Background and Raison d’etre
Loyalist paramilitary organisations originated in the 1960s and 1970s as vigilante groups in Protestant areas.
“They stood around the fires at night on the street corners looking after areas and then they formed themselves into a paramilitary organisation but they were all there for the right reasons”.
“When it was formed obviously people had been in the British Army and that is where the structure was formed from. That was when leaders just came to the fore and they did whatever they had to do with great pride within their communities to form themselves into a paramilitary organisation that everybody was proud of: the community, the people, their families, even the security forces were begrudgingly accepting that there were a well organised outfit”.(UDABrigadier, North Belfast, 2005)
What were “the right reasons”?
Loyalists claimed that the IRA, nationalist political parties, the Gaelic Athletic Association, Irish language speakers and Catholics comprised a “pan-nationalist front”
and as such they were all legitimate targets.
They swiftly developed into terrorist organisations. They were responsible for almost 1,000 deaths during the conflict. The overwhelming majority of their victims were innocent civilians who were killed and sometimes tortured because they were Catholics.
Loyalist groups funded their activities through protection rackets, robberies, counterfeit goods and were widely involved in drug dealing although most groups maintained that they were anti-drugs. Young Protestant men from Ulster’s most downtrodden neighbourhoods make up the core membership of loyalist paramilitary groups, which are effectively pro-state terrorist organizations
The British Army knowingly enforced an anti-terrorist policy based on religious discrimination during the early years of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, according to files unearthed in the National Archives.
Ministry of Defence memos from the early 70s reveal for the first time that senior officials acknowledged that “Protestant terrorists” were not being interned on the same basis as members of the IRA. IRA suspects could be served with interim custody orders and interned without trial.
Military arrest instructions did not, however, specify that senior members of the UVF or other loyalist paramilitary groups should be arrested over similar suspicions.
“The policy does not therefore provide for the arrest of Protestant terrorists except with the object of bringing criminal charges,” the MoD review admitted. “Protestants are not, as the policy stands, arrested with a view to their being made subject to interim custody orders and brought before the commissioners.
Accusations that the government pursued repressive security measures against republican paramilitaries while adopting a softer line against loyalist gunmen and bombers fuelled sectarian resentment for many years