While the debate continues in Britain over the motives of murderer Thomas Mair, the killer of Labour MP Jo Cox, his undoubted links to various far right bodies in the United Kingdom serve as a useful reminder of the enmeshed nature of parliamentary and paramilitary unionism. Here is a 1986 television interview with Peter Robinson MP, the future head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the so-called “First Minister of Northern Ireland“, defending his contacts with the Ulster Defence Association (UDA-UFF), a semi-legal British terrorist grouping in the north-east of Ireland. At the time of the broadcast the leaders of mainstream political unionism, James Molyneaux MP of the UUP and Ian Paisley MP of the DUP, had publicly authorised Robinson to seek support – or “assistance” – from the UDA-UFF and other extremists, including the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), in their turbulent campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The latter document was a 1985 intergovernmental treaty between Ireland and Britain which ceded some of London’s authority over the Six Counties to Dublin. In November of 1986, shortly after this interview, the DUP formed it’s own paramilitary wing, the Ulster Resistance (UR). By the end of 1987 the UR, in co-operation with the UDA-UFF and UVF, and aided by Britain’s anti-agreement Intelligence Corps (Int. Corps) and Security Service (SS or MI5), had successfully imported several tons of ship-borne weapons, ammunition and explosives from apartheid South Africa via the Lebanon.
This short clip represents one of the very few times in the entire thirty-year history of the Long War or “Troubles” that a journalist from Britain directly challenges a senior unionist politician over his or her connections with the pro-UK terror factions in Ireland. Here is a transcript of some extracts from the confrontation between Robinson and John Ware, a veteran reporter for the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Panorama:
Peter Robinson [shakes head]: I make no apology for working for the [unionist/loyalist] prisoners and when I get letters from them they are dealt with as promptly as I can.
Interviewer: Do you regard them as terrorists?
Peter Robinson: Eh, I regard them as counter-terrorists.
Interviewer: Not terrorists?
Peter Robinson: They’re, they’re counter-terrorists. In… [shrugs] It is a fact of life.
Interviewer: When you say you regard loyalists who have killed and bombed and maimed… When you say that you regard them as counter-terrorists, you make it seem as if they’re a sort of anti-terrorist police force or they have some sort of legitimacy. Is that, is that how you – ?
Peter Robinson: I think the only distinction there, there can be, can be that they wouldn’t have been there in the first place if the authorities had countered the terrorism themselves…
Interviewer: Why have you never condemned the UDA or UVF by name for their atrocities?
Peter Robinson [shakes head]: Eh, I have, condemned, eh, actions that have occurred both by Protestants and by Roman Catholics –
Interviewer [interrupts]: But not by name, not the UDA and UVF by name.
Peter Robinson [shrugs]: Well I mean, so what?! What is that supposed to mean to, to anyone? If I condemn actions that occurred I would’ve thought that the person or the organisation that, who is responsible for such action is condemned by it.
Interviewer: You use the word assist, surely you know that the word assist in UDA terminology is a, a euphemism for muscle power, strong-arm tactics, illegal activity? Why, why have anything to do with it?
Peter Robinson: That might be what it is in, in your mind. As far as I’m concerned –
Interviewer [interrupts]: What are you talking to them about? What are you talking to them about? The weather, the weather or…?
Peter Robinson: This seems to be about the tenth time you’ve asked the same question and I expect it is going to be the tenth time you get the same answer. I was asking them, within the terms set by the two unionist party leaders, to give their assistance…
Interviewer: The UDA, the men in masks, there were men burning things, there were men lobbing rocks, there were policemen burned and shot out of their homes. If that isn’t paramilitary involvement what is it?
Peter Robinson: Well, you know, you make these ridiculous accusations, which are very interesting –
Interviewer [interrupts]: The incident reports are there –
Peter Robinson [raises voice]: No! No, look!
Interviewer: I mean you can go and look at them –
Peter Robinson [leans forward]: If you want to ask a second question before I have answered the first, then at least you can let me know that, and then we can end the interview.
Interviewer: Isn’t it in fact the case that you choose not to be, to be as outspoken against Protestant paramilitaries as you might be simply because in the end you know that they will provide the muscle which you think will help change Mrs. Thatcher’s mind?
Peter Robinson: If you have the democratic process operating in a country you don’t need muscle from any source. It is because the Prime Minister has refused to respond to the ballot box and the vote of the people in Northern Ireland, that people are now saying you cannot win through politics you have to use other means.