Current Affairs History Irish Republican Military Politics

They Are Not British Terrorists, They Are British Paramilitaries

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is the largest British terrorist organisation in Ireland. From its establishment in 1971 to a nominal ceasefire in 1994 the grouping killed and wounded hundreds of Irish men, women and children. Despite the declaration of a formal end to its campaign of violence in 2007 the UDA continues to carry out low-level intra-communal attacks, from punishment beatings to assassinations, many related to the importation and distribution of drugs. These criminal enterprises are now the primary source of its income and fund the lavish lifestyles of several well-known figures in the group. During the height of the conflict the UDA held the unique position of being western Europe’s only legal terrorist movement. This allowed it to commit murders under the cover-name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) while openly organising, recruiting, training and maintaining offices under the public name of the UDA and its affiliates. The grouping’s lawful status gave it a certain cachet in the eyes of the pro-unionist media and political classes in Britain. The UDA were not “terrorists”, they were “paramilitaries”, ones with whom British journalists, politicians and officials could legitimately interact. This of course also made it useful as a quasi-legal proxy in the counter-insurgency war with the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and its offshoots from 1966 to 2005. Despite diplomatic pressure from governments in Dublin and Washington the authorities in London and Belfast refused to ban the body for most of its active existence, only agreeing to do so in 1992 as part of the covert negotiations with the representatives of (P)IRA and Sinn Féin.

As of March 2016 the UK’s Home Office still lists the UDA as a banned organisation along with the likes of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda:

Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Freedom Fighters
Ulster Volunteer Force”

As of January 2009, the European Union still designates the UDA as a proscribed grouping:

“COUNCIL COMMON POSITION 2009/67/CFSP of 26 January 2009 updating Common Position 2001/931/CFSP on the application of specific measures to combat terrorism

27. *‘Loyalist Volunteer Force’–‘LVF’

29. *‘Orange Volunteers’–‘OV’

36. *‘Red Hand Defenders’–‘RHD’

45. *‘Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters’–‘UDA/UFF’”

Gunmen of the UDA-UFF, a British terror faction, armed with UK-supplied weapons
Gunmen of the UDA-UFF, a British terror faction, armed with UK-supplied weapons

Yet, incredibly, the gunmen and bombers of the UDA continue to openly operate within the north of Ireland, with the de facto agreement of the United Kingdom and with minimal interference. Furthermore much of the domestic and foreign press continues to treat them as if they were a perfectly legitimate organisation. They continue to carefully define them as “paramilitaries”, not terrorists. Take this report from today’s Belfast Telegraph:

“The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which was set up last year with the support of the three main loyalist paramilitary groups – the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando – has also unveiled a new Battle of the Somme centenary flag which, it hopes, will be the main flag flown in unionist areas through the summer months.

The annual proliferation of flags on lampposts across the region is riven with controversy, especially when the flags are left to become tattered in the elements or when flags carrying paramilitary motifs are erected.

At an event in Belfast to launch the new LCC initiative, UDA leader Jackie McDonald stressed the need for the younger generation of loyalists to help make it work.

“We have been trying to get our message home about a better way forward and better focus and hopefully to move everybody on in a way where we are first class loyalists, not seen somehow as second class unionists, we want our people to be first class loyalists,” he said.

Winston Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links to the UVF, said he believed the new Somme flag would limit the erection of paramilitary symbols this summer.

Tony Blair’s former chief of staff at Downing Street Jonathan Powell was instrumental in establishing the LCC.”

Again, for non-Irish readers, some of these people are fucking terrorists or former terrorists attending press conferences, doing interviews, giving approval for community projects and being treated as “paramilitaries” by the UK or pro-UK media and political classes. It seems that in unionist and British eyes killing Irish people in the defence of the United Kingdom’s first and last colony gives you perpetual legitimacy.

LCC member David Campbell, former unionist prisoner Jim Wilson, UDA leader Jackie McDonald and PUP representative Winston Irvine launch new Somme flag

9 comments on “They Are Not British Terrorists, They Are British Paramilitaries

  1. Once you’ve got the government’s imprimatur, you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want – as history has shown.


    • Indeed. It’s just the hypocrisy of it that galls one so. The UDA is now an illegal terrorist organisation. Yet the UDA swans around Belfast and its hinterland, organising and funding under the eyes of the British state, marching down streets, shooting, beating and burning when it suits it, and in general, not a word, not a finger is lifted against it. The press fawn on. Unionist politicians stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it (come election time). It is the old story from the era of the “Troubles”. The IRA were always “terrorists” in the UK news reports, the UDA and the like were always “paramilitaries”. The language spoke volumes, and sent a clear message out to both communities and the militants in both.

      From the BBC to Fleet Street the British press were as culpable as any backstreet general in putting guns into the hands of young men and sending them out to kill or be killed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. JohnGerard

    the British Army ran a secret undercover death squad and the UDA and others were supplied with weapons in pursuit of this, the UDR or Ulster Defense Regiment was the training ground for them. The documentary gives a little insight not the full story into their activities …Britain’s Secret Terror Force.


  3. bradhar

    You’ve lost me there Sionnach.
    What’s the difference between these lads and, say, Gerry Kelly or Martin Ferris?


    • Put aside the issues of elections and so forth. My gripe, and the reason for my ire, is the long-standing hypocrisy of the terminology of “republican terrorists” versus “loyalist paramilitaries” that has dominated British (and some Irish) reporting of the conflict in the north of Ireland. I’m old enough to remember the BBC and ITN television reports speaking of “murders” by “IRA terrorists” and “shootings” by “loyalist paramilitaries”. I remember one particular event late in the war when News At Ten report referred to a “murder” by “republican terrorists” in the same package where the same reporter spoke about a fatal “revenge shooting” by “loyalist militants”. That has never left me.

      Going on from that, the UDA is an illegal organisation (now!). Yet the press happily talk about and interview its members who parade around, quite openly, as UDA leaders. I’d don’t remember any recent press conferences by the leaders of CIRA or NIRA who strolled about Belfast, hands in pockets, whistling a merry tune while a gaggle of adorning journos followed in their wake.

      The utter two-faced total and complete hypocrisy of it all, as of the last fifty years, makes me want to fucking puke!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bradhar

    Fair enough I suppose as regards the terminology but I never had the impression that the media (outside of usual suspects) had any great grá or even sneaking regard for the Loyalists. I don’t know enough to comment on British media but always got the impression from the Southern media (IMG recently excepted of course!) that the Loyalist paramilitaries were scummy underclass bullies whereas republican paramilitaries were deluded/naive/fanatical but ultimately decent skins.


    • There may have been no great love but there was certainly lots of tolerance, understanding and – as someone else might say – sneaking regardism.


  5. john maciain

    it astonishes me that so many people don’t understand the vital difference between an elected government sponsoring a terrorist organization , and an under ground terrorist organization. the sme government has been in plaqce in the uk for hundreds of years and for the last one hundred has sponsored terrorist groups and the voting public has not chastized them for it. that makes the public directly responsible for supporting terrorism(and colonialism and torture and fascism). on the other hand what ever one thinks of the ira, no one os responsible for their acts except those who directly support them. this is why most advanced countries do not support terrosist groups and instead use other tactics, and this is why the uk is state committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the gerneral public is personanlly responsible.

    moreover the tripartite commission on human rights in northern ireland found that the uk government sponsored trained armed and funded these groups and that they often ran out of police headquarters or regimental headquarterts as a night time activity.. if anyone remembers the after that report the commie rag the economists actually briefly supported british withdrawal from northern ireland, and did the globe and mail in canada(both publications published extensive excerpts from the report), but the right wing backlash made them recant. again that makes the public in general and the government directly responsible for the long war. the ira has never been put to a vote and would likely never have won a general british voter can now claim that after a hundred years of state sponsored terrorism that they don’t know about it, and aren’t responsible.

    i compare it to algeria. de gaulle withdrew two and a half million colonists to end the war. he said that otherwise means france will have a permanent war like the british do in northern ireland with all the evils of torture , murder and corruption. he ran for office saying that the choice is clear. permanant war, torture corruption and murder or make sacrifices and make peace–AND MAKE A FRIEND OF ALGERIA


  6. Ronnie Austin

    Great site. keep me informed.


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