Current Affairs History Military Politics

The Truth About Ireland’s British Troubles

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 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)

Over the last two years I have highlighted on this website a number of key facts from the mountain of evidence pointing to the centrality of the British terror factions in the north-east of Ireland to Britain’s counter-insurgency war against the Irish Republican Army. Simply put it is now beyond any reasonable form of doubt that terrorist organisations like the UDA-UFF (which for most of its history was a legal terror group under British law), the UVF and others operated as de facto adjuncts to the British Forces in Ireland, both military and paramilitary. These extreme British and Protestant separatists, driven by a colonial legacy of anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic sectarianism, rampaged in pulsating waves of violence across the north-eastern part of our island-nation whenever their masters in Britain saw that it was politically or militarily necessary for them to do so.

Not only were the British terror gangs in Ireland substantially directed, funded and armed by the British Forces, in many cases they were the British Forces: that is serving or former members of the British Army or the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

British soldiers and British policemen by day; British gunmen and British bombers by night.

Now more evidence has been collated and presented to a wider audience by the journalist Anne Cadwallader in a new book called “Lethal Allies“. It deals with just one small area in Ireland, the mid-Ulster region of Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Monaghan, one small British terrorist formation – the amorphous Glenanne Gang – and one small period from 1972 to 1976. Yet in that place and during that time this grouping of serving and former British soldiers and paramilitary police officers took part in attacks that left over 120 Irish men, women and children dead and hundreds more wounded. And all with the tacit authority of the nation-state of Great Britain behind them.

From the Irish Times:

“More than 120 people were killed by loyalist paramilitary gangs operating out of mid-Ulster, many of them working in collusion with RUC officers and Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers, it is claimed in a book published today.

The volume, Lethal Allies, tells the story of the Glennane gang and other loyalist groups who in various permutations – but frequently with the sectarian figure of Robin Jackson at its centre – killed more than 120 people on both sides of the Border between 1972 and 1976.

Most of the victims were Catholics. Many of these killings directly or indirectly involved members of the RUC and the UDR, it is claimed in the book written by Anne Cadwallader.

The work is based largely on declassified papers and official reports and on investigations carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team, which is a division of the PSNI.

The gang’s victims included the 33 people killed in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, those killed in the 1975 gun and bomb attack on the Miami Showband, the 1976 killings of six members of the Reavey and O’Dowd families in south Armagh – killings that the IRA used to justify the shooting dead of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills – and the killings in August 1975 of Seán Farmer and 22-year- old Colm McCartney, a cousin of the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.

Mr Farmer and Mr McCartney were shot dead at a bogus British army checkpoint near Newtownhamilton in Co Armagh by UVF members wearing UDR uniforms. They were stopped as they returned from the All-Ireland football championship semi-final matches between Tyrone and Kerry minors, and Derry and Dublin seniors.

Central to Cadwallader’s book are the relentless accounts of the murders that took place in, or emanated from, what was called the Murder Triangle of mid-Ulster, but also the high level of RUC and UDR collusion with the mainly UVF killers.

It asks the question: how could the authorities at the highest levels in the RUC, British army and political establishment not know what was happening and not properly act to stop it?

Cadwallader names more than 20 RUC or UDR members from the time, former or serving, who were implicated in many of the murders. Probably the most notorious are Jackson, a sectarian UVF killer both as a serving and former UDR member, and James Mitchell, a godfather figure and RUC reserve member who owned the Glennane farm in Co Armagh where loyalists and security force members met, marched and drilled, conspired and plotted the killings of scores of Catholics.”

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, '80s and '90s
Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s

From the Guardian:

“A specialist police unit has accused senior commanders in the old Royal Ulster Constabulary of covering up a series of sectarian killings and attempted murders…

Lethal Allies, by Anne Cadwallader, contains documents from the Historical Enquiries Team – a cold case unit tasked with investigating unsolved crimes from Northern Ireland’s Troubles – that raise the possibility that for political reasons and to protect the force, senior RUC officers turned a blind eye to subordinates involved in a sectarian terror campaign in rural Ulster.

According to the book, the HET believes ministers should have been told about the involvement of serving police officers in a loyalist terror group in one of the most dangerous parts of Northern Ireland.

It quotes HET documents as stating that only one serving police officer was found guilty of a gun and bomb attack on the Catholic-run Rock Bar in Co Armagh in 1976, something the HET argues “beggars belief and cannot be explained”.

…According to the book, those involved in the attack were serving members of the RUC and were wearing their police uniforms underneath boilersuits.

In the 1970s, the Catholic priest and human rights campaigner Denis Faul dubbed the area where the attack took place as the “Murder Triangle”. Between 1972 and 1978 around 120 people, mainly politically uninvolved Catholics, were murdered in Armagh and nearby Tyrone. Allegations were rife that off-duty police officers and part-time soldiers were behind the killings.”

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

19 comments on “The Truth About Ireland’s British Troubles

  1. Graham Ennis

    Utterly heartbreaking. Just awful. But finally, the truth about British State Terrorism is spreading beyond Ireland.


  2. an lorcánach

    Great article, Sionnach – saw piece on channel 4 news last night – shame Vincent Hanna isn’t around to question the British establishment – we need people like Anne Cadwallader more than ever @


  3. I’m a former British soldier, having served in Belfast in 1985.

    Everywhere the British go they ridicule, oppress and murder, depending on the level of resistance.

    Have to say that I’m disgusted and ashamed of their presence in Ireland.


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Richard. There were of course many ordinary members of the British Forces in Ireland during the course of the Long War, whether military or paramilitary, who behaved in an honourable manner and strove as far as they could given the wartime conditions to simply serve their country, their units and their comrades. I do not think anyone disputes that and I would be the first to recognise it. As an Irish citizen and a Republican I bear those soldiers and policemen no ill-will. Their losses and their suffering deserves equal recognition and acknowledgement too.

      However I think it is time for journalists and commentators to stop talking of “collusion” and “rogue elements” and simply accept that the UDA-UFF, UVF and other groups were state-backed terrorists who included serving and former members of the forces of the state. That other such terror factions were used and abused by their military, intelligence or governmental masters as and when suited is not disputed. It may be that the British state was arming Loyalists with one hand while imprisoning Loyalists with the other. But that is no different from what happens with those terrorist or insurgent organisations in Iraq, Iran, Syria or elsewhere who exist precariously according to the political needs and whims of their backers.

      How many Hezbollah activists spent time in and out of Syrian prisons, acting as agents of the state one day and when convenient enemies of the state the next? That is how I see the UDA-UFF, UVF, LVF and the rest.


  4. Being honest I think it has been well known for a considerable time about the levels of complicity and collusion by British State forces in terrorism in Ireland. In fact this pattern of behaviour goes back much further than the 1970’s and extends far beyond Irelands shores as demonstrated by the recent findings regarding Kenya for example.
    The key questions for me are 1, how high did this go (And we know it went at least to RUC Chief Constable level – I believe much higher)
    2, What is the British Government going to do next. Admit and apologise or deflect, deny and limit the damage?


    • Hi BD, I agree but I think we need to tackle the use of the word “collusion” which is often used as media code for “rogue agents”, “bad apples”, etc. (at least by the British). There was no such thing as collusion. It is simply a polite term for state-backed terrorism. The UDA-UFF, UFF, LVF and others were terrorist proxies of the British state, integral components of a wider counter-insurgency struggle. That the British state, or parts of the British state, arrested or imprisoned some British terrorists when convenient to do so means nothing. Such things happen to other state-sponsored terrorist or militant organisation in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, etc. No one disputes that Pakistan as a nation-state supports Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups. We have all seen the political and media statement condemning state-sponsored terrorism by that country. Yet Pakistan arrests and imprisons the very terrorists it backs on a regular basis when domestic or international pressure becomes too much or when internal security or organisational needs require it.

      Is it a coincidence that when British Intelligence lost control over the LVF and the pressures of the Peace Process made themselves felt that the LVF was suddenly quickly crippled through arrests and arms seizures?


  5. I’m sure this is all true, but then what major state will not do whatever it takes to put down rebellion and enforce its will? It used to be called “the violence inherent in the state”. Situations like the NI ‘troubles’ simply bring out this essentially coercive nature. Additionally, there seems to always be, in all times and places, a sufficient supply of complete bastards who enjoy putting in the boot, especailly when they can smile and claim to be “just obeying orders”. Doesn’t the RoI have an army? Why, who are they planning to fight? Clearly not the British, so who does that leave? Just think about that. I’m told btw that Iceland has no army at all.
    But more seriously, none of this is really news, so what do you hope to achieve by bringing it up now? Unless you think it’s still going on. Do you??


    • an lorcánach

      turn around and walk away… – that it, isn’t it marconatrix!


    • Ireland has its defence forces, the Óglaigh na hÉireann, but they are for the purposes of self-defence, internal security and overseas peace keeping with the UN and others. They are incapable of offensive military operations, both in terms of organisation, equipment and training. They could not even intervene in any meaningful way in the north-east of the country when briefly contemplated by the Irish government 1969-1973.

      When reunification takes place it is obvious that ÓnahÉ will be facing militant Unionism and various British terrorist faction. And equally obvious that they will not be up to task.

      The recent history of British terrorism in Ireland may not be news to people in Ireland but it is most certainly news to people in Britain whose media has shielded them from it for decades. I was contacted by a journalist from the Daily Mail in relation to the story of the British soldiers giving Nazi salutes in Afghanistan before his article was published over the weekend. I’ve had other communications over various bits and pieces with British reporters. I’ve never been asked about anything to do with the UDA-UFF or UVF or their relationship with the British state.

      As far as that is concerned it is see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.


      • How is “overseas peacekeeping” any different from British interference in what was essentially an Irish civil war? The reason states interfere in others troubles is to gain some selfish advantage, e.g. to ensure a sympathetic regieme, if not one endebted to them. I would have thought the Irish, of all peoples, would have know better. “Internal security” = keeping your own population in line by force or threat of force. Normal ‘law & order’ is what the police are there for.


  6. Like Seamas I posted on this.
    You might like to look at the two videos I included and my comments.

    In any case what’s going to happen next is that relatives of the victims are going to court to sue the Ministry of Defence.
    I saw another article in an Irish paper (don’t have link) saying a lot of families are going to the Ombudsman

    Whatever the political beliefs of the victims, most of whom were not IRA activists, the British government instituted/supported a policy of murdering Her Majesty’s Catholic subjects on British soil.
    That requires answering , despite Her Majesty’s Government’s extreme reluctance.
    I think the Irish government should apply pressure


  7. Reblogged this on seachranaidhe1 and commented:
    Do thuairim féin anseo… (más mian leat)


  8. an lorcánach

    “Undercover Northern Ireland soldiers accused of killing unarmed civilians” –


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: