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'The Nature of Pro-State Terrorism' by Steve Bruce

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Text: Steve Bruce ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapter has been contributed by the author Steve Bruce, with the permission of Oxford University Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

image of front cover This chapter is taken from the book:

Protestant Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland

by Steve Bruce (1992)
ISBN 0 19 285256 Paperback 311pp

[Front cover photographs: The Press Association]

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This chapter is copyright Steve Bruce 1992 and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author or the publisher, Oxford University Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


List of Abbreviations, with Glossary
Introduction: Researching a Grey World
1. Ulster and the First Ulster Volunteer Force
2. From Civil Rights to Civil Strife
3. Vigilantes and the Ulster Defence Association
4. Paramilitaries and Politicians: The 1974 Strike
5. The Men in Black
6. Friends and Relations
7. Murdering Gangsters
8. Security Forces and Terrorists
9. Terrorists and Political Innovation
10. The End of the Ulster Defence Association?
11. The Nature of Pro-State Terrorism
Statistical Appendix
Select Bibliography


The Nature of Pro-State Terrorism

So far the story of loyalist paramilitarism in Northern Ireland has been told largely in chronological order, with occasional asides to make general analytical observations; that is, as one thing after another. In this final chapter I want to bring these observations together into a general account of loyalist paramilitaries. Such synthesis and summary must involve considerable over-simplification, but a degree of caricature will be worthwhile if it allows us to make sense of the history of the UDA and UVF.

Although the point has not been pressed, much of my thinking about the UDA and UVF has involved an implicit comparison with the IRA. Although my knowledge of republicanism is based entirely on secondary sources, it seems reasonable to suggest that the loyalist paramilitaries differ from the IRA in being awkward terrorists, often unsure about what they are doing and sometimes thoroughly incompetent, and suffering in popularity for their mistakes. In a highly condensed description, one could suggest that the loyalist paramilitary organizations differ from the IRA in being less well organized and less well staffed; less selective and less skilful in their operations; less well funded and less well armed; more vulnerable to the policing of the security forces, more vulnerable to the propaganda work of the government's agencies; less well able to develop an enduring political programme and community base for their activities; more vulnerable to racketeering; and hence less popular with the population they claim to defend. I am not suggesting radical differences between republican and loyalist terrorists, only marginal ones, but, as I will argue, the consequences of those small differences are still very significant. Put simply, I believe these characteristics can be explained by the nature of the project of loyalist paramilitarism.

There is a vast literature on terrorism and much of it is taken up with arguments about definitions: 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' and so on.[1] There seems little virtue in such arguments. Words do not have 'real' meanings; they are nothing more than conventions and, provided it is abundantly clear what one is saying about whom, one may proceed. To state my conclusion at the start, I believe that many of the differences between the IRA and the UDA and UVF can be traced back to their missions and to the differences between anti-state and prostate terrorism. Let us assume that a 'state' is relatively stable; there is a government, a security system, a justice system, and so on. Some people are willing to use illegal violence to destroy or radically to change the state. Others are willing to do likewise to protect the state from its enemies. These are anti-state and prostate terror groups.[2] It is also possible for the agents of the state to engage in terrorism; so we need a notion of 'state terror'. These three terms allow us to say all that we need to say.

The distinction between pro-state and state terror is vital. To return to the theme of Chapter 8, republicans argue that there is no significant difference between the UDA and UVF and the Crown forces; it is all state terror. Nothing in my research leads me to that conclusion. Although they would like to be seen in that light, the UDA and UVF are not branches of the state's s security force, as 'the men behind the wire' can testify. Clearly relations between the state's own forces and vigilantes who take it upon themselves to bolster the defences of the state can vary in closeness and warmth. In Guatemala in the 1960s more than twenty right-wing paramilitary organizations were fully supplied with weapons by the army. When Arana was elected president in 1970, many of the terrorists were put on the government pay-roll.[3] But such co-option is not the only possibility. If the state encourages and tolerates the pro-state group, then the latter has many of the advantages of the former, but, if the government feels that its own agencies are capable of dealing with the threats to the state, then the pro-state terror group is in competition with the state, and, except in the extreme circumstance where the state itself collapses, is bound to lose in that contest. And it loses in a manner quite different from the defeat of the anti-state terror group. It is not overcome but eroded; eaten from within rather than destroyed from outside. The extent to which the state accepts the claims of the vigilante group to be acting on its behalf is clearly a variable matter. To assume that governments generally approve of or tolerate terrorist groups of the same political complexion is a major mistake that would make the history of the UDA and UVF incomprehensible.

We can see the problems which the UDA and UVF have had in competing with the state in a number of arenas.


At some point in almost all my interviews, the person I was talking to generalized from some particular mistake or organizational weakness to a general problem of the narrow base from which the UDA and UVF recruited. The following from a senior UVF man, who had been in the UPV and Tara, can represent all of those comments:

Loyalists fell down because the middle classes didn't give us the leadership they did in 1912. The potential was there for a good organization but in 1969, when certain people made noises and insinuated that it was 1912, the leadership wasn't forthcoming.
We can see why the middle classes were not flocking to paramilitary organizations. The state had not yet collapsed. They were far less directly affected by competition with Catholics and they were not being burnt out and shot at. Business life continued much as usual. Furthermore, even major changes to the Northern Ireland state are less of a problem for the middle classes than for the working classes or for farmers. They are more cosmopolitan and draw their sense of identity far more from Britain and Europe than from Ulster. Their unionism is much more like that of Terence O'Neill in deriving from their sense of being 'British' rather than from strong attachment to the land and sacred history of Ulster.[4]

The reluctance of the middle classes to get involved is also clear (but less severe) on the Catholic side, but there is a major difference between loyalist and republican ability to recruit from the working class. Any pro-state terrorist organization has the problem that it competes with the government's security forces for personnel. In theory the IRA, because it competes only with the SDLP and not with the institutions of the state, can draw from all circles of nationalists. Although it recruits primarily from the working class, it has access to all sections of that constituency. The UDA and UVF are more restricted. A working-class Protestant who wishes to do something positive to combat IRA terrorism, safeguard his family, or defend Ulster can do those things in a variety of high status, well-rewarded channels. He can join the RUC or the UDR. If he wants to combine such a commitment with a full-time job, he could join the RUC Reserve or become a part-time UDR soldier. Boyle, Hadden, and Hillyard come to the same conclusion:

The pattern of paramilitary activity on the Loyalist side is also affected by the fact that there are a number of legitimate outlets for those members of the Protestant community who wish to play their part in the fight against the IRA. Many committed loyalists, who on the Catholic side might be members of the IRA, join the RUC Reserve or the UDR.[5]
Although his search for an outlet for his patriotism was unusual in its persistence, one senior UDA man exemplified the process. He had tried to join the RUC in the 1950s but been rejected because he was too short.
When things started to get bad, I tried to join the Specials but they were being stood down. I put my name down for the UDR but for some reason-they never tell you the reason-I was rejected. So I had to look elsewhere. I got involved with my local vigilantes and just went on from there.
Compared with loyalist paramilitary organizations, the police and the army are selective. Many of the people who in only slightly altered circumstances might have become competent terrorist 'operators' have been siphoned off, and the UDA and UVF are left to recruit from the least competent sections of their population. Despite deliberate attempts by the UDA and UVF to attract and retain older, more respectable men, many loyalist paramilitaries had previous records. In 1975, 61 per cent of convicted loyalists (but only 45 per cent of republicans) had previous records. In 1979, the figures were 86 per cent and 57 per cent.[6]

The state and the pro-state terror group recruit from the same population. The Crown forces have the advantages of being legal, respectable, and paying well. That they come from the same backgrounds and may be motivated by similar values does not mean that those who serve the state officially will aid those who do the same in a private capacity. Even if the initial motivation was the same, and often it is not, the Crown forces are organizations which thoroughly socialize their new recruits so that loyalty to the force or the regiment replaces loyalty to the kids one went to school with who are now in the UDA. Those who stay in the security forces for more than a few years and enjoy rewarding careers put their own organization first. Even if they were pursuing identical goals (which they are not), the Crown forces would not be 'in bed' with the paramilitaries; they compete for the prestige of first or most completely attaining those goals. The security-force and ex-security-force personnel who do assist the paramilitaries are usually of low rank and of short service, and their unsuccessful careers suggest personality problems. With rare exception, they are marginal characters, people who left or were forced to resign because, for a variety of reasons, they were not very good soldiers or policemen. Albert Baker, who led a UDA murder group in east Belfast in the early 19705, was a deserter from the Royal Irish Rangers. Michael Stone, a hero for his Milltown cemetery killings, joined the Royal Irish Rangers in November 1979 and was discharged three months later.

To sum up in an exaggerated way to make the point, some competent and committed loyalists sublimate their politics in their careers as policemen or soldiers. The second most competent strata join the RUC or UDR but are unsuccessful and leave, are forced out, or are not promoted. A very small number of these people actively assist loyalist organizations or become activists themselves. Finally there are the loyalists who are not accepted by the RUC or UDR.

We can ask what sorts of people are attracted to the UDA and UVF. There is no doubt that many recruits are well-meaning people motivated only by a spirit of patriotism and social responsibility. There is also no doubt that many are drawn primarily by the opportunities for easy money, excitement, and vicious thrills. The two types compete to define the ethos of the organizations; the more the second sort come to the fore, the more the respectable are squeezed out.

These observations can be summarized simply: the appeal of any terrorist organization will depend in part on the existence of alternative expressions of the values which that organization purports to embody. An east Antrim Protestant who feels moved to 'do something about the IRA' can join the UDR or RUC; a west Belfast Catholic who wishes to drive out the colonial oppressors has only republican terrorism. The pro-state terror group has to compete with legitimate state agencies; the anti-state terror group does not.

State Penetration

The RUC and the British army have managed to insert their own personnel into the IRA and have turned IRA activists. They have also been able to use various trawl methods of intelligence-gathering to build up very detailed profiles of republican areas. With far less effort, the security forces know what is going on in loyalist circles and can thus bring perpetrators into their net. Once that contact is made, once the first two or three people are pulled in, then the consequences outlined below in the discussion of loyalist responses to interrogation follow.

Of course, the extent to which close ties to members of state security forces will be detrimental to pro-state terror groups depends on the attitude of the state to those groups. Through either an unwillingness to believe that Protestants did that sort of thing or an unwillingness to fight a war on two fronts, the security forces have at times been reluctant to act against loyalist paramilitaries. The first year of sectarian murders and the lack of a response to them anything like as vigorous as the army's Falls Road curfew is an example, as is the inertia of the security forces during the 1974 strike. However, when the state does turn its attention to pro-state terror groups, it can pursue them with far more success and far less effort than anti-state groups. If one compares the success of internment, one can see the point. Most of the Catholics interned, especially in the first swoop, were not active IRA men. When the state decided to intern loyalists, it almost always interned the right people (although often for not quite the right offence).

TABLE 11.1. Policing efficacy, 1981-7
Political murders
Persons charged with murder
Persons charged with murder
Source: RUC Information Office.

One can also see a stark difference in the ability of the police to make persons 'amenable' for serious crimes. Table 11.1 lists under the headings 'republican' and 'loyalist' the number of murders committed by each side in 1981-7, and the number of people charged with murder (although these figures generally relate to the murders of previous years). There are weaknesses with this presentation-it would be more useful to know what percentage of murders by each side was cleared up-but the contrast between the two sets of figures is so great that it is very unlikely to be much changed by using conviction rates rather than numbers of people charged. In all but two of the eight years, the number of loyalists charged with murder was greater than the number of victims, and, in those two, the totals were close. In the same period, the number of IRA personnel charged with murder was considerably smaller than (often less than half) the total of the IRA's victims. Or, to describe the same data in another way: very similar numbers of loyalists and republicans were charged with murder but the republicans killed 386 people while loyalists killed only 69. To cite a non-police source, Ed. Moloney in early 1982 wrote that the RUC's conviction rate for republican murders was between 50 and 60 per cent while that for loyalist murders was between 90 and 100 per cent.[7] To put it simply, the RUC finds it a lot easier to catch loyalist killers.

There can be no better anecdotal example of police penetration than the clearing-up of the murder of Catholic businessman Jack Kielty in Dundrum. A young police constable was having an affair with a Protestant woman. After a sexual encounter one night, she told him that her brother had been the driver for the murderers. The constable got dressed and went off to tell his divisional commander. Four of the people involved in the killing (including the policeman's girlfriend) were arrested, charged, and convicted.

Northern Ireland is such a small place that a great deal is known about the 'operators' on both sides. It is often said that the problem is not knowing who killed whom but proving it in court. The paramilitary organizations are not quite that transparent, although well-informed journalists and policemen do know a great deal. However, loyalists do seem a little more transparent than republicans, and this is related to the nature of their mission. The anti-state terror group often represents a minority people with a long history of subordination; people who see themselves as oppressed and persecuted underdogs are not likely to boast and brag about their achievements, except in the very tight circles of their own people. Often the anti-state group will have had a long history in which it has learnt the value of secrecy. The position of the pro-state terrorist is very different. He believes he is defending the status quo, the state, the government, and he is much more open about his activities. Republican and loyalist killers are equally proud of what they do, but the latter are much more likely to boast openly about it because they expect (or at least feel they are due) the congratulations of the general public.

To summarize, because the pro-state terror group recruits from the same population as the state's security forces, it sometimes has the advantage of being able to 'tap' the expertise and resources of the state (as in the case of UDA-UVF men who join the UDR). The cost is that the security forces have the pro-state terror groups well penetrated and are able, when they wish, to police the pro-state groups much more easily than the anti-state groups.

Organization and Planning

While they may do other things, paramilitaries are fundamentally concerned with killing people. The bottom line is violence or the threat of violence (which is only convincing if the threat is sometimes carried out). In contrast to most IRA actions, which show a great deal of planning, many loyalist 'moves', especially in the early days, were haphazard and spontaneous, involving little more organization than a few people drinking in a pub and deciding to go and do something. In contrast to IRA actions, a very high proportion of loyalist killings were committed by people who had been drinking.

As we have seen, a very large proportion of loyalist victims were Catholics who were not active republicans. In terms of their own claims about what they were doing, the loyalist organizations were incompetent; instead of killing leading IRA men and Sinn Féiners, they killed 'any oul Taig' who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of a team out for a kill. There will obviously be arguments about the classification of some murders, but we can accept the general outline of the data from the Irish Information Partnership in Table 11.2.

Loyalist paramilitaries have been responsible for 705 (25.3 per cent) of the deaths between 1969 and 1989 and about three-quarters of these - when one adds those Protestant civilians mistaken for Catholics (as distinct from those shot as 'touts') to the Catholic civilian total - have been of uninvolved civilians. While there has been a marked increase in selectivity since the 1970s, nationalist paramilitaries remain a verv small proportion of the total.[8]

TABLE 11.2 Victims of republican and loyalist paramilitaries 1969- 89
Status of victim
Security forces
Republican paramilitaries
Loyalist paramilitaries
… Catholic
… Protestant
… Other
Prison officers
Source: Adapted from Irish Information Partnership, Agenda: Information Service on Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish Relations (6th edn., London, 1990), 1990), 295.

If a loyalist was to be cold blooded about this, he could describe the sectarian murder campaign as successful in that it frightened a lot of Catholics and 'made the fuckers appreciate the cost of not getting rid of the IRA'. If the purpose was simply to terrorize the minority community or to exact communal revenge, then it succeeded. However, very few loyalist paramilitary leaders have defined their goal in those terms and for good reasons. It would be quite at odds with their self-image as decent law-abiding and reluctant 'soldiers'. The IRA also fails to live up to its self-image. A large proportion of its victims do not fall into its own categories of 'legitimate' targets. None the less, the IRA proportionately kills more members of the security forces and representatives of the British state than the UDA and UVF do leading republicans: about half its victims have been members of the security forces. But one needs to be careful of the contrast. If we say that the IRA is better at killing the targets it has selected, this could mean (a) that it is more skilled, or (b) that it can choose from a wider range of targets which are easier to hit. Both of these seem to be the case.

Taking the second point first, the anti-state terrorist organization has a relatively easy job in finding its targets. The agents of the state-the police and the army-must be identified by their uniforms. Indeed, far from being able to merge into the background, their role requires that they stand out and be visible; a large part of their purpose is not so much to do anything as to be seen. They represent, in their visible persons, the continuity and security of the state. Although small units can disguise themselves (the RUC's E4a units or the SAS, for example), the bulk of the security forces have to be seen in order to be doing their jobs.

Furthermore, the range of people who can be defined by an anti-state organization as 'legitimate' targets is extremely wide. Not only the security forces but anyone who assists them can, with varying degrees of acceptance by the supporting population, be described as legitimate. Where, as in the Ulster case, one has a majority population who are not just acquiescent but active supporters of the status quo, there is a huge population of legitimate targets. First it is policemen who are killed when their station is mortared. Then it is the builders who accept the contracts to rebuild those stations. Then it is public utility engineers who repair services to the stations. Finally, the IRA adds the men who deliver the bread and the milk. When one includes those who do not refuse to serve members of the security forces (the owners of the Dropping Well pub in Ballykelly, for example), then one has defined almost all Protestants (with the possible general exception of women and children) as legitimate targets. Even old age does not exclude someone who has earlier been in one of these categories.

The pro-state terrorist group has a much smaller target to aim at. In theory it must confine itself to attacking anti-state terrorists and those who actively support them, and such people are hard to find. Unlike the targets of the IRA, who have to put themselves on show, the people the UDA and UVF most want to kill-IRA gunmen-keep themselves hidden. Even the public fronts-Sinn Fein politicians, for example-are better hidden than people playing a similar role in the majority community. Even without them taking active steps to avoid loyalist assassins, such people are harder to find because they generally stay in the bosom of the minority (and hence small, introverted, and secretive) population.

The response of many loyalist gunmen in such a situation is to engage in random sectarian killings. To an extent (although to less of an extent than is commonly supposed) this reduces the popularity of the UDA and UVF within their own communities and exacerbates the problems of morale, fund-raising, and recruitment. That this is seen as a problem by the paramilitaries is clear from the frequent apologies for the mistakes of the past and promises to do better next time. What makes loyalist random anti-Catholic violence damaging to their public standing is the contrast between those actions and the martial rhetoric which is so important a part of their claims to legitimate descent from the 1912 UVF. The men who followed Craig and Carson and who fought at the Somme as the 36th (Ulster) Division did not have romper rooms, Lenny Murphy, or the east Belfast gang which dumped bodies by the Connswater River.

Here we need to add an important general sociological principle. People do not respond to the objective reality of a situation; they respond to their perceptions of that reality, and perceptions can be shaped. Whether a particular action is the proper execution of a traitor, a justified attack on an oppressor, a tragic mistake, or the act of blood-crazed gangsters is, in the end, a matter of competing rhetorics. Each side tries to persuade its public to accept its definition of the situation. Thus we come back to the competition with the state. Large parts of the Catholic population are not receptive to government propaganda. Although far from uncritical of their 'defenders,' their general disposition is to be more favourable towards the IRA's own interpretations of its actions than to the government's interpretations. The UDA and UVF compete with the agencies of the state they claim to defend and their constituency is more receptive to the views of the government. The IRA finds it easier than do the UDA and UVF to persuade its people that racketeering, sectarian assassination campaigns, and intimidation are necessary evils of a just war. Or, more exactly, it does a better job of persuading its people that what may look like gangsterism and mindless violence is no such thing.

Resilience under Arrest

The lack of selectivity in the murder campaign has a small but important consequence for the UDA and UVF. When the RUC has any lead at all to a loyalist killing, the group in question often falls like a house of cards, and this is undoubtedly a large part of the explanation for the RUC's greater success against loyalists than nationalists. It only needs one or two members in custody for the police to be told about the whole operation.

Good interrogators will find a gap in the defences of most prisoners, but there are two reasons why it is easier to persuade loyalists to talk. First, the frequent 'mistakes' can be used to play on an incipient sense of shame and guilt. It is easier to remain silent when one feels justified, and it is easier to feel justified about 'legitimate' targets than it is about accidents and errors. A young man who follows orders to eliminate a 'dangerous informer' and later discovers that he has been used to settle a personal quarrel, and a teenager who blows up an 'IRA pub' and finds that he has killed a harmless old man who was a friend of his father, will be a lot more susceptible to the police officer's encouragements to 'come clean' than will a man who murders an IRA activist.

Secondly, there is the problem of boastfulness. IRA men see the RUC as enemies and not as people who either ought or actually do share their values and hence as a worthy audience for their bragging. Loyalists can expect a certain degree of sympathy and even at some subconscious level expect to be rewarded for killing the people who kill policemen. Thus, after they rescued him from a republican mob, Michael Stone could brag to the police: 'I'm game for anything!'

Individual behaviour is shaped by contexts, and an important context for resilience after arrest is the general relationship between the community and the paramilitary organization. The more close-knit the community and the more committed it is to the terrorist people are to support of the organization, the less likely people are to plead guilty or implicate others. Communal support (or at least toleration) for the IRA is a major source of reinforcement for the arrested terrorist; it is the raw material for building and sustaining a self-image of heroism. But even when the suspect lacks the 'right stuff', the community is liable to provide a little stiffening for the backbone, because the potential talker will be aware that the future of his family will be related to his behaviour. If he is seen to act as a model terrorist - saying nothing, refusing to recognize the court, doing his time as a good organization man- then his family will be rewarded with financial support and approval. If he does not, they may be ostracized, which can vary from simply not being given any money to being themselves terrorized out of their neighbourhood. Although the dislike for touts' is probably similar on both sides, there is a significant difference in response to co-operation with the police that falls short of 'grassing'. Except in the most deprived loyalist areas there is not the same blanket hostility to the police and the courts that one finds in many Catholic areas. How could there be when the police and the courts represent the state that the UDA and UVF are defending?

It is no part of my argument that there are no similarities between republican and loyalist terrorists. It is enough to establish that what pro-state terrorists may gain on the swings of recruiting from the same people as do the state's security forces and sharing some of the goals of the government, they amply lose on the roundabout of being more accessible to state policing.

Politics and Social Work

The republican movement has benefited from the active involvement of a large number of university-educated and potentially upwardly mobile people. It has an intellectual cadre which has been skilled at presenting its violence in the best possible light and which has been able to broaden the appeal of the organization by promt)ting various social campaigns. A journalist who has spent many years reporting in Northern Ireland said that when he was interviewing IRA men he had trouble keeping up with their thinking; when he was interviewing loyalists he had trouble finding any. An exaggeration, no doubt, but the history of the Volunteer Party and the fact that John McMichael became the UDA's political spokesman show the difficulty the loyalists have had in finding credible spokesmen for a credible political and social programme.

In part this is a problem of personnel, but it is also a problem of project. However slim the chances of the IRA succeeding in its mission, it has a goal which is clear and which is minimally consistent with its actions. It has to compete with constitutional nationalism and it loses in that competition, but its cause remains clear enough to serve as a focus for political action. There is almost no room for loyalist paramilitaries to develop a clear political programme, because straightforward unionism is well catered for by major political parties and, albeit grudgingly, is supported by the state. For loyalists to be simply unionists means that they cannot develop a distinct politics. This was recognized by Barr and those who pushed the UDA towards negotiated independence, which was a novel but unpopular programme.

A similar principle of competition with the state allows us to see why the loyalist paramilitaries have been less successful than the IRA in using various forms of community action as a way of building a solid base of popular support. The only times the UDA and UVF have been obviously good at community action were when civil unrest prevented Protestant people using the state's agencies: for example, when the 'no-go' areas or the UWC strike temporarily disrupted social services. The Catholic areas that most strongly support the IRA are peopled by men and women who are almost permanently disaffected from the state and hence who are available to participate in a variety of 'community' activities (such as founding Irish-language schools) which are at root minor forms of rejection of the state. Many residents of Ballymurphy and the Divis flats are unwilling to call on the RUC to police hooliganism and anti-social behaviour; there is, therefore, a space for the IRA to take on that role. The anti-state group can set itself up as an alternative 'state' in its base communities and, in so far as it provides for their needs, it acquires additional support and legitimacy. The pro-state group is competing with the state itself. The UDA cannot set up 'loyalist' schools.

When loyalist paramilitaries do offer themselves to the electorate on fairly conventional platforms (either as members of mainstream parties or as independent local councillors), they are not generally well supported. As one UDA man who stood for Belfast council a number of times put it:

When the Taigs was running up the streets with guns, then I was the boy. Just the ticket. Come and save us. But when it settles down, its thank you and goodbye. It comes to voting and the Protestant people would rather elect some respectable wanker.
Loyalists could always vote for some 'respectable wanker' because there is no shortage of legitimate parties supporting the ends (if not the means) of the paramilitaries.

There is another small point in the difference between Protestant and Catholic attitudes to the government that is significant for understanding the failure of loyalist paramilitary organizations to match the IRA in developing political and social work. As it has done in other inner city areas where there is widespread alienation and disaffection, the government in Northern Ireland has created a large number of quasi-governmental agencies to promote improved housing, training for the unemployed, small business startup schemes, healthy leisure activities, and the like. Naturally, it wants such agencies to have the secondary function of domesticating the disaffected. In both loyalist and republican areas this has led to arguments about the influence of paramilitary organizations, and funding has been withdrawn from government-sponsored work creation schemes in both Catholic and Protestant areas.[9]

However, because they are pro-state organizations, it is much more often the case with the UDA and UWF than with the IRA that people who were or might easily have become leading figures have been 'neutralized' by being incorporated by the state: 'You want to know where our leaders went? Look at [. . .] and [. . .]. Working for the bloody government.'


Paramilitary organizations do not come cheap, and financial support for a pro-state terror group is always costly. One either gives money or sees some other principle (such as 'thou shalt not rob banks') compromised. When the survival of one's own people or of the state (and the pro-state population sees the two as the same) is threatened, such costs are reasonable sacrifices. When the immediate threat recedes, the costs are seen as unreasonable, and 'voluntary' funding has to be replaced with various forms of illegality and coercion. If money is no longer coming in from membership dues or gifts, then it has to be stolen or extorted, and neither of these is good for public image, the morale of the organization, the quality of recruits, or the sense of self-worth of activists.

The funding problems of the pro-state terrorist organization go further back than the problems with general popularity. Popularity within one's own population may not be important if there is some outside agency - -another nation-state or a sub-population of the same ethnos-who are willing to supply money. The IRA has the Irish-American community in the United States to support it; it also had Libyan and East German aid. The loyalists do not receive any significant amount of funding from outside agencies because those nation-states or pressure groups which feel a pressing urge to help maintain the United Kingdom will support the government and not the UDA or UVF.

There are four problems of racketeering.

Public image. Bank robbing and extortion have made it very easy for the government to portray the UDA and UVF as unprincipled gangsters, and, back to the pro-state problem, the unionist people are more responsive to the views of the state than are nationalists.

Organizational morale. Although it need not follow, it also seems to be the case that such activities exacerbate tensions within the loyalist organizations. Numerous arguments within the UDA and UVF have resulted from rumours and suspicions about the arrival and departure of money. Legal fund-raising allows good accounting procedures. When money is being raised from hijacked drinks lorries, bank robberies, extortion, prostitution, pornography, and drugs, one cannot have respectable accountants. One has a cash economy and the constant possibility of sticky fingers.

Quality of personnel. The quality of recruits also suffers. The more principled loyalists did not become paramilitaries in order to rob banks, threaten building contractors, and sell pornography. Those people who like that sort of thing and are good at it are disliked by the more respectable (usually older) members who withdraw, leaving the hoodlums as a greater proportion of the members.

Personal morale. Some loyalists are willing to go along with the necessary fund-raising activities but clearly have personal problems with their self-image as a result and hence become susceptible to RUC blandishments when they are arrested and questioned.

However, I want to draw back slightly from the common perception of gangsterism that one finds in the media. It is widely assumed that gangsterism and sectarian murders reduce support for the UI)A and UVF. They do, but perhaps not to the extent that is imagined. In understanding the complaints that working-class loyalists make about 'wee bastards with new cars', it is important to allow for the general expressions of resentment, envy, and disparagement that people often make of their neighbours who seem to have more than they deserve. Such complaints do not mean that they do not support the 'wee bastards'. One also has to be cautious in interpreting attitudes to sectarian murder. Loyalists are no more heartless monsters than are republicans. On both sides one finds the same ambivalence: sympathy for individuals who are perceived as 'innocent' victims alternates with something close to indifference and even pleasure that 'they are getting it now'. Dislike of some aspect of terrorism is always entered into an equation. How much racketeering or sectarian murder count against the paramilitaries depends on how good a job they are doing on other fronts and on the amount of republican activity.

Internal Cohesion and Discipline

Finally I would like to draw together a number of points about organizational cohesion. It is hard not to be struck by the weak and often irrational internal discipline of the loyalist paramilitaries. Disagreements might lead to someone being shut in the head, but, as often as not, serious breaches of discipline would go unpunished. In the 1970s UDA brigadiers went accompanied by bodyguards to protect them, not from the IRA but from other brigadiers. When one company commander was released from prison, he found two ears waiting for him; one from west Belfast and one from east. With a serious expectation of being shot by one or other group of his own people, and not being sure which he should fear most, he had to gamble on which car to join.

Discipline is a product of commitment and popularity. Where everyone is strongly committed to a common cause, the discipline is self-imposed. The IRA certainly gets greater commitment from its members. There may be many reasons for this. Apart from anything else, the 'physical-force' tradition of nationalist struggle has a very long history, and many Catholics are well socialized into its demands.'[10] The pro-state group will always be less certain of its actions because its shared past is too closely mixed with the history of the state and support for the Crown forces.

There is also a cohesion imposed on the anti-state group by the common circumstances of its people. Although the extent and sense of 'oppression' varies within the Catholic population, republicans can better play on shared circumstances to create a common cause. A major impetus to pro-state terrorism is the sense of being under threat, and this varies considerably from area to area and class to class. Although within each community there are vast differences of circumstance, their status as the minority population gives Catholics more in common with each other than have loyalists. It seems no accident that the UDA and UVF have never managed to centralize their organizations. They remain local area groups only loosely affiliated to a central structure. Although it has now been a company of the UDA for twenty years, the WDA still uses its own name first and UDA second on floral tributes.

Where discipline within an organization is not produced automatically by all the members agreeing about what ought to be done, there needs to be some mechanism for resolving conflicts. In the paramilitary world, that comes down in the end to shooting dissidents. If the UVF declares a cease-fire, wishes it to hold, and wishes to retain its credibility, it must be in a position to punish any UVF man who breaks ranks. Such exercises of power will always provoke ill-feeling among friends, relatives, and comrades of the punished offender, but where there are widespread community support for the goals of the organization, no other organizations working towards those goals, and considerable confidence that the leadership of the organization is doing a good job, such disciplining of dissidents will be accepted. The IRA's brigade staff can order the killing of its renegades without endangering the future of the IRA. The brigade staff of the UVF have far less freedom to act to maintain discipline because the UVF enjoys far lower levels of member commitment and community support than does the IRA. And the explanation for that is again the competition between the pro-state terror organization and the state.


In the main body of the text I have tried to record and explain the details of the history of loyalist paramilitarism. In this final chapter I have tried to show that there is a common thread running through the apparently contingent and accidental features of the UDA and UWF. If one is looking for the most economical description of the last twenty-five years of loyalist paramilitarism, one can find it in the general problems of pro-state terrorism.

The modern state claims for itself a monopoly of coercion. The anti-state group has a relatively simple and sensible task. The power of the state is such that it is very unlikely to win, but, provided enough members of the subordinate population are sufficiently alienated from the state, an organization using violence to destroy that state can prosper; hope can be found in the history of successful coups, rebellions, and anti-colonial wars. In contrast, the project of pro-state terrorism is far less simple and far from sensible. This is not an assertion that one sort of terror is right or reasonable while another is wrong or irrational. It is not a moral but an empirical proposition. If the government does a little blind-eye turning, the pro-state terror group is advantaged, but if the government insists on maintaining its monopoly of coercion, the pro-state organization is in the position of a corner store competing with a multinational. So long as the state itself is not in complete disarray (as in the Lebanon, for example), then its security forces will be better able and better legitimated than any private vigilante group to protect the state.

To explain the recent past is difficult enough and to predict the future is foolish, but the reader might reasonably expect such a lengthy study as this now to 'put up' and follow retrospect with prospect. What is the future of loyalist paramilitarism? Although the book was never conceived as an evaluation of the UDA and UVF, the story can be read as one of decline, from a high point of popularity and influence in the early 970S to a period of stagnation and retrenchment in the early 1990s. One reader ruefully commented that the text 'was like some catalogue of mistakes-fifty things the Prods did wrong'. Other versions would have been possible. One could have begun by observing that, despite the lack of the sort of professional, well-educated and well-trained leadership the UVF enjoyed in 1912, the loyalist paramilitaries have remained in business for twenty-five years, which is considerably longer than many would have predicted at the start of the Troubles. One could have argued that their terror campaign and mass mobilization of working-class Protestants prevented the British government from the sort of 'sell out' that looked possible at the start of the Troubles when William Whitelaw was holding secret talks with IRA leaders. One could note that, with the decline in the number of loyalist murders, the proportion of attacks on leading republicans has increased. It could have been stressed that the last decade has not seen anything like the Shankill Butchers and the romper rooms. The story has not been told in the positive way those still active would have liked because I have tried to explain what the world looks like to those whose actions I have been describing, and what I heard from most of those I interviewed-even some who still command the organizations-was weariness and distaste. Even those who stress the good 'military operations' still find it hard to identify a purpose, a direction, or a programme in what they are now doing. The novelty has gone. The notion that a few killings would make any difference to anything has gone. Too much of what their organizations are now doing is just more of the same. Even the best 'hits' disrupt the IRA's structure for only a few weeks before new' leaders fill the vacancies. A very detailed audit of the paramilitary organizations could point to slightly greater certainty and direction in the UVF, which has never really had ambitions beyond killing IRA men, but the overall impression is one of men treading water rather than swimming.

The talks between the Northern Ireland political parties that stumbled into life in the summer of 1991 and quickly petered out were always unlikely to find a solution to Ulster's crisis. There is no 'Northern Ireland problem' for which there is a solution. There is only a conflict in which there must be winners and losers. The fundamental fact that even the most constitutional nationalists and even the most liberal unionists have incompatible desires combines with a lack of consensus within each camp to make substantial agreement seem an insubstantial hope. For unionists who dare to face it, the future looks bleak because it is clear that the British government is far more concerned about good relations with Dublin and a good press abroad than it is with the interests of Ulster Protestants. There will be no diminution of the Republic of Ireland's part in the running of the North and, although change is slow, Northern Catholics are becoming more numerous and more influential. Some unionist politicians conclude that the deal should be cut now', while they still have something to deal, but those who advocate active compromise face as vet insuperable obstacles in selling a 'sell-out' to their own people. However, that unionists are not yet ready to volunteer for accommodation with Northern Catholics and the Republic's government does not mean that they will put up much of a fight when such accommodation is slowly insinuated into the daily life of the province. That remains the first big question for the future of the UDA and UVF: to what extent are Protestants prepared to fight against the British government's policy? Contrarv to the views of a UDA spokesman,[11] I would say 'not very much'. In comparison to the opposition to the 1974 power-sharing executive, response to the Anglo-Irish accord was distinctly muted. The second big question is this: even if Ulster Protestants were prepared to fight, would they do so under the aegis of the UDA or UVF? Again, my answer has to be quite different from that hoped for by the UDA and UVF: no, the)' would not. Even in 1974 the poor opinion of the paramilitaries forced them to operate behind a 'front' of the UWC and the coalition of politicians, and little that has happened since has enhanced the reputation and popularity of the UDA and UVF. A close examination of the murders and attempted murders committed by loyalists in 1990 and 1991 show's that many of their victims could be more 'legitimate' as targets than the media suggested.[12] But that is not the point. The point is that even unionists are happy to believe these are sectarian attacks, and there are enough murders that are indefensible even in UDA and UVF terms to confirm that impression. Thus the mid-Ulster UVF interspersed the murders of active republicans with what were simply tit-for-tat killings. When the IRA killed an off-duty UDR man in a car park on the shores of Lough Neagh, the UVF murdered a young Catholic in similar circumstances. When the IRA killed Protestant businessmen whose companies worked for the security forces, the UVF shot dead two young girls and a young man in a shop on a Catholic estate. The gruesome arithmetic of good and bad hits makes no impact on the general unionist perception that, whatever the UDA and UVF may think of themselves, they are not Carson's Volunteers, defending the realm.

This suggests that, whatever the UDA's and UVF's capacity for continuing their present levels of activity, they are unlikely to flourish again. Not enough people are persuaded of their usefulness to overlook their defects. However, we cannot assume that the option of armed resistance to political change has been entirely exhausted. One is back to the terrible equation of fear of death and loss of political power. Since the 'Ulsterization' of the security forces, the call for 'troops out' has become something of a red herring. A starker but more realistic way of describing the Ulster Protestant nightmare is expulsion from the United Kingdom. If Britain expels its troublesome province, if whatever regime is established fails to retain the confidence of the local security forces, and if republican violence increases (as it would be sure to), then one will have a return to the circumstances that brought the loyalist paramilitaries into existence in the first place. The record of the UDA and UVF over the last twenty-five years has created a legacy of distaste and distrust that means that the security situation will have to deteriorate far more next time for there to be the same response, but sadly such deterioration is not unimaginable. The final word can be left to a retired UDA brigadier:

We've had our go and blown it. If the people wanted me back, I might do it again, but I can't see it, not with the reputation the UDA has now. But if the politicians can't sort it out and the British ever pull out, the Ulster Protestant people are not going to lie down. So long as the Provies keep picking us off, we'll kill them and, if there's ever a straight fight or it gets like the Mau-Mau, we'll be back or something like us and you can bet on that.


[1] There are many typologies of terrorisi organizations and types of terrorism, but none seems terribly useful, in that they usually display a lack of conceptual continuity in the divisions of cases into types. See, for example, F. R. Van Der Mehden, Comparative Political Violence (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1973), 7. Wilkinson distinguishes revolutionary, sub-revolutionary, and repressive terrorism but talks about the IRA, UVF, and UDA in the same category (P. Wilkinson, Political Terrorism (London, 1974)). For a good summary of many definitions and typologies, see A. P. Schmid, Political Terrorism (New Brunswick, 1983).
[2] Of course, most groups are neither entirely uncritical of the state nor critical of every aspect. The Israeli terror organization Gush Enunim in paradigmatic prostate fashion was critical of the government's apparent lack of resolve in combating Palestinian attacks on the state but was also critical of many aspects of government policy; see F. Sprinzak, 'From Messianic Pioneering to Vigilante Terrorism: 'The Case of Gush Enunim', in D. C. Rapoport (ed.), Inside Terrorist Organizations (London, 1988), 194-216. In contrast, the loyalist paramilitaries have been relatively uncritical both of the British government and of their local unionist leaders.
[3] There is a voluminous literature on right-wing paramilitary groups in Latin America. On Guatemala, see N. Gall, 'Slaughter in Guatemala', New York Review of Books, 20 May 1971, pp. 13-17, and K. F. Johnson, 'Guatemala from Terrorism to Terror', Conflict Studies, 23 (1974), 1-19. See also M. Morley and B. Petras, 'Chile: Terror for Capital's Sake', New Politics, I (1974), 36-50, and J. B. Treaster, 'Argentina: A State of Fear', Atlantic Monthly, 240 (1977), 16-26.
[4] The differences in attachments of various social groups to 'British' and 'Ulster' identity are explored in R. Wallis, S. Bruce, and D. Taylor, 'Ethnicity and Evangelicalism: Ian Paisley and Protestant Politics in Ulster', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 29/2 (1987), 293-313.
[5] K. Boyle, T. Hadden, and P. Hillyard, Ten Years On in Northern Ireland The Legal Control of Political Violence (London, 1980), 22.
[6]Fortnight, 7 May 1977, pp. 6-8
[7] E. Moloney, Irish Times, 20 Nov. 1982.
[8] It is worth noting that there has been a marked increase of the 'accuracy' of loyalist murders in recent years as the total has gone down. This almost certainly has a lot to do with the electoral success of Sinn Féin, which has given loyalists a variety of more accessible targets.
[9] See Newsletter, 28 Nov. 1989, and Sunday World, 10 Dec. 1989, for stories on an ACE scheme in the loyalist Glencairn estate that had its government funding withdrawn. See Irish News, 4 Dec. 1989, for SDLP questioning of government funding for a cross-community project led by Gusty Spence.
[10] Republican movements are not immune to fragmentation, as the existence of the INLA and IPLO demonstrates. However, it is worth noting that, while loyalist feuding occurred between and within the UDA and UVF, on the republican side it is the INLA and IPLO which have suffered most from internal strife. See appropriate entries in W.D. Flackes and S. Elliott, Northern Ireland: A Political Directory, 1968-88 (Belfast, 1989).
[11] Irish News, 10 June 1991.
[12] The libel laws prevent me from reporting the details of what might form an alternative version.

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