What are the main Loyalist paramilitary organisations?
1) Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Aliases Used: Protestant Action Group, Protestant Action Force
The UVF claimed its main aim was to fight the IRA. It was formed with the express intention of executing “mercilessly and without hesitation” known IRA men.
Although it did kill a small number of IRA volunteers, it’s main target was Catholic civilians.
It was started in 1966 by ex-British soldier Gusty Spence to counter rising nationalist sentiment centred on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising
and to halt any introduction of equality legislation for Catholics.
The organisation was named in memory of Ulstermen who, in 1912, had signed the Covenant opposing Home Rule for Ireland and had then fought in WWI.
The name also served to confuse the issue of the Loyalists’ aim which they stated was to defend the Protestant community from attack and protect Northern Ireland’s union with Britain.
Their first three victims, a Protestant woman and two Catholic men, had no connections with the IRA. It was the murder of 18-year old Peter Ward,
the third victim, which brought the UVF and its leader Gusty Spence to public attention. Spence was convicted of Ward’s murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The UVF was responsible for some of the worst mass murders that occurred during the Troubles, including
All of these attacks were aimed at Catholic civilians who had no involvement with Republican Organisations.
Here’s what the BBC says about the UVF today, several years after they announced they were on ceasefire
2) Ulster Defence Association (UDA)Aliases Used: Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)
Formed in 1971 with its main aim to “defend loyalist areas from attack” the UDA remained a legal organisation until the 1990s. On 3 July 1972 their plans to erect barriers between the Catholic Springfield area and the Protestant Shankill led to 8,000 masked men, many armed with cudgels, confronting 250 British troops.
Catholics regarded the peaceful resolution of the incident and the ease with which the UDA could paralyse the city with massive demonstrations as evidence that the British government was adopting a more conciliatory approach to loyalists.
One MoD official
in November 1972 remarked that “an important function of the UDA is to channel into a constructive and disciplined direction Protestant energies which might otherwise become disruptive”.
Another confidential British Army briefing paper – “not to be passed [around] in writing below battalion level” –stated: “Operations against UDA should be directed against their criminal extremist elements whilst making every endeavour to maintain good relations with law abiding citizens in the organisation. Contact should be maintained at company commander level with the UDA.”
The UDA’s biggest and most successful operation was the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council strike
that forced the power-sharing Executive to resign. The UDA also played a supportive role in the 1977 United Unionist Action Council strike but declined to support Ian Paisley’s Day of Action protest and his Third Force in 1981.
The UDA simply targeted Catholic civilians
and indulged in bouts of internal feuding. The group was responsible for mass murder including the Greysteel Massacre,
the Castlerock Killings and the Milltown Massacre
By the late 1980s and early 1990’s the UDA really ramped up its murderous activities and that ordinary Catholics were their main targets. They assassinated Catholics listed on leaked intelligence files.
Their murder record is an indictment of the collusion that occurred between some elements of the RUC and the loyalist paramilitaries. They killed some 197 civilians, 12 political activists, 11 republican paramilitaries, 37 loyalists, thirty of whom were in the UDA and 3 members of the security forces.
The UDA confirmed it was given assistance by the British Security forces. A number of UDA leaders including Brian Nelson, Ken Barrett and William Stobie were exposed as British Agents This led to the Stevens Inquiry and the conviction of Brian Nelson, an army spy within the UDA, and raised the spectre of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.
In 1992 the then Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew proscribed it as it became increasingly clear to security forces that its members were carrying out killings but using the name of Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) as a cover.
The UFF’s campaign of violence began in the early 1970s, under the leadership of the UDA’s first commander Andy Tyrie, and continued throughout the Troubles.
The peak of the UFF’s armed campaign took place in the early 1990s under Johnny Adair’s ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C Company.
3) Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)
formed in 1996 by Billy Wright
and the mid-Ulster brigade of the UVF which had been stood down by the leadership for carrying out killings during the ceasefire. The group was formed during the 1996 Drumcree Crisis
in which Orangemen and Loyalists were prevented by the RUC and British Army from marching through a nationalist area of Portadown, the Garvaghy Road.
At roughly 4.30am on the morning of Sunday 12 July 1998 three young Catholic boys (Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, aged 8, 9 and 10 years old) were burned to death when their Ballymoney home was fire-bombed by Loyalists in a sectarian attack.
The LVF shot dead a Catholic civilian “in support of the Orangemen”.
The group was responsible for a string of sectarian murders before disintegrating in December 1997 when it’s leader, Billy Wright, was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) inside a maximum security prison.
In response to the killing, LVF units attacked a number of Catholic owned bars, killing one man and wounding three others.
The LVF continues to be involved in widescale drug dealing, extortion, burglary and organized crime
4) Red Hand Commando
Formed in Belfast in 1972 the RHC was initially an independent organisation but later worked closely with the UVF sharing weapons and information but with a separate command structure.
The organisation was involved in mainly random sectarian attacks on Catholics.
The group have been responsible for 13 deaths. 12 of those killed were civilians while one was an RHC member
5)Red Hand Defenders (RHD)
Formed in Belfast in 1998 by ex-members of the UDA and LVF, the RHD was supportive of the Orange Order during the Drumcree crisis and claimed responsibility for a blast-bomb attack which killed an RUC officer in September 1998.
It claimed responsibility for the 1999 murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson.
The RHD has been responsible for 10 deaths which included 6 civilians, 3 UDA members and an RUC officer.