Current Affairs Politics

British State-Sponsored Terrorism In Ireland

The alphabet soup of British-state militias in Ireland in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s – the UDR (now the RIR) and the RUC (now the PSNI)

The award-winning investigative website, The Detail, carries a lengthy report on British terrorism in Ireland, focusing on the activities of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). Established in January 1970 as an infantry unit of the British Army the UDR acted as an armed militia of the British Unionist minority in Ireland until it was partially disbanded in 1992 through an amalgamation with another unit forming the new Royal Irish Regiment or RIR (this has been widely interpreted in retrospect as one of the reconciliatory gestures on behalf of the British government towards Irish nationalists and republicans in the lead-up to the Peace Process of the 1990s).

‘The British army has been accused of a ’cover up’ after it was disclosed that it has withheld evidence for more than three decades revealing that UDR units were being used to finance and support the UVF in Belfast, with at least 70 soldiers on one base linked to the loyalist terror group.

The Detail website can reveal top secret government papers which disclose that the UDR’s Belfast battalion was heavily infiltrated by the UVF in the late 1970s.

The `For UK Eyes Only’ documents, uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre, reveal how:

• Army chiefs feared that 70 soldiers in one UDR unit were linked to the UVF in west Belfast, including one member of the notorious Shankill Butcher gang;

• One UDR unit was suspected of siphoning-off £47,000 to the UVF while UDR equipment was regularly stolen from another unit to support the loyalist terror group;

• UVF members were regularly allowed to socialise at the UDR’s Girdwood barracks social club;

• Army chiefs considered secretly testing firing UDR soldiers’ weapons to check whether they had been used in sectarian murders;

• The collusion investigation was then suspended after a senior UDR officer claimed it was damaging morale within the regiment.’

Amongst the finer points is the following:

‘Investigators found that some soldiers were also `borrowing’ army weapons to carry out criminal activities.

“There appears to have been theft of stores over a considerable period…There are indications that equipment stolen has been passed to the UVF.

“Control of accounting and key security (including armoury keys) has been poor.”

Investigators concluded: “The general impression gained is that, `D’ and `G’ Coys are the supply and financial support elements for local paramilitary organisations.”’

However though British Army chiefs had no problem with British soldiers carrying out terrorist attacks they apparently drew the line at ‘ordinary’ criminal activities, as they launched a cover-up:

‘…the British army took a deliberate decision to hide the fact that the UDR’s Belfast battalion had been so heavily infiltrated by the UVF.

Minutes of a meeting at British army headquarters in Lisburn in February 1978 discussed a “defensive press brief” linked to the massive security breaches.

“It would be desirable to avoid mention of the security investigation into UDR soldiers’ possible involvement with paramilitary organisations.

“No such restraint need be felt about the investigation into the fraud, and the SIB (Serious Investigation Branch) investigation should be used as far as possible to cover the security investigation.”’

The Loyalist Murderers - the British UDR militia and Britain's state-sponsored terrorism in Ireland
The Loyalist Murderers – the British UDR militia and Britain’s state-sponsored terrorism in Ireland

Among the more shocking revelations are the links between the British Army and the notorious British terrorist gang ‘the Shankill Butchers‘:

‘The late 1970s were some of the worst years of the Troubles, with the UVF’s notorious Shankill Butcher gang responsible for a sectarian murder campaign, which included the abduction, torture and brutally murder of 10 Catholics in north and west Belfast.

The RUC’s failure to apprehend the killers for 19 months lead to many within the nationalist community claiming that the Butcher gang was being protected from prosecution.

In 1979 loyalist Edward McIlwaine was jailed for 15 years for kidnapping and wounding the gang’s last Catholic victim.

It was only disclosed years later that McIlwaine had led a double life as a UDR soldier and Shankill Butcher.

McIlwaine had joined `10’ UDR in 1974, but within months had also become a trusted member of the Butcher gang.

The UDR soldier’s double life lasted for three years until he was finally arrested in June 1977 and charged with the kidnapping and brutal assault on Gerard McLaverty.

He remained a UDR soldier until August 1977, when it was claimed he had been discharged for `poor attendance’.’

Among the many innocent Irish citizens murdered in the most grotesque ways possible by the gang was 33 year old Rosaleen O’Kane, as described in this BBC report:

‘The burnt body of Rosaleen O’Kane was discovered in her Belfast home almost 30 years ago.

Her body had been stripped and set alight.

Miss O’Kane’s family said police had told them of a possible link with the Shankill Butchers to her killing.

The gang was a group of sadistic loyalist killers who conducted a sectarian reign of terror against Catholics in Belfast between 1976 and 1978.

It was led by Lennie Murphy and killed at least 10 people.

Many of the Shankill Butchers’ victims were Catholic men, abducted in a taxi as they walked home from pubs in the city centre.

The gang got its name from the butchers’ knives used to torture and kill its victims whose mutilated bodies were later dumped in loyalist parts of the city.’

This is not the first time that the close links between the British state and British terrorism in Ireland have been examined. In fact it has been one of the constants of the Northern conflict, though rarely have the British or Irish media establishments given acts of state-sponsored terrorism by Britain the prominence they deserved. The fact that it took a Belfast-based journalism site to highlight these latest revelations, revelations ignored by the news media of two nations, shows yet again how little has changed – in peace or war.

Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s
Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s
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