Ulster Resistance, the paramilitary wing of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party during the 1980s, is making the headlines once again following the appointment of Emma Pengelly as a DUP representative to the dysfunctional regional assembly in the north-east. The MLA’s father is Noel Little, a former soldier in the British army and, with the late reverend Paisley, one of the founding members of the UR grouping. From 1987 to 1989 Little, in co-operation with the UK terrorist factions of the UDA-UFF and UVF, coordinated the purchase and importation of munitions from the embargoed Apartheid-regime in South Africa to Ireland, with some Israeli and Lebanese involvement. The complicated relationship lasted for three years before hitting the rocks, principally due to infighting between rival departments of the British intelligence services, divided as they were over government policy in the region and support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. MI5, the security service, which was facilitating the rearming of Britain’s unofficial counter-insurgency forces through Noel Little and others, found its grand plan stymied when MI6, the not-so James Bond secret service, pushed concerned elements of the local paramilitary police, the RUC, to move in and stop the whole thing in its tracks.
Of course by then enough assault rifles, handguns and ammunition had got through to reinvigorate the flagging murder campaign of the “loyalists” at the very moment the (Provisional) Republican Movement and the British government were stepping up tentative negotiations through the famous “back channels” of the Irish-British peace process of the late 1980s and ’90s. With the indisputable terrorist nature of the Ulster Resistance uncovered, literal car-loads of guns being hard to ignore, Ian Paisley could no longer prevaricate and the DUP claimed that it had formally cut its ties with its clandestine wing in 1987 (which came as a surprise to pretty much everyone). Many observers believed that the UR eventually turned over its share of the South African military largesse to the UDA-UFF, though in fact no proof ever emerged to establish that transfer. Furthermore the Ulster Resistance was exempt from any arms decommissioning process in the early 2000s through the simple mechanism of the DUP and others denying any knowledge of its continued existence. How can terrorists who do not exist give up their weapons? Ah-hah!
However history does not forget these things and the establishment of a militant wing to the DUP – short-lived as it may have been – remains a matter of historical record. As does the existence of the UR-precursor, the Third Force, or the numerous connections between individual party MPs, councillors, MLAs and MEPs and god alone knows how many gunmen and bombers from the British unionist minority in the north-east. Or, for that matter, Ian Paisley’s self-declared Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, a fundamentalist denomination which contained a disproportionate number of those self-same gunmen and bombers in its congregation… Or perhaps not so disproportionate.
You can read an in-depth examination of British unionism in Ireland and the South African connection in the article “Ulster Resistance – Unapologetic British Terrorism In Ireland” from ASF.