. The IRA embraced, facilitated and supported the peace process. When a democratic and peaceful alternative to armed struggle was created the IRA left the stage.”[190] In 2014 Adams said: “The IRA is gone. It is finished”.[191]

Continuing activities of IRA members

The 10th report published in April 2006 from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), an organisation monitoring activity by paramilitary groups on behalf of the British and Irish governments, prefaced its remarks about IRA activity by commenting that the IRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path and that in the last three months this process has involved the further dismantling of the IRA as a military structure.

The report commented that there was no paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the leadership; there is a substantial erosion in the IRA’s capacity to return to a military campaign; and, that the IRA had no intentions of returning to violence.[192] However the IMC report also noted that following decommissioning, the IRA still retained a considerable amount of weaponry beyond what was needed for self-defence.[193]

The IMC has come in for criticism (mainly by republicans) as having been set up outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement as a sop to Unionism. Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy stated that the IMC was established outside and in breach of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that it is politically biased, and had an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.[194]

On 4 October 2006, the IMC ruled that the IRA were no longer a threat.[195]

In late 2008, the The Sunday Times quoted a senior Garda intelligence officer as saying that “the IRA had recruited in recent years, still held arms despite apparently decommissioning the lot, and was being maintained in ‘shadow form.’” The Gardaí also said that the IRA was still capable of carrying out attacks.[193][196] A senior member of the PSNI, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, said that it was unlikely that the IRA would disband in the foreseeable future.[197]

At the end of March 2010, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said that the IRA were still active and that they had been responsible for a number of incidents in his constituency including a punishment shooting and an armed robbery during which a shot was fired.[198]

In August 2010, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Republican Network for Unity and the UPRG, claimed that the IRA were responsible for a shooting incident in the Gobnascale area of Derry. It is claimed that up to 20 masked men, some armed with handguns, attacked a group of teenagers who were engaging in anti-social behaviour at an interface area. A number of the teenagers were attacked and shots were fired into the air. The men are then reported to have removed their masks when the PSNI arrived and were subsequently identified as members of the Republican Movement. Sinn Féin denied the IRA were involved.[199][200][201]

“P. O’Neill”

The IRA traditionally uses a well-known signature in its public statements, which are all issued under the pseudonym of “P. O’Neill” of the “Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin”.[202] According to Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, it was Seán Mac Stiofáin, as chief of staff of the IRA, who invented the name. However, under his usage, the name was written and pronounced according to Irish orthography and pronunciation as “P. Ó Néill”. According to Danny Morrison, the pseudonym “S. O’Neill” was used during the 1940s.[202]

Informers

Throughout the Troubles, some members of the IRA passed information to the security forces. Members of the IRA suspected of being informants were usually executed after an IRA court-martial. In the 1980s, many more IRA members were imprisoned on the testimony of former IRA members known as “supergrasses” such as Raymond Gilmour. A Belfast newspaper has claimed that secret documents show that half of the IRA’s top men were also British informers.[203]

In recent years, there have been some high profile allegations of senior IRA figures having been British informers. In May 2003, a number of newspapers named Freddie Scappaticci as the alleged identity of the British Force Research Unit‘s most senior informer within the IRA, code-named Stakeknife, who is thought to have been head of the IRA’s internal security force, charged with rooting out and executing informers. Scappaticci denies that this is the case and, in 2003, failed in a legal bid to force the then NIO Minister, Jane Kennedy, to state he was not an informer.[204] She has refused to do so, and since then Scappaticci has not launched any libel actions against the media making the allegations.

On 16 December 2005, senior Sinn Féin member Denis Donaldson appeared before TV cameras in Dublin and confessed to being a British spy for twenty years.[205] He was expelled from Sinn Féin and was said to have been debriefed by the party.[206] Donaldson was a former IRA volunteer and subsequently highly placed Sinn Féin party member. Donaldson had been entrusted by Gerry Adams with the running of Sinn Féin’s operations in the US in the early 1990s.[207] On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead at his retreat near Glenties in County Donegal.[208] When asked whether he felt Donaldson’s role as an informer in Sinn Féin was significant, the IRA double agent using the pseudonym “Kevin Fulton” described Donaldson’s role as a spy within Sinn Féin as “the tip of the iceberg”.[209] The Real IRA claimed responsibility for his assassination on 12 April 2009.[210]

On 8 February 2008, Roy McShane was taken into police protection after being unmasked as an informant. McShane, a former IRA member, had been Gerry Adams’ personal driver for many years. Adams said he was “too philosophical” to feel betrayed.[211]

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UDA – UVF – Loyalists in Northern Ireland – Full Documentary

Loyalists in Northern Ireland – Full Documentary

UDA (Ulster Defence Association)

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this post and page are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.

They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

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Belfast Shankill Loyalist Bands

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The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is the largest[5][6] Ulster loyalist paramilitary and vigilante[7] group in Northern Ireland. It was formed in September 1971 and undertook a campaign of almost twenty-four years during The Troubles. Within the UDA was a group tasked with launching paramilitary attacks; it used the covername Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) so that the UDA would not be outlawed. The United Kingdom outlawed the “UFF” in November 1973, but the UDA itself was not classified as a terrorist group until 10 August 1992.[8] The UDA/UFF is also classified as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.[9]

The UDA’s/UFF’s declared goal was to defend Ulster Protestant loyalist areas[10] and to combat Irish republicanism, particularly the Provisional IRA. However, most of its victims were unarmed civilians.[11] The majority of them were Irish Catholics,[12][13] killed in what the group called retaliation for IRA actions or attacks on Protestants.[14][15] High-profile attacks carried out by the group include the Milltown massacre, the Sean Graham bookmakers’ shooting, the Castlerock killings and the Greysteel massacre. The vast majority of its attacks were in Northern Ireland, but from 1972 onward it also carried out bombings in the Republic of Ireland. The UDA/UFF declared a ceasefire in 1994, although sporadic attacks continued until it officially ended its armed campaign in November 2007.[16]

The UDA were often referred to by their Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) rivals as the “Wombles”,[17] derived from the furry fictional creatures, The Wombles, or “Japs”,[18] owing to their mass rallies and marches in combat clothing. Its motto is Quis Separabit, Latin for “Who will separate [us]?”.

History

Beginning

The Ulster Defence Association emerged from a series of meetings during the summer of 1971 of loyalistvigilante” groups called “defence associations”.[19] The largest of these were the Shankill and Woodvale Defence Associations,[20] with other groups based in East Belfast, the Hammer and Roden Street.[21] The first meeting was chaired by Billy Hull, with Alan Moon as its vice-chair. Moon was quickly replaced by Jim Anderson and had left the organisation by the time of its formal launch in September.[22]

By this point, Charles Harding Smith had become the group’s leader, with former British soldier Davy Fogel as his second-in-command, who trained the new recruits in military tactics, the use of guns, and unarmed combat. Its most prominent early spokesperson was Tommy Herron,[19] however Andy Tyrie would emerge as leader soon after.[23] Its original motto was Cedenta Arma Togae (“Law before violence”) and it was a legal organisation until it was banned by the British Government on 10 August 1992.[19]

UDA members marching through Belfast city centre in a massive show of strength, summer 1972

At its peak of strength it held around forty thousand members, mostly part-time.[24][25] During this period of legality, the UDA committed a large number of attacks using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters,[26][27] including the assassination of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) politician Paddy Wilson in 1973.[28] The UDA was involved in the successful Ulster Workers Council Strike in 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement—an agreement which some unionists thought conceded too much to nationalist demands. The UDA enforced this general strike through widespread intimidation across Northern Ireland. The strike was led by VUPP Assemblyman and UDA member, Glenn Barr.[29]

The UDA were often referred to as “Wombles” by their rivals, mainly the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The name is derived from the furry fictional creatures The Wombles, and was given to the UDA because many of its members wore fur-trimmed parkas.[17] Its headquarters is in Gawn Street, off the Newtownards Road in east Belfast,[30] and its current motto is Quis Separabit, which is Latin for “Who will separate us?”

Women’s units

The UDA had several women’s units, which acted independent of each other.[31][32] Although they occasionally helped man roadblocks, the women’s units were typically involved in local community work and responsible for the assembly and delivery of food parcels to UDA prisoners. This was a source of pride for the UDA.[33] The first women’s unit was founded on the Shankill Road by Wendy “Bucket” Millar (b. 1944), whose sons Herbie and James “Sham” Millar would later become prominent UDA members.[34] The UDA women’s department was headed by Jean Moore, who also came from the Shankill Road. She had also served as the president of the women’s auxiliary Loyalist Association of Workers. Her brother Ingram “Jock” Beckett, one of the UDA’s founding members, had been killed in March 1972 by a rival UDA faction in an internal dispute.[35] Moore was succeeded by Hester Dunn of east Belfast, who also ran the Public Relations and administration section at the UDA headquarters.[36] Wendy Millar’s Shankill Road group was a particularly active women’s unit, and another was based in Sandy Row, south Belfast – a traditional UDA stronghold. The latter was commanded by Elizabeth “Lily” Douglas.[37] Her teenaged daughter, Elizabeth was one of the members.[38]

The Sandy Row women’s UDA unit was disbanded after it carried out a vicious “romper room” punishment beating on 24 July 1974 which left 32-year-old Ann Ogilby dead. The body of Ogilby, a Protestant single mother who had an affair with the husband of one of the unit’s members, was found in a ditch five days later.[39] The day of the fatal beating Ogilby was abducted and forced upstairs to the first floor of a disused bakery in Sandy Row that had been converted into a UDA club. Two teenage girls, Henrietta Cowan and Christine Smith,[40] acting under Elizabeth Douglas’ orders to give Ogilby a “good rompering”,[41] punched, kicked, then battered her to death with bricks and sticks; the autopsy later revealed that Ogilby had suffered 24 blows to the head and body. The killing, which was carried out within earshot of Ogilby’s six-year-old daughter, caused widespread revulsion throughout Northern Ireland and was condemned by the UDA prisoners serving inside the Maze Prison. None of the other UDA women’s units had consented to or been aware of the fatal punishment beating until it was reported in the news.[32] Douglas, Cowan, and Smith were convicted of the murder and sentenced to imprisonment at Armagh Women’s Jail. Seven other members of the women’s unit and a UDA man were also convicted for their part in the murder.[41][38] At the time of the murder the Sandy Row commander was Sammy Murphy, who also ran the South Belfast UDA. He had engaged in successful talks with the British Army to defuse a potential confrontation during the UWC strike over the erection of street barricades in the Sandy Row area.[42][43] The UDA “romper rooms”, named after the children’s television programme, were places where victims were beaten and tortured prior to being killed. This was known as a “rompering”. The “romper rooms” were normally located in disused buildings, lock-up garages, warehouses, and rooms above pubs and drinking clubs.[44] The use of the “romper rooms” was a more common practise among male members of the UDA than their female counterparts.[32]

Paramilitary campaign

Masked and armed UDA/UFF members at a show of strength in Belfast

The flag of the “Ulster Freedom Fighters” with a clenched fist representing the Red Hand of Ulster and the Latin motto Feriens tego, meaning “striking I defend”

Throughout the majority of its period of legality, the UDA’s attacks were carried out under the name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). The UDA’s campaign of violence began in 1972. In May of that year, the UDA’s pressured leader Tommy Herron decided that responsibility for acts of violence committed by the UDA would be claimed by the “UFF”. Its first public statements came one month later.[45]

The UDA’s official position during the Troubles was that if the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provisional IRA) called off its campaign of violence, then it would do the same. However, if the British government announced that it was withdrawing from Northern Ireland, then the UDA would act as “the IRA in reverse.”[46]

Active throughout the Troubles, its armed campaign gained prominence in the early 1990s through Johnny Adair‘s ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C. Company, which resulted in a greater degree of tactical independence for the UFF.[47] C. Company’s hit squad, led by Stephen McKeag, became notorious for a campaign of random murders of Catholic civilians in the first half of the 1990s.[48]

They benefited, along with the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a group called Ulster Resistance (set up by the Democratic Unionist Party), from a shipment of arms imported from Lebanon in 1988.[49] The weapons landed included rocket launchers, 200 rifles, 90 pistols and over 400 grenades.[50] Although almost two–thirds of these weapons were later recovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), they enabled the UDA to launch an assassination campaign against their perceived enemies.

A UFF mural in the Kilcooley estate near Bangor

A UFF mural in the Sandy Row area of South Belfast

North Belfast UDA brigadier Davy Payne was arrested after his “scout” car had been stopped at a RUC checkpoint and large caches of the weaponry were discovered in the boots of his associates’ cars. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In 1992 Brian Nelson, a prominent UDA member convicted of sectarian killings, revealed that he was also a British Army agent. This led to allegations that the British Army and RUC were helping the UDA to target Irish republican activists. UDA members have since confirmed that they received intelligence files on republicans from British Army and RUC intelligence sources.[51]

One of the most high profile UDA attacks came in October 1993, when three masked men attacked a restaurant called the Rising Sun in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, County Londonderry, where two hundred people were celebrating Halloween. The two men entered and opened fire. Eight people, including six Catholics and two Protestants were killed and nineteen wounded in what became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA’s Shankill Road bombing which killed nine, seven days earlier.

According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster‘s CAIN project,[52] the UDA/UFF was responsible for 259 killings during the Troubles. 208 of its victims were civilians (predominantly Catholics), 12 were civilian political activists (mainly members of Sinn Fein), 37 were other loyalist paramilitaries (including 30 of its own members), three were members of the security forces and 11 were republican paramilitaries. A number of these attacks were carried out with the assistance or complicity of the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or both, according to the Stevens Enquiry, although the exact number of people killed as a result of collusion has not been revealed. The preferred modus operandi of the UDA was individual killings of select civilian targets in nationalist areas, rather than large-scale bomb or mortar attacks.

The UDA employed various codewords whenever they claimed their attacks. These included: “The Crucible”, “Titanic”, and “Ulster Troubles”. The UFF used the codename of “Captain Black”.

Post-ceasefire activities

Its ceasefire was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Paul Murphy and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde.

A UDA/UFF mural in Belfast

A UFF flag in Finvoy,a rural area of County Antrim

Since the ceasefire, the UDA has been accused of taking vigilante action against alleged drug dealers, including tarring and feathering a man on the Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast.[53][54] It has also been involved in several feuds with the UVF, which led to many killings. The UDA has also been riddled by its own internecine warfare, with self-styled “brigadiers” and former figures of power and influence, such as Johnny Adair and Jim Gray (themselves bitter rivals), falling rapidly in and out of favour with the rest of the leadership. Gray and John Gregg are amongst those to have been killed during the internal strife. On 22 February 2003, the UDA announced a “12-month period of military inactivity”.[55] It said it would review its ceasefire every three months. The UPRG’s Frankie Gallagher has since taken a leading role in ending the association between the UDA and drug dealing.[56]

Following an August 2005 Sunday World article that poked fun at the gambling losses of one of its leaders, the UDA banned the sale of the newspaper from shops in areas it controls. Shops that defy the ban have suffered arson attacks, and at least one newsagent was threatened with death.[57] The Police Service of Northern Ireland began accompanying the paper’s delivery vans.[58][59] The UDA was also considered to have played an instrumental role in loyalist riots in Belfast in September 2005.[60]

On 13 November 2005 the UDA announced that it would “consider its future”, in the wake of the standing down of the Provisional IRA and Loyalist Volunteer Force.[61]

In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported UDA involvement in organised crime, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion, money laundering and robbery.[62]

A UDA/UFF mural in Bangor

On 20 June 2006, the UDA expelled Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab, two of its senior members who were heavily involved in crime. Some see this as a sign that the UDA is slowly coming away from crime.[63] The move did see the southeast Antrim brigade of the UDA, which had been at loggerheads with the leadership for some time, support Shoukri and break away under former UPRG spokesman Tommy Kirkham.[64] Other senior members met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for talks on 13 July in the same year.[65]

On 11 November 2007 the UDA announced that the Ulster Freedom Fighters would be stood down from midnight of the same day,[66] with its weapons “being put beyond use” although it stressed that these would not be decommissioned.[67]

Although the group expressed a willingness to move from criminal activity to “community development,” the IMC said it saw little evidence of this move because of the views of its members and the lack of coherence in the group’s leadership as a result of a loose structure. While the report indicated the leadership intends to follow on its stated goals, factionalism hindered this change. Factionalism was, in fact, said to be the strongest hindrance to progress. The report also said the main non-splintered faction remained active, though it was considerably smaller than the resulting party. Individuals within the group, however, took their own initiative to criminal activity. Although loyalist actions were curtailed, most of the loyalist activity did come from the UDA.

The IMC report concluded that the leadership’s willingness to change has resulted in community tension and the group would continue to be monitored, although “the mainstream UDA still has some way to go.” Furthermore, the IMC warned the group to “recognise that the organisation’s time as a paramilitary group has passed and that decommissioning is inevitable.” Decommissioning was said to be the “biggest outstanding issue for loyalist leaders, although not the only one.”[68]

A UDA/UFF South-East Antrim Brigade mural in Newtownabbey

On 6 January 2010, the UDA announced that it had put its weapons “verifiably beyond use”.[69] The decommissioning was completed five weeks before a government amnesty deadline beyond which any weapons found could have been used as evidence for a prosecution.[69] The decommissioning was confirmed by Canadian General John de Chastelain, chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, as well as Lord Eames, former Archbishop of Armagh and Sir George Quigley, former top civil servant.[70]

Chastelain stated that the decommissioning included arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices and the UDA stated that the arms “constitute the totality of those under their control”.[69] Following the decommissioning the Ulster Political Research Group, the UDA’s political representatives, stated that the “Ulster Defence Association was formed to defend our communities; we state quite clearly and categorically that this responsibility now rests with the Government and its institutions where legitimacy resides”.[70] UDA representative Frankie Gallagher also stated that the group now regretted being responsible for the killing of more than 400 people.[71]

Shaun Woodward, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that this “is a major act of leadership by the UDA and further comprehensive evidence of the success of politics over violence in Northern Ireland” and the act was also welcomed by Sinn Féin and DUP politicians.[72] The President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese, described the decommissioning as “a very positive milestone on the journey of peace”.[73] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also welcomed the move as a step towards lasting peace in Northern Ireland.[74]

South East Antrim breakaway group

The breakaway faction continues to use the “UDA” title in its name, although it too expressed willingness to move towards “community development.” Though serious crime is not prevalent among the members, some who were arrested for drug peddling and extortion were exiled by the Brigade. Although a clear distinction between the factions was not available in the 20th IMC report, as this was the first report to differentiate between the two, future reports would tackle the differences.[68]

Politics

Some UDA leaders supported an independent Northern Ireland in the mid–late 1970s

In the 1970s the group favoured Northern Ireland independence, but they have retreated from this position.[75]

The New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG) was initially the political wing of the UDA, founded in 1978, which then evolved into the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party in 1981 under the leadership of John McMichael, a prominent UDA member killed by the IRA in 1987, amid suspicion that he was set up to be killed by some of his UDA colleagues.

In 1987, the UDA’s deputy commander John McMichael (who was then the leader of the UFF) promoted a document titled “Common Sense”, which promoted a consensual end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, while maintaining the Union. The document advocated a power sharing assembly, involving both Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed constitution and new Bill of Rights. It is not clear however, whether this programme was adopted by the UDA as their official policy.[50] However the killing of McMichael that same year and the subsequent removal of Tyrie from the leadership and his replacement with an Inner Council saw the UDA concentrate on stockpiling weapons rather than political ideas.[76]

In 1989, the ULDP changed its name to the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and finally dissolved itself in 2001 following very limited electoral success. Gary McMichael, son of John McMichael, was the last leader of the UDP, which supported the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but had poor electoral success and internal difficulties. The Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) was subsequently formed to give political analysis to the UDA and act as community workers in loyalist areas. It is currently represented on the Belfast City Council.

In early January 1994, the UDA released a document calling for ethnic cleansing and repartition, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[77] The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The vastly Catholic and nationalist areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left stranded in the “Protestant state” would be “expelled, nullified, or interned”.[77] The story was printed in The Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January.[78] The “doomsday plan” was based on the work of Dr Liam Kennedy, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.[77] In 1986 he had published a book called Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition; though it did not call for ethnic cleansing. The UDP’s Raymond Smallwoods said “I wasn’t consulted but the scenario set out is a perfectly plausible one”.[77] The DUP’s Sammy Wilson stated that the plan “shows that some loyalist paramilitaries are looking ahead and contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity”.[77]

Links with other groups

In his book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke claimed that the UDA had links with Neo-Nazi groups in Britain—specifically Combat 18[79] (formed in 1991) and the British National Socialist Movement[80] (formed in 1985). He claims that members of these groups helped to smuggle weapons for the UDA/UFF. Ian S Wood‘s book Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA claims that the UDA has received backing from Combat 18, the British National Front and the British National Party.[81] In 2006, the BBC also reported that the group has links with Combat 18.[82] It is unknown whether these links still exist. The links may not have been politically motivated, but mutually beneficial arms deals. On one occasion the UDA sent Louis Scott, one of a few black members of the UDA, to make the transaction.[83]

The Red Hand Defenders is a cover name used by breakaway factions of the UDA/UFF and the LVF.[1] The term was originally coined in 1997 when members of the LVF carried out attacks on behalf of Johnny Adair‘s “UFF 2nd Battalion, ‘C’ Company (Shankill Road)” and vice versa.[1] The relationship between the UDA/UFF (specifically Adair’s unit, not the wider leadership of the UDA) was initially formed after the death of Billy Wright, the previous leader of the LVF, and Adair’s personal friendship with Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton, the organisations new chief.

The necessity for a cover name resulted from the need to avoid tensions between the UDA and the UVF, the organisation from which the LVF had broken away. It was perceived that any open co-operation between the UDA and the LVF would anger the UVF, something which proved to be the case in following years and resulted in the infamous ‘Loyalist Feud’.[1] There has been debate as to whether or not the Red Hand Defenders have become an entity in their own right[84] made up of dissident factions from both the UDA and the LVF (both of which have now declared ceasefires whilst the RHD has not), though much intelligence has been based on the claims of responsibility which, as has been suggested,[1] are frequently misleading.

Structure and leadership

The UDA is made up of:

  • the Inner Council
  • the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)—whose role was to carry out attacks on republican and nationalist targets. However, many regard the UFF as merely a covername used when the UDA wished to claim responsibility for attacks.[85]
  • the Ulster Defence Force (UDF)—whose role was to give “specialist military training” to a select group of UDA members. The UDF was initiated by John McMichael[86] (the then UDA/UFF commander) in 1985 as a response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The UDF operated training camps in rural parts of Northern Ireland that young loyalists such as Johnny Adair claim to have attended.[86] One reported ‘survival’ training technique was to leave trainees stranded in Dublin with only £1.[86] Some of the training was given by former British Army soldiers and officers. It was described by the UDA as “the nucleus of a new loyalist army at the ready”.[87]
  • the Ulster Young Militants (UYM)—the “youth wing” of the group. Formed in 1973.[88]
  • the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG)—the UDA’s “political advisory body”. Formed in 1978.[89]

The UDA operated a devolved structure of leadership, each with a brigadier representing one of its six “brigade areas”.[86] Currently, it is not entirely clear whether or not this structure has been maintained in the UDA’s post cease-fire state. The UDA’s six “brigade areas” were:

  • North Belfast
  • East Belfast
  • South Belfast, the UDA’s largest brigade area, covering all of South Belfast down to Lisburn and operating as far away as South County Down, Lurgan and Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.[90]
  • West Belfast
  • Southeast [County] Antrim
  • North County Antrim & County Londonderry

A wall sign in Dervock showing support for the North Antrim and Londonderry brigade.

In addition to these six core brigades two others may have existed. A seventh Mid-Ulster Brigade is mentioned by Steve Bruce as having existed for part of the UDA’s history[91] although Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack characterise this as a “battalion” rather than a brigade and suggest that its rural location prevented it from fully developing.[92] In the late 1970s a Scottish Brigade was established under the command of Roddy McDonald but this proved short-lived. The security forces infiltrated this brigade almost immediately and in 1979 arrested almost its entire membership, ninety people in all. Six members received particularly lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in UDA activities in Perth and the Scottish Brigade quietly disappeared.[93]

Some of the notable past brigadiers include:

Jackie McDonald—South Belfast (~1980s-present)[94] Resident of the Taughmonagh estate in South Belfast.[94] McDonald was a cautious supporter of the UDA’s ceasefire and a harsh critic of Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair during his final years of membership of the organisation.[94] McDonald remains the only brigadier who did not have a commonly used nickname.

Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair—West Belfast (1990–2002)[86] An active figure in the UDA/UFF, Adair rose to notoriety in the early 1990s when he led the 2nd Battalion, C Company unit in West Belfast which was responsible for one of the bloodiest killing sprees of the Troubles.[86]

Jim ‘Doris Day’ Gray—East Belfast (1992–2005)[86][95] An unlikely figure in Northern Ireland loyalism, the openly bi-sexual[86] Gray was a controversial figure in the organisation until his death on 4 October 2005. Always flamboyantly dressed, Gray was a key figure in the UDA’s negotiations with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid. It is widely believed that Gray received his nickname from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch.[86]

Jimbo ‘Bacardi Brigadier’ Simpson—North Belfast (Unknown–2002)[86] Simpson is believed to have been an alcoholic, hence his nickname. He was leader of the UDA in the volatile North Belfast area, an interface between Catholics and Protestants in the New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay neighbourhoods.[86]

Billy ‘The Mexican’ McFarland—North Antrim and Londonderry (Unknown–2013)[86] He Earned his nickname because of his moustache and swarthy appearance, and had overall command of the UDA’s North Antrim and Derry brigade at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. He supported the leadership against Johnny Adair and has been associated with the magazine ‘Warrior’, which makes the case for Ulster Independence

Andre ‘The Egyptian’ Shoukri[86]—North Belfast (2002–2005)[86] Initially a close ally of Johnny Adair, Shoukri and his brother Ihab became involved with the UDA in his native North Belfast. The son of an Egyptian father and a Northern Irish mother, he was expelled from the UDA in 2005 following allegations of criminality.

John ‘Grug’ Gregg—South East Antrim (c.1993[96]–2003) John ‘Grug’ Gregg was a man with a fearsome reputation within the loyalist movement, known as a “Hawk” in loyalist circles, and controlled the streets of south east Antrim. On 14 March 1984, he severely wounded Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in an assassination attempt for which he was jailed. When asked by the BBC in prison if he regretted anything about the shooting, his reply was “only that I didn’t succeed.” He was killed on Belfast’s Nelson Street, along with another UDA member (Rab Carson), while travelling in a taxi from the docks in 2003, and the murder was blamed on supporters of Johnny Adair, who had recently been expelled from the UDA in 2002.

Deaths as a result of activity

UDA South Belfast Brigade memorial plaque in Sandy Row

According to Malcolm Sutton’s Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (part of the CAIN database), the UDA/UFF was responsible for at least 260 killings during the Troubles, between 1969 and 2001. There are a further 250 loyalist killings where it is not yet certain which group was responsible.[97]

Of those killed by the UDA/UFF:[11]

  • 209 (~80%) were civilians, 12 of whom were civilian political activists
  • 11 (~4%) were members or former members of republican paramilitary groups
  • 37 (~14%) were members or former members of loyalist paramilitary groups
  • 3 (~1%) were members of the British security forces

There were also 91 UDA members and four former members killed in the conflict.[98]

UVF ( Ulster Volunteer Force )

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. It emerged in 1966 and is named after the original UVF of the early 20th century. Its first leader was Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. The group undertook an armed campaign of almost thirty years during the Troubles. It declared a ceasefire in 1994 and officially ended its campaign in 2007, although some of its members have continued to engage in violence. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom,[1] Republic of Ireland and United States.[2]

Until recent years,[3] it was noted for secrecy and a policy of limited, selective membership.[4][5][6][7][8] The UVF’s declared goals were to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Irish Republican Army – and to maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom. It was responsible for at least 500 deaths, the vast majority (more than two-thirds)[9][10] of whom were Irish Catholic civilians. During the conflict, its deadliest attack in Northern Ireland was the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing, which killed fifteen civilians. The group also carried out attacks in the Republic of Ireland from 1969 onward. The biggest of these was the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 33 civilians, making it the deadliest terrorist attack of the conflict. The no-warning car bombings had been carried out by units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster brigades. The Mid-Ulster Brigade was also responsible for the 1975 Miami Showband killings, in which three members of the popular Irish cabaret band were shot dead at a bogus military checkpoint by gunmen in British Army uniforms. Two UVF men were accidentally blown up in this attack. The UVF’s last major attack was the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, in which its members shot dead six Catholic civilians in a rural pub.

Since the ceasefire, the UVF has been involved in rioting, organized crime, vigilantism and feuds with other loyalist groups.[11] Some members have also been orchestrating a series of racist attacks.[12]

Aim and strategy

A UVF publicity photo showing masked and armed UVF members

The UVF’s stated goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom.[13] The vast majority of its victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often killed at random.[14] Whenever it claimed responsibility for its attacks, the UVF usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or were giving help to the IRA.[15] Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as “retaliation” for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community. Such retaliation was seen as both collective punishment and an attempt to weaken the IRA’s support; it was thought that terrorizing the Catholic community and inflicting such a death toll on it would force the IRA to end its campaign.[16] Many retaliatory attacks on Catholics were claimed using the covername “Protestant Action Force” (PAF), which first appeared in Autumn 1974.[17] They always signed their statements with the fictitious name “Captain William Johnston”.[18]

Like the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF’s modus operandi involved assassinations, mass shootings, bombings and kidnappings. It used sub machine-guns, assault rifles, pistols, grenades (including homemade grenades), incendiary bombs, booby trap bombs and car bombs. Referring to its activity in the early and mid-1970s, journalist Ed Moloney described no-warning pub bombings as the UVF’s “forte”.[19] Members were trained in bomb-making and it developed home-made explosives.[20] In the late summer and autumn of 1973 the UVF detonated more bombs than the UDA and IRA combined,[21] and by the time of the group’s temporary ceasefire in late November it had been responsible for over 200 explosions that year.[22] However, from 1977 bombs largely disappeared from the UVF’s arsenal owing to a lack of explosives and bomb-makers, plus a conscious decision to abandon their use in favour of more contained methods.[23][24] The UVF did not return to regular bombings until the early 1990s when it obtained a quantity of the mining explosive Powergel.[25][26]

History

The 1960s

Since 1964, there had been a growing civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland. The civil rights movement sought to end discrimination against Catholics by the Protestant and Unionist-dominated government of Northern Ireland.[27] In March and April 1966, Irish republicans held parades throughout Ireland to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. On 8 March, a group of ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers planted a bomb that destroyed Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin. At the time, the IRA was weak and not engaged in armed action, but some unionists and loyalists warned that it was about to be revived and launch another campaign against Northern Ireland.[27] In April, loyalists led by Ian Paisley, a Protestant fundamentalist preacher, founded the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC). It set up a paramilitary-style wing called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV).[27] The ‘Paisleyites’ set out to stymie the civil rights movement and oust Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Although O’Neill was a unionist, they saw him as being too ‘soft’ on the civil rights movement and too friendly with the Republic of Ireland. There was much overlap in membership between the UCDC/UPV and the UVF.[28]

A UVF mural on the Shankill Road

An old UVF mural on Shankill Road, where the group was formed

A UVF flag in Glenarm, County Antrim

On 7 May, loyalists petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub in the loyalist Shankill area of Belfast. Fire engulfed the house next door, badly burning the elderly Protestant widow who lived there. She died of her injuries on 27 June.[27] The group called itself the “Ulster Volunteer Force” (UVF), after the original UVF of the early 20th century. It was led by Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. Spence claimed that he was approached in 1965 by two men, one of whom was an Ulster Unionist Party MP, who told him that the UVF was to be re-established and that he was to have responsibility for the Shankill.[29] On 21 May, the group issued a statement:

From this day, we declare war against the Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups. Known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation. Less extreme measures will be taken against anyone sheltering or helping them, but if they persist in giving them aid, then more extreme methods will be adopted… we solemnly warn the authorities to make no more speeches of appeasement. We are heavily armed Protestants dedicated to this cause.[30]

On 27 May, Spence sent four UVF members to kill IRA volunteer Leo Martin, who lived in Belfast. Unable to find their target, the men drove around the Falls district in search of a Catholic. They shot John Scullion, a Catholic civilian, as he walked home.[31] He died of his wounds on 11 June.[27] Spence later wrote “At the time, the attitude was that if you couldn’t get an IRA man you should shoot a Taig, he’s your last resort”.[31]

On 26 June, the group shot dead a Catholic civilian and wounded two others as they left a pub on Malvern Street, Belfast.[27] Two days later, the Government of Northern Ireland declared the UVF illegal.[27] The shootings led to Spence being arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum sentence of twenty years.[32] Spence appointed Samuel McClelland as UVF Chief of Staff in his stead.[33]

By 1969, the Catholic civil rights movement had escalted its protest campaign, and O’Neill had promised them some concessions. In March and April that year, UVF and UPV members bombed water and electricity installations in Northern Ireland, blaming them on the dormant IRA and elements of the civil rights movement. Some of them left much of Belfast without power and water.[34] The loyalists “intended to force a crisis which would so undermine confidence in O’Neill’s ability to maintain law and order that he would be obliged to resign”.[35] There were bombings on 30 March, 4 April, 20 April, 24 April and 26 April. All were widely blamed on the IRA, and British soldiers were sent to guard installations.[34] Unionist support for O’Neill waned, and on 28 April he resigned as Prime Minister.[34]

On 12 August 1969, the “Battle of the Bogside” began in Derry. This was a large, three-day riot between Irish nationalists and the police (RUC). In response to events in Derry, nationalists held protests throughout Northern Ireland, some of which became violent. In Belfast, loyalists responded by attacking nationalist districts. Eight people were shot dead and hundreds were injured. Scores of houses and businesses were burnt-out, most of them owned by Catholics. The British Army were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland. The Irish Army also set up field hospitals near the border. Thousands of families, mostly Catholics, were forced to flee their homes and refugee camps were set up in the Republic of Ireland.[34]

On 12 October, a loyalist protest in the Shankill became violent. During the riot, UVF members shot dead RUC officer Victor Arbuckle. He was the first RUC officer to be killed during the Troubles.[36]

The UVF had launched its first attack in the Republic of Ireland on 5 August 1969, when it bombed the RTÉ Television Centre in Dublin.[37][38] There were further attacks in the Republic between October and December 1969. In October, UVF and UPV member Thomas McDowell was killed by the bomb he was planting at Ballyshannon power station. The UVF stated that the attempted attack was a protest against the Irish Army units “still massed on the border in County Donegal“.[39] In December the UVF detonated a car bomb near the Garda central detective bureau and telephone exchange headquarters in Dublin.[40]

The early to mid-1970s

A UVF mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

In January 1970, the UVF began bombing Catholic-owned businesses in Protestant areas of Belfast. It issued a statement vowing to “remove republican elements from loyalist areas” and stop them “reaping financial benefit therefrom”. During 1970, 42 Catholic-owned licensed premises in Protestant areas were bombed.[41] Catholic churches were also attacked. In February it began to target critics of militant loyalism – the homes of MPs Austin Currie, Sheelagh Murnaghan, Richard Ferguson and Anne Dickson were attacked with improvised bombs.[41] It also continued its attacks in the Republic of Ireland, bombing the Dublin-Belfast railway line, an electricity substation, a radio mast, and Irish nationalist monuments.[42]

In December 1969 the IRA had split into the Provisional IRA and Official IRA. In early 1971 they began a concerted campaign against the British Army and RUC. The first British soldier to die in the conflict was killed by the Provisional IRA in February 1971. That year, a string of tit-for-tat pub bombings began in Belfast.[43] This came to a climax on 4 December, when the UVF bombed McGurk’s Bar, a Catholic-owned pub in Belfast. Fifteen Catholic civilians were killed and seventeen wounded. It was the UVF’s deadliest attack in Northern Ireland, and the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[44]

The following year, 1972, was the most violent of the Troubles. Along with the newly formed Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF began carrying out gun attacks on random Catholic civilians and using car bombs to attack Catholic-owned pubs. It would continue these tactics for the rest of its campaign. On 23 October 1972, the UVF carried out an armed raid against King’s Park camp, a UDR/Territorial Army depot in Lurgan. They managed to procure a large cache of weapons and ammunition including self-loading rifles, Browning pistols, and Sterling submachine guns. Twenty tons of ammonium nitrate was also stolen from the Belfast docks.[45]

The UVF launched further attacks in the Republic of Ireland during December 1972 and January 1973, when it detonated three car bombs in Dublin and one in Belturbet, killing five civilians. It would attack the Republic again in May 1974, during the two-week Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This was a general strike in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement, which meant sharing political power with Irish nationalists and the Republic having more involvement in Northern Ireland. Along with the UDA, it helped to enforce the strike by blocking roads, intimidating workers, and shutting any businesses that opened.[46] On 17 May, two UVF units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster brigades detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. Thirty-three people were killed and almost 300 injured. It was the deadliest attack of the Troubles. There are various credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with the UVF in the bombings. The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justice called the bombings an act of “international terrorism” involving the British security forces.[47] Both the UVF and the British Government have denied the claims.

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade was founded in 1972 in Lurgan by Billy Hanna, a sergeant in the UDR and a member of the Brigade Staff, who served as the brigade’s commander until his shooting death in July 1975. From that time until the early 1990s, the Mid-Ulster Brigade was led by Robin “the Jackal” Jackson, who then passed the leadership to Billy Wright. Hanna and Jackson have both been implicated by journalist Joe Tiernan, and RUC Special Patrol Group (SPG) officer John Weir as having led one of the units that bombed Dublin.[48] Jackson was allegedly the hitman who shot Hanna dead outside his home in Lurgan, and subsequently took over his command.[49]

The brigade formed part of the Glenanne gang, a loose alliance of loyalist assassins which the Pat Finucane Centre has linked to 87 killings in the 1970s. The gang comprised, in addition to the UVF, rogue elements of the UDR, RUC, SPG, and the regular Army, all acting allegedly under the direction of British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch.[50]

Mid to late-1970s

UVF mural in the Shankill Road, where the Brigade Staff is based

In 1974, hardliners staged a coup and took over the Brigade Staff.[51] This resulted in a lethal upsweep of sectarian killings and internecine feuding with both the UDA and within the UVF itself.[51] Some of the new Brigade Staff members bore nicknames such as “Big Dog” and “Smudger”.[52] Beginning in 1975, recruitment to the UVF, which until then had been solely by invitation, was now left to the discretion of local units.[53]

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade carried out further attacks during this same period. These included the Miami Showband killings of 31 July 1975 – when three members of the popular showband from the Republic of Ireland were killed having been stopped at a fake British Army checkpoint outside of Newry in County Down. Two members of the group survived the attack and later testified against those responsible. Two UVF members, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, were accidentally killed by their own bomb while carrying out this attack. Two of those later convicted (James McDowell and Thomas Crozier) were also serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a part-time, locally recruited regiment of the British Army.

From late 1975 to mid-1977, a unit of the UVF dubbed the Shankill Butchers (a group of UVF men based on Belfast’s Shankill Road) carried out a series of sectarian murders of Catholic civilians. Six of the victims were abducted at random, then beaten and tortured before having their throats slashed. This gang was led by Lenny Murphy. He was shot dead by the IRA in November 1982, four months after his release from the Maze Prison.

The group had been proscribed in July 1966, but this ban was lifted on 4 April 1974 by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in an effort to bring the UVF into the democratic process.[54] A political wing was formed in June 1974, the Volunteer Political Party led by UVF Chief of Staff Ken Gibson, which contested West Belfast in the October 1974 General Election, polling 2,690 votes (6%). The UVF spurned the government efforts however and continued killing. Colin Wallace, part of the intelligence apparatus of the British Army, asserted in an internal memo in 1975 that MI6 and RUC Special Branch formed a pseudo-gang within the UVF, designed to engage in violence and to subvert moves of the UVF towards the political process. Captain Robert Nairac of 14 Intelligence Company was alleged to have been involved in many acts of UVF violence.[55] The UVF was banned again on 3 October 1975 and two days later twenty-six suspected UVF members were arrested in a series of raids. The men were tried and in March 1977 were sentenced to an average of twenty-five years each.[56][57]

In October 1975, after staging a counter-coup, the Brigade Staff acquired a new leadership of moderates with Tommy West serving as the Chief of Staff.[58] These men had overthrown the “hawkish” officers, who had called for a “big push”, which meant an increase in violent attacks, earlier in the same month.[59] In fact, the UVF was behind the deaths of seven civilians in a series of attacks on 2 October.[60] The hawks had been ousted by those in the UVF who were unhappy with their political and military strategy. The new Brigade Staff’s aim was to carry out attacks against known republicans rather than Catholic civilians.[59] This had been thoroughly endorsed by Gusty Spence who issued a statement asking all UVF volunteers to support the new regime.[61] The UVF’s activities in the last years of the decade were increasingly being curtailed by the number of UVF members who were sent to prison.[59] Indeed, the number of killings in Northern Ireland had decreased from 300 per year during the period between 1973 and 1976 to just under 100 in the years 1977–1981.[62] In 1976, Tommy West was replaced with “Mr. F” who is alleged to be John “Bunter” Graham and remains the incumbent Chief of Staff to date.[63][64] West died in 1980.

On 17 February 1979, the UVF carried out its only major attack in Scotland, when its members bombed two pubs in Glasgow frequented by Catholics. Both pubs were wrecked and a number of people were wounded. It claimed the pubs were used for republican fundraising. In June, nine UVF members were convicted of the attacks.[65]

The early to mid-1980s

In the 1980s, the UVF was greatly reduced by a series of police informers. The damage from security service informers started in 1983 with “supergrass” Joseph Bennett’s information which led to the arrest of fourteen senior figures. In 1984, they attempted to kill the northern editor of the Sunday World, Jim Campbell after he had exposed the paramilitary activities of Mid-Ulster brigadier Robin Jackson. By the mid-1980s, a Loyalist paramilitary-style organisation called Ulster Resistance was formed on 10 November 1986. The initial aim of Ulster Resistance was to bring an end to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Loyalists were successful in importing arms into Northern Ireland. The weapons were Palestine Liberation Organisation arms captured by the Israelis, sold to Armscor, the South African state-owned company which, in defiance of the 1977 United Nations arms embargo, set about making South Africa self-sufficient in military hardware.[citation needed] The arms were divided between the UVF, the UDA (the largest loyalist group) and Ulster Resistance.[66]

The UVF received large numbers of Sa vz. 58 assault rifles in the 1980s

The arms are thought to have consisted of:

  • 200 Czechoslovak Sa vz. 58 assault rifles,
  • 90 Browning pistols,
  • 500 RGD-5 fragmentation grenades,
  • 30,000 rounds of ammunition and
  • 12 RPG-7 rocket launchers and 150 warheads.

The UVF used this new infusion of arms to escalate their campaign of sectarian assassinations. This era also saw a more widespread targeting on the UVF’s part of IRA and Sinn Féin members, beginning with the killing of senior IRA member Larry Marley[67] and a failed attempt on the life of a leading republican which left three Catholic civilians dead.[68]

The late 1980s and early 1990s

The UVF also attacked republican paramilitaries and their political activists. These attacks were stepped up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The largest death toll was on 3 March 1991 when the UVF killed IRA members John Quinn, Dwayne O’Donnell and Malcolm Nugent, and civilian Thomas Armstrong in the car park next to Boyle’s Bar, Cappagh.[69] Republicans had responded to the attacks by assassinating UVF leaders, including John Bingham, William “Frenchie” Marchant, Trevor King[70] and, allegedly, Leslie Dallas.[71] The UVF also killed republicans James Burns, Liam Ryan and Larry Marley.[72] According to Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), the UVF killed 17 active and four former republican paramilitaries. CAIN also states that Republicans killed 13 UVF members.[73]

According to journalist and author Ed Moloney the UVF campaign in Mid Ulster in this period “indisputably shattered Republican morale”, and put the leadership of the republican movement under intense pressure to “do something”.[74]

1994 ceasefire

A UVF mural referencing the ceasefire

In 1990 the UVF joined the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) and indicated its acceptance of moves towards peace. However, the year leading up to the loyalist ceasefire, which took place shortly after the Provisional IRA ceasefire, saw some of the worst sectarian killings carried out by loyalists during the Troubles. On 18 June 1994, UVF members machine-gunned a pub in Loughinisland, County Down on the basis that its customers were watching the Republic of Ireland national football team playing in the World Cup on television and were therefore assumed to be Catholics. The gunmen shot dead six people and injured five.

The UVF agreed to a ceasefire in October 1994.

Post-ceasefire activities

More militant members of the UVF, led by Billy Wright who disagreed with the ceasefire, broke away to form the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). This development came soon after the UVF’s Brigade Staff in Belfast had stood down Wright and the Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade, on 2 August 1996, for the killing of a Catholic taxi driver near Lurgan during Drumcree disturbances.[75]

A UVF mural in Carrickfergus

There followed years of violence between the two organisations. In January 2000 UVF Mid-Ulster brigadier Richard Jameson was shot dead by a LVF gunman which led to an escalation of the UVF/LVF feud. The UVF was also clashing with the UDA in the summer of 2000. The feud with the UDA ended in December following seven deaths. Veteran anti-UVF campaigner Raymond McCord, whose son, Raymond Jr., a Protestant, was beaten to death by UVF men in 1997, estimates the UVF has killed more than thirty people since its 1994 ceasefire, most of them Protestants.[citation needed] The feud between the UVF and the LVF erupted again in the summer of 2005. The UVF killed four men in Belfast and trouble ended only when the LVF announced that it was disbanding in October of that year.[76]

On 14 September 2005, following serious loyalist rioting during which dozens of shots were fired at riot police, the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain announced that the British government no longer recognised the UVF ceasefire.[77]

On 12 February 2006, The Observer reported that the UVF was to disband by the end of 2006. The newspaper also reported that the group refused to decommission its weapons.[78]

On 2 September 2006, BBC News reported the UVF may be intending to re-enter dialogue with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, with a view to decommissioning of their weapons. This move comes as the organisation holds high level discussions about their future.[79]

On 3 May 2007, following recent negotiations between the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and with Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, the UVF made a statement that they would transform to a “non-military, civilianised” organisation.[80] This was to take effect from midnight. They also stated that they would retain their weaponry but put them beyond reach of normal volunteers. Their weapons stock-piles are to be retained under the watch of the UVF leadership.[81][82][83]

In January 2008, the UVF was accused of involvement in vigilante action against alleged criminals in Belfast.[84]

In 2008, a loyalist splinter group calling itself the “Real UVF” emerged briefly to make threats against Sinn Féin in Co. Fermanagh.[85]

In the twentieth IMC report, the group was said to be continuing to put its weapons “beyond reach”, (in the group’s own words) to downsize, and reduce the criminality of the group. The report added that individuals, some current and some former members, in the group have, without the orders from above, continued to “localised recruitment”, and although some continued to try and acquire weapons, including a senior member, most forms of crime had fallen, including shootings and assaults. The group concluded a general acceptance of the need to decommission, though there was no conclusive proof of moves towards this end.[86]

In June 2009 the UVF formally decommissioned their weapons in front of independent witnesses as a formal statement of decommissioning was read by Dawn Purvis and Billy Hutchinson.[87] The IICD confirmed that “substantial quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices” had been decommissioned and that for the UVF and RHC, decommissioning had been completed.[88] On 30 May 2010, however, the UVF was believed to have carried out the shotgun killing of expelled RHC member Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road in broad daylight. The shooting raised questions over the future of the PUP.

On 25–26 October 2010, the UVF was involved in rioting and disturbances in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey with UVF gunmen seen on the streets at the time.[89][90]

On 28 May 2010, the UVF was severely criticised over the murder of Moffett. The Independent Monitoring Commission was highly critical of the leadership for having condoned and even sanctioned the attack, in contrast to praise bestowed on the Brigade Staff for a moderating influence during the marching season. The Progressive Unionist Party‘s condemnation, and Dawn Purvis and other leaders’ resignations as a response to the Moffett shooting, were also noted. Eleven months later, a 40-year-old man was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of the UVF’s alleged second-in-command Harry Stockman, described by the media as a “senior Loyalist figure”. Fifty-year-old Stockman was stabbed more than 15 times in a supermarket in the Greater Shankill area; the attack was believed to have been linked to the Moffett killing. However, public opinion suggests that the stabbing was a personal vendetta and any connection being made to the Moffett case was simply a fictitious tale of revenge.[91]

On the night of 20 June 2011, riots involving 500 people erupted in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. They were blamed by the PSNI on members of the UVF, who also said UVF guns had been used to try to kill police officers.[92] The UVF leader in East Belfast, who is popularly known as the “Beast of the East” and “Ugly Doris” also known as by real name Stephen Matthews, ordered the attack on Catholic homes and a church in the Catholic enclave of the Short Strand. This was in retaliation for attacks on Loyalist homes the previous weekend and after a young girl was hit in the face with a brick by Republicans.[92][93] A dissident Republican was arrested for “the attempted murder of police officers in east Belfast” after shots were fired upon the police.[94]

In July 2011 a UVF flag flying in Limavady was deemed legal by the PSNI after the police had received complaints about the flag from nationalist politicians.[95]

During the Belfast City Hall flag protests of 2012 – 2013, senior UVF members were confirmed to have actively been involved in orchestrating violence and rioting against the PSNI and the Alliance Party throughout Northern Ireland during the weeks of disorder.[96] Much of the UVF’s orchestration was carried out by its senior members in East Belfast, where many attacks on the PSNI and on residents of the Short Strand enclave took place.[97] There were also reports that UVF members fired shots at police lines during a protest.[98] The high levels of orchestration by the leadership of the East Belfast UVF, and the alleged ignored orders from the main leaders of the UVF to stop the violence has led to fears that the East Belfast UVF has now become a separate loyalist paramilitary grouping which doesn’t abide by the UVF ceasefire or the Northern Ireland Peace Process.[99][100]

In October 2013, the policing board announced that the UVF was still heavily involved in gangsterism despite its ceasefire. Assistant chief constable Drew Harris in a statement said “The UVF are subject to an organized crime investigation as an organized crime group. The UVF very clearly have involvement in drug dealing, all forms of gangsterism, serious assaults, intimidation of the community.” [11]

In November 2013, after a series of shootings and acts of intimidation by the UVF. Police Federation Chairman, Terry Spence declared that the UVF ceasefire was no longer active. Spence told Radio Ulster that the UVF had been “engaged in murder, attempted murder of civilians, attempted murder of police officers. They have been engaged in orchestrating violence on our streets, and it’s very clear to me that they are engaged in an array of mafia-style activities.”They are holding local communities to ransom. On the basis of that, we as a federation have called for the respecification of the UVF [stating that its ceasefire is over].”[101]

Leadership

Brigade Staff

Masked UVF Brigade Staff members at a press conference in October 1974. They are wearing part of the UVF uniform which earned them their nickname “Blacknecks”

The UVF’s leadership is based in Belfast and known as the Brigade Staff. It comprises high-ranking officers under a Chief of Staff or Brigadier-General. With a few exceptions, such as Mid-Ulster brigadier Billy Hanna (a native of Lurgan), the Brigade Staff members have been from the Shankill Road or the neighbouring Woodvale area to the west.[102] The Brigade Staff’s former headquarters were situated in rooms above “The Eagle” chip shop located on the Shankill Road at its junction with Spier’s Place. The chip shop has since been closed down.

In 1972, the UVF’s imprisoned leader Gusty Spence was at liberty for four months following a staged kidnapping by UVF volunteers. During this time he restructured the organisation into brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and sections.[45] These were all subordinate to the Brigade Staff. The incumbent Chief of Staff, is alleged to be John “Bunter” Graham, referred to by Martin Dillon as “Mr. F”.[63][64][103] Graham has held the position since he assumed office in 1976.[63]

The UVF’s nickname is “Blacknecks”, derived from their uniform of black polo neck jumper, black trousers, black leather jacket, black forage cap, along with the UVF badge and belt.[104][105] This uniform, based on those of the original UVF, was introduced in the early 1970s.[106]

Chiefs of Staff

  • Gusty Spence (1966–1966). Whilst remaining de jure UVF leader after he was jailed for murder, he no longer acted as the Chief of Staff
  • Sam “Bo” McClelland (1966–1973)[33] Described as a “tough disciplinarian”, he was personally appointed by Spence to succeed him as Chief of Staff, due to his having served in the Korean War with Spence’s former regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles. He was interned in late 1973, although by that stage the de facto Chief of Staff was his successor, Jim Hanna.[33][107]
  • Jim Hanna (1973 – April 1974)[107] Hanna was allegedly shot dead by the UVF as a suspected informer.[107]
  • Ken Gibson (1974)[108] Gibson was the Chief of Staff during the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in May 1974.[108]
  • Unnamed Chief of Staff (1974 – October 1975). Leader of the Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV), the youth wing of the UVF. Assumed command after a coup by hardliners in 1974. He, along with the other hawkish Brigade Staff members were overthrown by Tommy West and a new Brigade Staff of “moderates” in a counter-coup supported by Gusty Spence. He left Northern Ireland after his removal from power.[61][109]
  • Tommy West (October 1975 – 1976)[58] A former British Army soldier, West was already the Chief of Staff at the time UVF volunteer Noel “Nogi” Shaw was killed by Lenny Murphy in November 1975 as part of an internal feud.[58]
  • John “Bunter” Graham, also referred to as “Mr. F” (1976–present)[63][64][103]

Strength, finance and support

The strength of the UVF is uncertain. The first Independent Monitoring Commission report in April 2004 described the UVF/RHC as “relatively small” with “a few hundred” active members “based mainly in the Belfast and immediately adjacent areas”.[110] Historically, the number of active UVF members in July 1971 was stated by one source to be no more than 20.[111] Later, in September 1972, Gusty Spence said in an interview that the organisation had a strength of 1,500.[112] A British Army report released in 2006 estimated a peak membership of 1,000.[113] Information regarding the role of women in the UVF is limited. One study focusing in part on female members of the UVF and Red Hand Commando noted that it “seem[ed] to have been reasonably unusual” for women to be officially asked to join the UVF.[114] Another estimates that over a 30-year period women accounted for just 2% of UVF membership at most.[115]

Prior to and after the onset of the Troubles the UVF carried out armed robberies.[116][117] This activity has been described as its preferred source of funds in the early 1970s,[118] and it continued into the 2000s with the UVF in Co Londonderry being active.[110] Members were disciplined after they carried out an unsanctioned theft of £8 million of paintings from an estate in Co Wicklow in April 1974.[119] Like the IRA, the UVF also operated black taxi services,[120][121][122] a scheme believed to have generated £100,000 annually for the organisation.[116] The UVF has also been involved in the extortion of legitimate businesses, although to a lesser extent than the UDA,[123] and was described in the fifth IMC report as being involved in organised crime.[124] In 2002 the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee estimated the UVF’s annual running costs at £1–2 million per year, against an annual fundraising capability of £1.5 million.[125]

In contrast to the IRA, overseas support for loyalist paramilitaries including the UVF has been limited.[126] Its main benefactors have been in central Scotland,[127] Liverpool,[128] Preston[128] and the Toronto area of Canada.[129] Supporters in Scotland have helped supply explosives and guns.[130][131] Although Scottish support for loyalist paramilitaries has been hindered by the strong disapproval of the mainstream Orange Order in that country,[132][133] it is estimated that the UVF nevertheless received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations to its Loyalist Prisoners Welfare Association.[134]

Drug dealing

The UVF have been implicated in drug dealing in areas from where they draw their support. Recently it has emerged from the Police Ombudsman that senior North Belfast UVF member and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch informant Mark Haddock has been involved in drug dealing. According to the Belfast Telegraph, “…70 separate police intelligence reports implicating the north Belfast UVF man in dealing cannabis, Ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine.”[135]

According to Alan McQuillan, the assistant director of the Assets Recovery Agency in 2005, “In the loyalist community, drug dealing is run by the paramilitaries and it is generally run for personal gain by a large number of people.” When the Assets Recovery Agency won a High Court order to seize luxury homes belonging to ex-policeman Colin Robert Armstrong and his partner Geraldine Mallon in 2005, Alan McQuillan said “We have further alleged Armstrong has had links with the UVF and then the LVF following the split between those organisations.” It was alleged that Colin Armstrong had links to both drugs and loyalist terrorists.[136]

Billy Wright, the commander of the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade, is believed to have started dealing drugs in 1991 [137] as a lucrative sideline to paramilitary murder. Wright is believed to have dealt mainly in Ecstasy tablets in the early 90s.[138] It was around this time that Sunday World journalists Martin O’Hagan and Jim Campbell coined the term “rat pack” for the UVF’s murderous mid-Ulster unit and, unable to identify Wright by name for legal reasons, they christened him “King Rat.” An article published by the newspaper fingered Wright as a drug lord and sectarian murderer. Wright was apparently enraged by the nickname and made numerous threats to O’Hagan and Campbell. The Sunday World’s offices were also firebombed. Mark Davenport from the BBC has stated that he spoke to a drug dealer who told him that he paid Billy Wright protection money.[139] Loyalists in Portadown such as Bobby Jameson have stated that the LVF (the Mid-Ulster Brigade that broke away from the main UVF – and led by Billy Wright) was not a ‘loyalist organisation but a drugs organisation causing misery in Portadown.’[140]

The UVF’s satellite organisation, the Red Hand Commando, was described by the IMC in 2004 as “heavily involved” in drug dealing.[110]

Affiliated groups

  • The Red Hand Commando (RHC) is an organisation that was established in 1972 and is closely linked with the UVF.
  • The Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) is the youth section of the UVF. It was initially a youth group akin to the Scouts, but became the youth wing of the UVF during the Home Rule crisis.

Deaths as a result of activity

The UVF has killed more people than any other loyalist paramilitary group. According to the University of Ulster‘s Sutton database, the UVF and RHC was responsible for at least 485 killings during the Troubles, between 1969 and 2001. This includes killings claimed by the “Protestant Action Force” and “Protestant Action Group”. There are a further 250 loyalist killings where it is not yet certain which group was responsible.[9]

Of those killed by the UVF and RHC:[143]

  • 414 (~85%) were civilians, 11 of whom were civilian political activists
  • 21 (~4%) were members or former members of republican paramilitary groups
  • 44 (~9%) were members or former members of loyalist paramilitary groups
  • 6 (~1%) were members of the British security forces

There were also 66 UVF/RHC members and four former members killed in the conflict.[144]

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