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Extracts from 'Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror' edited by Jeffrey Sluka (2000)

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Text: Jeffrey Sluka ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following extracts have been contributed by permission of the author Jeffrey Sluka . The views expressed in this book 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.

book cover These extracts are taken from the book:
Death Squad:
The Anthropology of State Terror
Edited by Jeffrey Sluka (2000)

ISBN: 0 8122 3523 1 (Hardback) 260pp

 0 8122 1711 X (Paperback)

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These extracts are copyright Jeffrey Sluka (2000) and are included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and 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, and the publishers, University of Pennsylvania Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


List of Illustrations


Introduction: State Terror and Anthropology
Jeffrey A. Sluka


A Fictional Reality: Paramilitary Death Squads and the Construction of State Terror in Spain
Begona Arextaga


Trials by Fire: Dynamics of Terror in Punjab and Kashmir
Cynthia Keppley Mahmood


State Terror in the Netherworld: Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina
Antonius C. G. M. Robben


The Homogenizing Effects of State Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala
Frank M. Afflitto


"For God and Ulster": The Culture of Terror and Loyalist Death Squads in Northern Ireland
Jeffrey A. Sluka


Ninjas, Nanggalas, Monuments and Mossad Manuals: An Anthropology of Indonesian State Terror in East Timor
George J. Aditjondro


Murdered or Martyred? Popular Evaluations of Violent Death in the Muslim Separatist Movement in the Philippines
Thomas M. McKenna


Parents and Their Children in Situations of Terror: Disappearances and Special Police Activity in Punjab
Joyce Pettigrew

Conclusion: Death Squads and Wider Complicities: Dilemmas for the Anthropology of Violence
Kay B. Warren

List of Contributors


5. "For God and Ulster": The Culture of Terror and
Loyalist Death Squads in Northern Ireland

Jeffrey Sluka

He said if I was ready to swear the oath for it, he could join me into the organization there and then. I said I was ready, so he told me to put my hand on the gun which was on the bible, and repeat certain words after him. They were to the effect that for the rest of my life I’d be loyal to the organization, to God and to Ulster. Those were the things that I swore allegiance to, three things in that order. His next words to me were I was now a member of the organization for the rest of my life, and the only way I’d ever get out of it was in a box. I’m not sure if I should have told you that much (Loyalist death squad member interviewed by Tony Parker, cited in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 3 June 1993, p.15).

Catholic Abducted, Shot
(Evening Post, 14 May 1997)

BELFAST, May 13. - The body of a 62-year-old Roman Catholic was found on a Northern Ireland country road today after what police said was a sectarian murder. He was abducted from a club of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), an Irish Nationalist and Catholic sports group, last night and shot after a struggle, police at Randalstown said. It was thought to be the third sectarian killing this year after the shooting of a Catholic father of nine in Belfast in April and the beating to death of a Catholic in Portadown earlier this month. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing but Protestant Loyalists were under suspicion.


This chapter addresses one important aspect of the culture of British state terror in Northern Ireland - Loyalist death squad attacks against the Catholic-Nationalist minority [1] - and is an attempt to write against terror through a critical ‘new anthropology’ combining perspectives from progressive streams in the discipline, including action (see van Willigen 1993:57-75), public-interest (Davis and Mathews 1979), collaborative (Kuhlman 1992), liberation (Huizer 1979; Gordon 1991), advocacy (Paine 1985) and human rights (Downing and Kushner 1988; Messer 1993) anthropology, and commitment, after C. Wright Mills and Noam Chomsky, to the values of humanism and the politics of truth (see, for example, Mills 1963:599-613 and Chomsky 1969:23-126, 323-59). In writing it, I am not implying that all the violence in Northern Ireland has been one-sided. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) have publicly stated that they are engaged in armed conflict, and their actions have been widely and publicly documented and condemned by the British, Irish, American and other governments, politicians, Catholic and Protestant clergy, and the media. However, beginning in 1972, there has been a vicious, continuous campaign of sectarian assassination against Catholics in Northern Ireland waged by Loyalist paramilitary groups (the Ulster Defense Association [UDA] and Ulster Volunteer Force [UVF]) and their associated death squads (the Ulster Freedom Fighters [UFF], Red Hand Commandos, Protestant Action Force, etc.), who have killed nearly 700 innocent Catholic civilians - the largest category of casualties in the war. Thousands of other Catholics have survived Loyalist attempts to murder them. The existence of this campaign has never been publicly acknowledged by the British authorities, who have ignored it, downplayed it, and actively misrepresented it to influence the media and public in this regard, both at home and abroad, as an integral part of their counterinsurgency strategy. The official position of the British authorities is that there is no state terror in Northern Ireland, and certainly no ‘death squads.’ When pressed, they admit that there is Loyalist terror against Catholics, but insist that they have nothing to do with it. When pressed with evidence such as the fact that hundreds of members of the Security Forces have been convicted of involvement with Loyalist paramilitaries, they claim that this collusion is informal - individual acts by ‘rogue’ soldiers and policemen - and not a reflection of government policy or military strategy. All of these are political lies. In this chapter, I seek to tell the truth about Loyalist death squads and expose these lies.

What I say here is based on nearly two decades of research specialisation on Catholic-Nationalist political culture and the war in Northern Ireland, particularly two years, divided among three periods, living and conducting participant observation-based fieldwork in the Catholic-Nationalist working-class ‘urban village’ ghettos in west and north Belfast, which represent the major battlegrounds or ‘killing fields’ of the war. In 1981-82, I lived and worked for a year in Divis Flats and the Clonard/Kashmir area of the lower Falls Road in west Belfast, areas renowned as battlegrounds of ‘the Troubles,’ the diminutive euphemism frequently used to refer to the war. In 1991, I spent six months on the Antrim Road, in the center of what’s termed the ‘murder mile’ because of the large number of Catholics who have been killed there by Loyalist paramilitaries and death squads. In 1995-96, I spent another six months living in the New Lodge district. Both the Antrim Road and New Lodge are in north Belfast, which has borne more suffering and more people have been killed there than any other part of Northern Ireland - including the largest number of sectarian murders. Since 1969, more than 600 people - nearly one in five of those killed in the war - have been killed in north Belfast, an area of not more than a few square miles.[2] The New Lodge has been the hardest hit community in the war.[3] The New Lodge Road itself, which runs through the center of the district, is, statistically, the most dangerous street in Northern Ireland, and the most dangerous single point has been the junction at the top of the New Lodge Road where it intersects with the Antrim Road, where ten people have been killed (Kelters and Thornton 1993). I lived in Spamount Street, one street over from the New Lodge Road, on the edge of the district near where it intersects with Tiger’s Bay - a staunchly Loyalist, Protestant working class district - and a main point of entry and attack for Loyalist death squads. The house I lived in had been attacked three times. During all of the times I have lived and done research in Belfast I was, like any other resident of the Catholic ghettos, presumed to be a Catholic and under constant threat of random sectarian assassination by Loyalist death squads. I have personally experienced the constant fear and tension that is a normal part of life and the culture of terror (Taussig 1984) in these ghettos. [4]

During my first two periods of fieldwork in Belfast, I often asked people what they thought I should do research on and write about, and almost invariably the answer was the same - that I should tell the world about the people who they said were the forgotten victims of the war, the many hundreds of innocent Catholic civilians killed in sectarian attacks - that is, selected for political assassination for no other reason than that the religion they practiced was different from that of their killers.[5] This chapter represents my response to that suggestion. I have researched the Loyalist death squads because the research participants I am indebted to in my fieldwork in Belfast wanted such research done, and because I wanted, in sympathy with them, to write against the terror that blighted their lives.

Besides my own independent research, I have relied on research and documentation provided by a number of credible local and international organizations who, over many years now, have produced meticulous and comprehensive research reports documenting state terror in Northern Ireland - Silent Too Long, Relatives For Justice, Clergy For Justice,[6] the Campaign for the Right to Truth,[7] the Committee for the Administration of Justice,[8] the Center for Research and Documentation,[9] Sinn Fein, and Amnesty International. I have relied on these sources not only for information but also for enlightenment and inspiration. In particular, I have relied on the two community-based ‘popular’ organizations formed by relatives of innocent Catholics killed by the Security Forces and Loyalist assassins - Silent Too Long and Relatives for Justice - who I worked with, respectively, in 1981 and 1995-96. Silent Too Long was formed at the end of 1981 with four objectives:

(1) To create unity and support amongst relatives who have suffered at the hands of Loyalists and security forces and who want to tell their side of it. Also to show that the 2000 plus people killed in the troubles [up to the end of 1981] were not all killed by the IRA as stated by the British Government. (2) To have the UDA banned, this force has openly boasted about their involvement in the murder of Catholics.[10] (3) To show that the Security Forces have murdered with immunity from the law. (4) To show that there has been dual membership and collusion between members of Loyalist paramilitary groups and the Security Forces (Silent Too Long 1982:3).

Relatives for Justice was formed a decade later in 1991 to focus attention on the use of state terror by the British government:

For twenty-five years the counter insurgency methods of the British government in Northern Ireland have involved a Shoot-to-Kill policy, in direct ambushes when both innocent victims and suspects have been shot dead without warning, and in a sinister indirect campaign of murder which involved manipulation of Loyalist paramilitaries who were provided with security information and who then killed with the knowledge that they were free from prosecution. This policy was pursued by small groups of RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] personnel, the British Army, and the secret intelligence network of MI5 and MI6. A section of the Northern Ireland administration is aware of the policy, protects it by withholding information, insincere cosmetic investigation, non-prosecution and curbing of inquests. The families and friends of the victims not only suffer the insult of cover-ups and lies but they often become targets for harassment and abuse from the British Army and the RUC. They seek redress in publicising the truth to the world and will not cease to bring their grievances before government and international human rights bodies (Relatives for Justice 1995:1).

In 1993 Relatives for Justice published a report on British shoot-to-kill operations and the history of collusion between the Security Forces and Loyalist death squads, which was republished in an updated and expanded form in 1995. This lists the victims murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries from March 1990 to October 1994, and (where known) the organization responsible for the murder, the weapon used, where the gunmen’s mode of transport was obtained and abandoned after the killing, incidents of leaking of secret intelligence files, and the relatively rare arrest, charging and conviction of perpetrators who have included serving and former members of the Security Forces. The 1995 report also details the number of sectarian killings in which South African weaponry, secured by Loyalist death squads with the help of British military intelligence, have been used (see below).

While the research reported here represents the victims’ perspective,[11] if the essence of objectivity is gathering the available evidence and letting it lead to the conclusions, than the ethnographic overview of Loyalist death squads in the culture of terror presented here is an objective view consistent with the facts on the ground in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, I think there is no academic or other dishonour in being prepared to stand with the victims of oppression and state terror.

Two Campaigns of Violence
Between the beginning of the war in 1969 and the IRA ceasefire declared at the end of 1994, a total of 3,168 people were killed as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland. The fatalities break down into the following categories (figures derived from O’Duffy 1995:772):

Security Forces:









Catholic Civilians:



Protestant Civilians:



Political Activists:






The breakdown of those responsible for the 1,067 Catholic civilians killed is:

By Republicans:



By Loyalists:



By Security Forces:






It should also be noted that of the 571 Protestant civilians killed, 114 (20%) were killed by Loyalists, usually mistaken for being Catholics.[13]

What these casualty figures show is that; 1) statistically, those most at risk of death in the conflict in Northern Ireland are innocent Catholic civilians, over 800 of whom have been killed by the Security Forces and Loyalists, and 2) the two largest categories of fatalities are members of the Security Forces killed by Republican guerrillas and Catholic civilians killed by Loyalist paramilitaries. This supports the assertion made by Silent Too Long, and Catholics in general, but generally ignored by the media because of effective British propaganda, that there are two campaigns of violence in Northern Ireland, essentially the Republican (IRA and INLA) war against the British state and Security Forces, and the Security Forces’ and Loyalist paramilitaries’ war, not just against militant Republicans, but the Catholic civilian population as a whole.

Death Squads in Northern Ireland
When commenting on Loyalist killings, the British government has consistently claimed that they are a reaction to IRA violence, thereby partially exonerating Loyalists from blame and suggesting that such killings are not linked to British policy or counterinsurgency strategy. This view, presented by both the British authorities and Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, has a history that is not based solely in the present conflict; it pre-dates it, going back to the establishment of the Northern Ireland state and beyond (see O’Brien 1989). Catholics have always been terrorised by Protestants since British settlers were first ‘planted’ in Ulster in the middle of the Seventeenth Century, and the same tactic has been employed by the British government’s official and unofficial forces since the establishment of Northern Ireland in 1920. It long predates the re-emergence of the IRA in 1969[14]

In the history of Northern Ireland, whenever Loyalists have perceived any sign of political advance for Nationalists, they have attacked and killed randomly selected Catholics and otherwise terrorised the Catholic minority.[15] The Protestant controlled "Orange State" (Farrell 1980) established by the partition of Ireland was born in the midst of massive sectarian violence which began in July 1920 and lasted until the end of 1922. This ‘pogrom’ by Loyalist extremists and mobs, as Catholic history records it, was supported by Unionist politicians and the state Security Forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and part-time Special Constabulary. The pogrom systematically drove Nationalist workers from employment in Belfast’s shipyards, hounded Nationalist businessmen from Protestant areas by burning their premises, invaded Catholic districts, and killed innocent Catholics in sectarian attacks. During this period there were 455 killings in Belfast, 267 Catholics and 185 Protestants,[16] and many of the Protestant deaths were the result of the British army firing into Loyalist mobs attacking Catholics. Almost 9,000 Catholics were forced from their places of employment and around 25,000 driven or burned out of their homes. For the next 50 years until replaced by direct rule from Westminster in 1972, successive Unionist governments relied on the combined violence of state forces and Loyalist sectarian attacks on Catholics to instil fear in the Catholic minority as a means of political control, with the ultimate aim of maintaining partition and the Union of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and preventing Catholic-Nationalist aspirations for a united Ireland.[17]

The war in Northern Ireland began in 1969, precipitated by Loyalist mobs again attacking Catholic districts in Belfast and Derry. (It is an irony of history that almost no one remembers that the British army was first called back into Northern Ireland to protect Catholic districts from Protestant mobs).[18] As the IRA military campaign escalated following the introduction of internment in 1971, the Loyalist paramilitaries grew apace and responded in by launching a campaign of sectarian attacks and random assassination of Catholics in large numbers. This was fertile ground for the British military’s various ‘dirty tricks’ units to infiltrate and politically direct the violence of Loyalist paramilitaries (see Dillon 1990 and Urban 1992). The British deployed in Northern Ireland some of the lessons learned elsewhere in their use of ‘counter-terror gangs’ in Kenya and Malaya. Brigadier Frank Kitson, whose books Low Intensity Operations (1971) and Gangs and Counter-Gangs (1960) became the British army’s counterinsurgency manuals, advocated a strategy of establishing unofficial ‘countergangs’ or ‘pseudogangs’ which could be manipulated in British interests without incurring British responsibility for their actions (Faligot 1983).[19] From the beginning the Loyalist paramilitaries were closely associated with Kitson’s strategy.

There are many examples in the 1970s of direct input by the British military in the sectarian campaign against Catholics. Units such as the Military Reaction Force, trained by the SAS, were responsible for many killings, which were usually attributed to Loyalist death squads. By the mid-1970s, British intelligence had already heavily infiltrated the Loyalist paramilitaries at all levels. Many of these agents were former British soldiers, and the expertise and experience they added - not to mention their provision of weapons and intelligence information from the Security Forces - significantly improved the capabilities of the Loyalist death squads. The most notable of these in the early 1970s was Albert Baker, who operated in Belfast. Baker’s gang was responsible for the notorious ‘Romper Room’ murders, where Catholics were beaten, tortured, then mutilated before being shot. Baker, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974, admitted his role as a British agent and said the killings "were designed to fit into a British intelligence plan to terrorize the Nationalist community and push off support for the IRA" (Saoirse 1991:7). The most recent example is Brian Nelson, discussed below.

In September 1976, a UDA commander, in the organization’s magazine Combat, wrote that; "There is only one way to control an area or ghetto that harbors terrorists and insurgents and that is to reduce its population to fear by inflicting upon them all the horror of terrorist warfare. Where these means cannot, for whatever reasons be used, the war is lost" (Irish News, 26 January 1993, p.8). That is, in a nutshell, the story of Loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland. In the Catholic ghettos of Belfast and other cities, sectarian assassination is a constant possibility, an everyday reality they have had to learn to live with. Because of ethnic residential segregation, it is possible for Loyalist death squads to mount rapid incursions into Catholic districts to kill residents with the assumption that they will be Catholics (resulting in several dozen Protestants being killed by Loyalist death squads for being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

As noted earlier, more sectarian murders have occurred in north Belfast than anywhere else. More than a third of fatal attacks carried out by the UVF and UFF have taken place there, and in the Catholic ghettos everyone knows someone who has been killed, and there is a good chance you will have watched someone being killed. North Belfast attracts political murders because of the social geography of the area.[20] Like west Belfast, the north side is largely divided along sectarian lines. But whereas the Falls Road is the largest Catholic enclave and stands on its own, the north of the city is a patchwork of green (Catholic-Nationalist) and orange (Protestant-Loyalist) ‘urban village’ districts. Sectarian murder in the heart of the Falls Road happens, but not as often. In north Belfast there are more sectarian interfaces than anywhere else in the city, and more ‘peacelines’ (six of Belfast’s thirteen peacelines are in a one square mile area of North Belfast). Loyalist death squads in north Belfast do not have to go far to kill Catholics. Protestants and Catholics at opposite ends of the political spectrum live just a street away from one another. Within minutes, Loyalist killers can be back in the protection of their own areas. Such was the case, for example, of the triple murder at an Oldpark betting shop in 1992. The killers switched cars little over 100 yards away, leaving a 90 second run to a Loyalist heartland. When Gerard O’Hara was shot dead in September 1993, his killers, within seconds, had left the New Lodge and were in neighboring Loyalist Tigers Bay. These people were killed simply because they were Catholics, and it was because of geography - because of where they lived - that they were selected as victims.[21]

Over a twenty-five year period between 1969 and the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994, Loyalist death squads killed hundreds of innocent Catholics in random sectarian attacks, and were responsible for the worst atrocities - the bombing of McGurk’s bar in Belfast in December 1971, in which 15 people were killed, and the Dublin and Monaghan car bombs in the Republic of Ireland which left 33 dead on May 17, 1974.[22/23]

The pattern has been to attack Catholics who live in fringe streets along escape routes, but they have also been confident enough to go into the heart of Nationalist areas. Loyalist death squads have mounted frequent bomb and gun attacks on pubs, sometimes causing multiple deaths. There were over 80 pub attacks on bars and clubs between 1971 and 1994 by Loyalist death squads. Nearly 160 people were killed in these attacks. Catholics - including Protestants mistaken for Catholics - were also murdered at their place of work, or in their homes, or simply walking home at night. Many were shot standing at street corners, and many more were ‘doorstop murders’ - the death squad would come to the door of a house or flat, knock, and then either ask for the victim by name or shoot the first person to answer the door, frequently regardless of their age or gender. Often, the door was simply broken open with a sledgehammer - eventually it earned the nickname ‘Loyalist skeleton key’ - and gunmen would run in and single out victims or open fire randomly on whoever was in the house.

Between 1975-1977, the notorious Shankill Butchers struck terror in the Catholic community, roaming the streets of north and west Belfast in a black taxi, seeking victims to be, sometimes ritualistically, tortured and murdered with their selection of knives, axes, and meatcleavers. The gang murdered at least two dozen Catholics, probably more (Dillon 1989).[24] Explaining the random selection of victims, one of the Butchers simply said "We were looking for a ‘Taig’" [a Loyalist epithet for Catholics, similar in meaning to ‘nigger’][25](An Phoblacht/Republican News, 1 August 1996, p.17).[26]

In 1974, the Republican movement published the following warning about sectarian attacks by Loyalist assassins:

"A Clear Warning to All Residents"
(Republican News, 30 November 1974)

In a study of the spate of brutal assassinations we have discovered many close similarities in these murders. Many of them fall into clearly definable groups:

(1) Those who are killed opening their doors late at night: This is one of the most regular methods used by these killer squads. We have found out personally that most people open their doors only too readily without first checking on the identity of the caller - THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FATAL.

(2) Those who are murdered on their way to work, or returning from work: These people die because their movements have been fingered by their workmates and then relayed to the assassins.[27] DISCUSS NOTHING WITH YOUR WORKMATES no matter how long you have worked with them. HUGH MARTIN OF ARDOYNE worked with the man who fingered him for 8 years! HE’S DEAD.

(3) Those who accept lifts from strangers: This is very foolish and courting death, as was recently discovered in Portadown. Never accept a lift from someone you do not know.

(4) Those who accept a joint taxi ride: Make sure the cab you hire is from a reputable firm; never travel in a cab that has already got passengers; observe the route taken by the taxi driver, question him and GET OUT OF THE CAB. Never sit beside the driver, sit directly behind him.

(5) Never accept an invitation to a party which may be extended in a pub: Many Catholics have been lured to their deaths by people purporting to be going to a party.

(6) Standing on street corners, especially late at night: This is an all too common occurrence in these areas, and young people are asking for trouble.

(7) Never go out at night alone in areas recognised to be the assassins’ murder ground. Lads have been pulled into cars while walking along a street. MURDER, whether it be from Loyalist groups or the SAS, is rampant on our streets, 350 people have died [up to November 1974]. Every one of us should regard ourselves as a potential victim. By taking that little extra care and time in our daily habits we can prevent death to ourselves and untold misery and heartbreak to our relatives. EXERCISE A LITTLE CARE.

Recognising the risks and taking precautions like those described above quickly became an accepted, necessary, and ‘normal’ part of everyday life in the Catholic ghettos.

In 1988 the Loyalist paramilitaries were rearmed with South African supplied weapons under the direction of British intelligence. As mentioned above, the latest British military agent to be exposed was Brian Nelson. A native of Belfast, he was a British soldier and active in the UDA’s death squads in the early 1970s, and was jailed in 1973 with two other UDA men for kidnapping and torturing a Catholic man, who died after they released him. In the 1980s, after his release from jail, Nelson rejoined the UDA at the behest of British intelligence, working closely with his MI5 handlers. He became UDA Director of Intelligence and was responsible for selecting targets for and rearming the death squads. He had unlimited access to Security Forces intelligence documents on Nationalists and Republicans, and organized the largest-ever shipment of Loyalist arms, obtained from South Africa and other countries, with the full backing of his British intelligence handlers who directed the reorganization and rearming of the UDA, until he was arrested again in 1990 (Adams 1986:85-86; Sinn Fein 1994a, 1994b; Saoirse 1996:3-4; Friel 1998b).[28]

The result of the rearming of the Loyalist paramilitaries was a major upsurge in sectarian killings in the first half of the 1990s, with Loyalists for the first time claiming more victims than the IRA/INLA campaign and emerging as the single major source of political violence in Northern Ireland. In the six years before the arrival of the Nelson arms shipment from January 1982 to December 1987, Loyalist paramilitaries killed 71 people of whom 49 were sectarian (that is, innocent civilians). In the six years following from January 1988 to September 1, 1994, Loyalists killed 229 people of whom 207 were sectarian (Relatives for Justice 1995:3). During this period the death squads continued to attack pubs in Catholic areas, and also began to attack betting offices. On February 5, 1992 the UFF killed five Catholics in a gun attack on Sean Graham’s bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in Belfast. On November 14, 1992, they shot dead three men in an attack on James Murray bookmakers on the Oldpark Road, also in Belfast. On October 30, 1993 they killed seven people in an attack on the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel. The killers shouted "trick or treat" just before they sprayed the bar with gunfire. On June 18, 1994 the UVF was responsible for the last major atrocity prior to the ceasefires - the Loughinisland massacre where a death squad shot six people dead in a pub as they watched the Republic of Ireland World Cup game.[29]

British Counterinsurgency and Loyalist Violence
In the literature on political violence, ‘death squads’ are generally defined as pro-government groups who engage in ‘extra-judicial’ killings of people they define as enemies of the state, whose members are either directly or indirectly connected with the government and/or security forces. There is usually overlap in membership and various forms of collusion - including the provision of weapons and intelligence - between the death squads and the security forces. It is necessary to state this definition because in the highly politicized context of any discussion of Northern Ireland there are many people - particularly British people and their allies - who completely reject the idea that there are anything like ‘death squads’ in Northern Ireland, and certainly not like the better-known death squads in Latin America. Generally, it appears that to refer to ‘death squads’ in Northern Ireland is frequently interpreted as evidence that the speaker is biased against Britain and Ulster Protestants. The fact is that the Loyalist paramilitaries fit the definition to a tee, and the death squads in Northern Ireland bear striking similarities with those found all over world.

One of the main tools employed by oppressive regimes and cultures of terror around the world to intimidate and control people who hold legitimate aspirations for political change is the use of death squads. These ‘countergangs’ are drawn from the state’s own forces and organizations which support the state’s policies (the status quo). While the media has called world attention to the use of such state terror in many contemporary Third World countries, when it comes to Northern Ireland the same perception of collaboration between government and terror groups does not exist. This is because the British government has established a sophisticated system of direct control, through its military and intelligence services (MI5 and MI6), of the Loyalist paramilitaries who direct the war of attrition against the civilian population in Catholic-Nationalist areas, which has been effective in maintaining a respectable distance between the government at the top and the people who do the killing at the bottom.

Relatives for Justice have identified the common forms of collusion in Northern Ireland:

The RUC informed some of the victims that their personal details, contained in official British Intelligence files, were in the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries. Some victims were killed by Loyalist gangs with members of the Security Forces in their ranks. Some were killed by weapons reportedly stolen from members of the Security Forces. Some received death threats from members of the Security Forces before their deaths. Some were killed by weaponry acquired by Loyalist paramilitaries with the assistance of a number of British Intelligence agents, Brian Nelson being the best known of these (Relatives for Justice 1995:2).

Since the beginning of the war, there has been mounting evidence of state forces’ involvement in the Loyalist terror campaign, indicating a substantial degree of collusion between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the Security Forces and intelligence services. This is typical of death squad activity around the world. Collusion has always been complex, but structured and widespread. It has never been merely the actions of malcontents or ‘rogue elements’ in the Security Forces. A large number of human rights organizations have consistently documented British state involvement in and management of the Loyalist death squads. For example, Amnesty International, in a statement following the release of people charged with possession of leaked files in October 1990, concluded that it is obvious from all the evidence that collusion remains a fact of life and that the Government is not prepared to confront it. In a major report in 1994, they again highlighted mounting evidence of collusion between government forces and groups like the UDA, exposing the Catholic minority to random attack from Loyalist death squads:

Such collusion has existed at the level of the security forces and services, made possible by the apparent complacency, and complicity in this, of government officials. This element of apparent complicity has been seen, for example, in the failure of the authorities to take effective measures to stop collusion, to bring appropriate sanctions against people who colluded, or to deploy resources with equal vigour against both Republican and Loyalist armed groups that pursue campaigns of political murder (Amnesty International 1994:6).

The 1995 Relatives for Justice study of collusion mentioned earlier reported that of the 168 Loyalist killings between 1990-1994, there was evidence of collusion with state forces in 103 (61%).

The direct involvement of British intelligence in directing and supplying information to the Loyalist death squads has been repeatedly documented, and hundreds of members of the British army and RUC have been charged with supplying weapons and intelligence about Catholics to the UDA and UVF. Over 3,000 security-intelligence files on Nationalists and Republicans - including their personal details and movements - have been passed on to the UDA and UVF since 1969 (Clergy for Justice 1994), and they have used these to plan their attacks. The locally recruited and almost entirely Protestant Ulster Defense Regiment of the British army (now renamed the Royal Irish Rifles) was heavily infiltrated by the UDA and UVF almost from the start, and quickly became intrinsically linked with Loyalist violence. Over 320 members have been convicted of offenses against Catholics, including murder, maimings, kidnappings, serious assault, and passing information to Loyalist paramilitaries. Hundreds of other members have been purged from the regiment - most of them suspected of having links with Loyalist paramilitary groups (see Sinn Fein 1990).

But the term ‘collusion,’ as defined and accepted in Northern Ireland, is restricted to explaining the relationship between individual ‘bad apples’ inside the Security Forces and Loyalist extremists. It implies that the British government has no responsibility or control over the killing of Irish Catholics. In other countries where similar relationships exist between official state forces and unofficial forces who support the state, and where nothing is done to end such relationships, the governments of those countries are accused of using death squads. But in Ireland, as in other colonies where the British military have allowed and assisted death squads to terrorize the population, successive British governments have always been able to wash their hands of the blood spilled by their agents.

No matter how horrifying Loyalist violence is, it is neither mindless nor pointless: It is a direct result of British state policy and military practice. It is as old as British colonialism in Ireland,[30] and, while the Loyalists have their own agenda, their attacks fit in with British counterinsurgency strategy. The Loyalist death squads have been armed and resourced by British military intelligence, and act as unofficial auxiliaries to the British forces. Their objective is to prevent any forward political movement which would undermine the current constitutional status quo. They seek to terrorize and subdue the entire Catholic-Nationalist population by killing uninvolved civilians and selective assassinations of political opponents of the state, as a way of ending resistance, getting them to accept any settlement that stops the killing, and undermining support for and ultimately defeating the IRA and INLA. As in similar situations in Latin America, non-involved civilians, families, women and children are intended targets. The aim is to terrorise as many Catholics as possible and make all perceived opponents of Unionism feel that they could be the next victim. This is why there has always been collusion both at an unofficial or personal level and at an official level.[31]

Shifting the Blame: Psychological Warfare Myths
Two other ‘big lies’ or political myths propagated by the British and Unionist authorities and the media in general are; 1) that Loyalist violence is a defensive or retributive "reaction" to the Republican armed struggle to achieve a united Ireland, and 2) that the war in Northern Ireland is a sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants, marked by "tit-for-tat" killings, in which the British are a third "neutral" party trying to keep the peace between them. Both of these characterisations fly in the face of the historical and contemporary record. They are propaganda or psychological warfare myths which ultimately emanate from the British government and its military apparatus in Northern Ireland. This is a classic "blaming the victim" tactic (Ryan 1971), the purpose of which is to lay the responsibility for the slaughter of Catholic-Nationalist civilians at the door of the very community which is being targeted. Specifically, it is intended to blame the IRA for all the deaths - particularly the ones done by Loyalists.[32] Those who describe Loyalist death squad killings as reactive and tit-for-tat are working to a British government agenda in failing to confront the truth.

The Loyalist paramilitaries have acknowledged in several newspaper interviews that their actions have been proactive, not reactive (An Phoblacht/Republican News, 29 June 1994), and even a cursory knowledge of the actions of Loyalist extremists from the foundation of the Northern Irish state in 1920 and before, shows that Loyalist violence has resulted whenever Protestants have perceived that Catholics were making political gains. Loyalist violence is reactive, not to the actions of the Republican guerrillas, but to any sign of resistance by or forward political movement for Catholic-Nationalists, and has never operated on a tit-for-tat basis.

With regard to British propaganda and media characterisations of the conflict as "a grim cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian violence," the authorities have made strenuous efforts to encourage the media to portray both sides as being equally involved in sectarian killings, and to not state the religion of the victims of sectarian attacks in order to conceal the fact that they are overwhelmingly Catholic (Burke et al 1996:11). Popular tactics of disinformation employed by the RUC include:

  • Professing not to know who or what is behind these killings and treating them as "motiveless murders" when the sectarian motive is obvious.
  • Deflecting responsibility back on the Catholic-Nationalist community by speculating about particular shootings as perhaps being the result of "local feuds" or "IRA gangland-style executions."
  • Claiming that the state and RUC do not keep a tally of the ethnic/religious affiliations of the victims.
  • Equating the random sectarian killing of Catholic civilians with IRA attacks an armed members of the Northern Ireland security forces (the RUC and Royal Irish Rifles regiment), nearly all of whom are Protestant.

These tactics are intended to actively misrepresent Loyalist terror and cultivate the impression that Catholics and Protestants are senselessly killing each other in some sort of unfathomable religious or ‘tribal’ vendetta (cf. Kelly 1982:169-171). The truth is that almost all of the sectarian killing in Northern Ireland has been one-sided. Unlike Loyalist ideology, a cornerstone of Republican ideology is anti-sectarianism, and the IRA do not select targets on the basis of religion. Sectarian killings - that is, killing people simply because of their religion - is the hallmark only of the Loyalist death squads.

In June 1994, a Northern Ireland-based human rights monitoring group slammed "tit-for-tat" reporting in the media. Describing Loyalist killings as attempts "to create fear in the Catholic community," they said there was "a deep sense of frustration within the Nationalist community [created by] the media fixation with ‘retaliation’ and ‘tit-for-tat’ murders," and condemned these "inaccurate and dangerous descriptions of the current violence." They noted that in the period from June 2 to June 20 of that year, Loyalists had killed nine people, eight Catholics and a Protestant drinking with Catholic friends. "The reality is that all Catholics in the North of Ireland, and indeed any Protestants who work or socialize with Catholics, are potential targets for Loyalist paramilitaries." They argued that Loyalist death squad killings were "a response to any perceived political progress seen as detrimental to Unionism, and above all, because of a deeply embedded fear and hatred of Catholics inherent in extreme Loyalism," and noted that "the targeting of an individual because of their religion is almost exclusively a Loyalist phenomenon and it is erroneous and dangerous talk of ‘sectarian tit-for-tat’ murders" (cited in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 30 June 1994, p.2).

In October 1996, the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir Hugh Annesley, reiterated the consistently maintained state explanation for why the Security Forces’ priority is countering Republican rather than Loyalist violence. He claimed Loyalist violence was "reactive," and implied that if the IRA ceased their campaign, the Loyalists paramilitaries would cease theirs. He also complimented the Loyalist paramilitaries for maintaining the ceasefire they declared in 1994 in response to the IRA ceasefire and emergence of the Northern Ireland peace process. But he also commented that "If they were pushed back into violence, and they have been very severely pushed up to now, then one would have to imagine attacks on the Republic of Ireland and throughout Northern Ireland" (Reuter, 22 October 1996). This view basically condones Loyalist violence as an ‘understandable’ response to ‘provocation.’ As has always been the case in Northern Ireland, as far as the State is concerned the ‘provocation’ has been all one-sided; when Catholic-Nationalists resist Unionist oppression and British state terror, they are ‘provoking’ their oppressors to kill them.

As far back as 1991, an editorial in the Irish News (the major Catholic daily in Northern Ireland) responded to similar comments Annesley made then, arguing that he was wrong and:

there is not a single shred of evidence to support his hypothesis. Sooner or later, the police force, which purports to protect all members of the community, is going to have to recognise that those most at risk in Northern Ireland are innocent Catholic civilians. Mr Annesley and his colleagues will have to accept that between 1969 and 1989, the first 20 years of the troubles, 896 uninvolved Catholics were killed. Over the same period 575 uninvolved Protestant civilians were killed. When you take into account the fact that there are more Protestants than Catholics, the danger to Catholics shows up as being all the greater. Catholics civilians are in graver danger than members of the Security Forces and yet very few resources are deployed to help protect them.

Security policy in Belfast remains overwhelmingly geared towards combating the IRA - that is, counterinsurgency - rather than "peacekeeping" or protecting people from or preventing sectarian violence. Despite the fact that Loyalist gunmen pose a greater threat, Catholic districts are policed more intensively and aggressively than Protestant districts. British government security policy indicates that they do not regard the protection of Catholic civilians as being very high on their list of priorities.[33]

Republican violence in Northern Ireland must be understood in the context of a reaction to political oppression and continuing state supported violence (Clergy for Justice 1994). What emerges here is something I have stressed before, the basic contradiction in state repression as a means of social and political control. While intended to pacify the resistance of the oppressed, it’s application more frequently produces the opposite effect. Perhaps the single main finding of my research on popular support for the IRA and INLA (Sluka 1989) was that the major source of support is the defensive role they play in the Catholic working-class ghetto ‘killing fields’ of Belfast and other Northern Irish cities (see also de Baroid 1989). The primary function of the IRA in Northern Ireland has always been primarily community defense and protection of the Catholic minority from state and Loyalist attacks, and the national liberation struggle is secondary to that. Like the Phoenix they adopted as their symbol, the Provisional IRA re-emerged from the ashes of the Catholic homes and streets burned down by Loyalist mobs and Protestant policemen in August 1969. Hence, Loyalist death squad activity in Northern Ireland is not only brutal and sectarian, it is totally counterproductive. In the complex dialectic between repression and resistance, the Loyalist death squads produce the very conditions for the existence of what they fear most - armed resistance by the oppressed Catholic-Nationalist minority. This is true despite the apparent contradiction that the IRA and INLA are, in fact, unable to adequately protect Catholics from assassination, as the following words of an Ardoyne (north Belfast) woman expresses:

The IRA have been responsible for many things but they weren’t responsible . . . for the assassination of over 850 Catholics and the . . . murders of kids and women by plastic bullets. Loyalist paramilitaries always pretend that they only resort to violence when they’re provoked by the IRA, but that’s nonsense. There was no IRA activity in 1966 when the UVF carried out the Malvern Street murders of two Catholics. Loyalist violence always seems to flare up when they think the British are going to concede something to the "Taigs" or when they think the IRA are on the run. Besides, it suits the Brits to portray us as mad murdering bastards and themselves as the neutral go-between. The truth of the matter is that the Brits are here to back up the Loyalists and their interests. Why else have they allowed them to stockpile thousands of weapons which are used to murder innocent Catholics simply because they are Catholics? Why else do they let Paisley stomp around the country inciting Protestants to hate us? And then they have the gall to turn round and say to the world, "It’s the IRA who started the trouble - we have to stamp them out." But it wasn’t the IRA who started it all. It was the Brits who made the country what it is, by allowing a Unionist government to do what it wanted to the Catholic population for over 50 years. It was the Brits and those Unionists who forced the Catholics to support the IRA. Let’s face it, I know where I live and I know how my area is surrounded by Loyalists. I know about the [lack of] security, and if trouble broke out what the positions would be, because I’ve lived through it before. We all know who is going to go out and put their necks on the line. It’s the IRA (cited in Fairweather et al 1984:233).

Postscript: Loyalist Terror During the Peace Process
Despite the apparent end of the war, marked by the IRA and Loyalist paramilitary ceasefires in 1994 and subsequent peace process, Loyalist terror has continued. In 1997, eight Catholics were killed by Loyalist death squads and extremists, including Robert Hamill who was beaten to death in April. This prompted one Irish News columnist, Brian Feeney, to comment that: "The result is the same old story. 1997 was no different from 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1986. In each of those years governments of one kind or another began to address Nationalist grievances. Whenever that happens Unionist leaders start to bleat about reforms and as night follows day murder gangs start to kill Catholics" (cited in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 8 January 1998, p.2). These deaths were only the surface of an insidious campaign of violence against Catholics that has been ongoing despite the Loyalist ‘ceasefire’ and the peace process. Along with murders and attempted murders of Nationalists, Catholic Churches, homes, schools, and business premises were attacked and firebombed around Northern Ireland.

In the second half of 1997 a new Loyalist death squad, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, shot dead three Catholics. In response, the INLA killed infamous death squad leader Billy "King Rat" Wright, and said the sectarian killings must stop. Loyalists proceeded to kill four more Catholics, all chosen at random in Nationalist areas. The INLA killed another Loyalist death squad leader, again saying the random sectarian killings of Catholics must stop. They did not, and five more Catholics were shot dead and several others seriously wounded. The UFF/UDA admitted responsibility, claiming these random killings were a "measured military response" to Nationalist initiatives. In overview, 12 randomly selected Catholics were shot dead, and in retaliation two Loyalist terror gang leaders were killed by the INLA, with demands that the sectarian offensive against Catholics stop.

In 1998, there was a marked upsurge in ongoing Loyalist violence, from intimidation and petrol bombings to gun attacks against Catholic communities throughout Northern Ireland. That year, up to November, 15 more Catholics were killed and over a dozen seriously injured in another Loyalist murder campaign. Over this three year period of "peace" in Northern Ireland, despite the obvious anomalies in basic arithmetic which contradict this claim, the British and Unionist authorities and the media persisted in describing these attacks as several ‘series of tit-for-tat sectarian killings,’ using this characterisation to effectively rationalise, if not justify, the activities of the Loyalist death squads (MacRuairi 1998).

Thus, the idea of ‘tit-for-tat sectarian murder cycles’ is a political fiction or ‘myth’ (Friel 1998a), representing an attempt to hide the true nature of the indiscriminate assault waged against the Catholic community. The media also frequently failed to report who was responsible when Loyalists killed Protestants, reinforcing the sectarian tit-for-tat theme, and tended strongly to describe all of the deaths during this period as sectarian, including the deaths of the two leading Loyalist terrorists, which were clearly not sectarian. The deaths of those who organise sectarian attacks cannot be objectively equated with the deaths of their victims. The purpose is to push the false propaganda line that the conflict is essentially sectarian, with Nationalists (particularly the IRA and INLA) to blame, and that Britain must maintain its presence to keep the rival ‘tribes’ apart. As Republican journalist Laura Friel concluded, sectarian killings of Catholics are not acts of revenge or retaliation, but rather "the bloody expression of a supremacist elite determined to protect its privilege" (An Phoblacht/Republican News, 15 January 1998, p.3).

1. Where death squads roam: The New Lodge Road - the most dangerous location in Northern Ireland, despite massive Security Forces surveillance of the area, including the British army observation post on top of Templar House tower block (on left), helicopters, cameras, and constant foot and mobile patrols by British troops and militarised police. Relatives for Justice and other human rights groups have asked "how do RUC and British Army bases fail to detect or deter Loyalist murder gangs when they enter Catholic areas since they are equipped with sophisticated surveillance apparatus"? (Relatives for Justice 1995:1). Photo by Jeff Sluka.

2. The Catholic ghettos are marked by anti-death squad murals, frequently highlighting collusion. Springhill Avenue, Ballymurphy, west Belfast (from Rolston 1995).

3. Anti-death squad mural, Oakman St., Beechmount (Falls Road), Belfast, highlighting overlap in membership and collusion between Loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defense Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (from Rolston 1995).

4. Union Jack behind head and skull of Loyalist assassin, Beechmount Avenue (Falls Road), Belfast (from Rolston 1995).

5. Protestant working-class districts are marked by Loyalist paramilitary murals. This one in the lower Shankill celebrates the Ulster Freedom Fighters. To the left is Divis Tower located in the lower Falls Road, indicating the very close proximity of the two communities (from Rolston 1995).

6. Ulster Volunteer Force mural, Dover Place, lower Shankill, Belfast, depicting the "Loyalist skeleton key" at work (from Rolston 1995).



For a description of the opposed but dialectically inter-related cultures of terror and resistance in Northern Ireland, see Sluka 1995. The culture of terror includes three domains of pro-state violence against innocent Catholics; 1) that of the state Security Forces (who have killed at least 176 Catholic civilians [Sutton 1994:204] ), 2) that of the Loyalist paramilitaries, and 3) a continuous low-level of ‘everyday’ forms of racist and sectarian violence when Catholics are basically ‘lynched’ - beaten up and attacked with knives and clubs, frequently by drunken gangs of Loyalist youths, including marching band members and soccer fans who get drunk after social events and assault Catholics - and the petrol bombing of Catholic homes, schools, and churches. This is particularly true during the Loyalist Orange Order marching season in the summer, when Loyalist hatred becomes exaggerated and inflamed.


Including 250 Catholic civilians and 160 Protestant civilians.


The district commemoration garden lists the names of 130 IRA and Sinn Fein members, and over 100 civilians. While the New Lodge has the largest number of deaths, statistically I believe the lower Ormeau Road enclave has the highest proportion of deaths. Of the about 1,000 Catholics who live there, 50 or 5% have been killed by Loyalists. If you add another 100 or so who have been injured or attacked in sectarian murder bids, about 15% of the district’s population have personally been attacked. This is largely due to geography; the district is located in east Belfast, surrounded by Protestant districts, and cut off from other Catholic enclaves in west Belfast by the River Lagan. It is an easy target.


I have been frequently warned by my Catholic research-participants that the Loyalist paramilitaries will have identified me, that I am not safe from them, that it would be dangerous to spend time in Protestant districts where I might be recognized, and that I should always be aware of this threat and be careful. Nonetheless, I have no direct evidence that the Loyalist paramilitaries know me or are concerned about my work. Interestingly, the only direct threat I have received from Loyalists is a phone call to my office in New Zealand. I was told, by a local caller with a northern Irish accent, that "You’re not as far from Northern Ireland as you think, and you can still be got," that "we know who you are, what you look like, and where you live," and that I should "keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you." (This incident was at a time when I had been recently interviewed and aspects of my research reported in the media).


Renowned journalist John Taylor (1998) has unveiled what he terms the "hierarchy of death" in the British press when reporting the war: "In the first rank - getting the most coverage - are British people killed in Britain; in the second, the security forces, whether army or RUC; in the third, civilian victims of Republicans; and, in the fourth, garnering very little coverage indeed, the victims of Loyalism" (cited in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 10 September 1998, p.15).


A group of Catholic clergy concerned with human rights issues and the abuse of state power in Northern Ireland.


An umbrella group representing victims of state-sponsored violence and their relatives. Formed in October 1994, they launched a campaign to force the British government to admit a catalogue of human rights abuses. The CRT is composed of eight groups - the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, the Casement Accused Relatives Committee, the Cullyhanna Justice Group, Relatives for Justice, the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, the Friends of Patrick McLaughlin, the Pat Finucane Center, and the Dublin/Monaghan Bombings Victims Support Group.


An independent civil liberties organization formed in 1981 to work to improve the standard of justice in Northern Ireland. See Committee for the Administration of Justice 1992 and 1993.


An independent Belfast-based human rights watchdog group.


Despite their admitted involvement in sectarian killings, the UDA was not declared an illegal organization in Northern Ireland until August 1992, and is still legal in Britain.


For Protestant perspectives on Loyalist violence see Bell 1976; Miller 1978; Nelson 1984; Galliher and Degregory 1985; Bruce 1992; and Clayton 1996.


The Republican Movement says that "British forces" have killed 357 civilians, or "more civilians than the IRA" (An Phoblacht/Republican News, 7 November 1996, p.1 1).


Sutton (1994:202), by including Protestants killed because they were mistaken for Catholics or associated with Catholics, attributes 713 sectarian killings of civilians to Loyalists.


The UVF re-emerged in 1966, and killed two Catholics in sectarian attacks.


Catholics believe that most victims are randomly selected simply because they are Catholics, but it appears that some are deliberately singled out for various reasons - because they are working on building sites in Protestant or mixed areas and make easy targets (or may be perceived as competing for jobs), because they are involved in Irish cultural activities, because they have publicly criticized the authorities and Security Forces, etc.


To put these deaths in context, bear in mind that Catholics represented only about one-third of the population of Northern Ireland at that time, but suffered nearly three-fifths of the casualties.


For the history of anti-Catholic riots and ‘pogroms’ in Northern Ireland, see O’Brian (1989); Farrell (1980); and Boyd (1969). As Clergy For Justice have noted:
For the past 120 years, there has been an anti-Catholic uprising in the north of Ireland, supported by the British government, on average once every 12 years [a reference to periodic localised attacks and pogroms against Catholics by Protestant mobs and armed gangs of Loyalists]. So the present spate of government killings is not new. People talk about the Red Hand Commandos, UDA, UFF as if they were separate organizations of fanatical Protestants. They are in fact a coolly organized network of one government’s killers (Burke et al 1996:21-22).


Republicans (such as Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams [1986]) and others dispute this interpretation. Their view is that the British army was brought in, not to defend Catholics, but rather to support the Orange State to control them. This is a valid interpretation, but the British army did defend Catholic districts from Loyalist attacks when they first arrived in August 1969.


The complexity of the relationship between state forces and death squads is revealed in the observation by Clergy for Justice that:
Different types of pseudo gangs have been identified. We have Kitson’s Military Reconnaissance Force units, made up of SAS personnel or "Special Duties Teams," trained to carry out SAS style covert operations [see Bruce 1996]. There are mixed gangs of security personnel and "turned around insurgents." There are paramilitary groups carrying out operations inspired by military agents provocateurs who have penetrated their ranks. And there are paramilitary groups actually controlled by security personnel (Burke et al 1996:21-22).
Most of these types have been employed in Northern Ireland.


For analysis of the social geography of political murder in Belfast, see Boal 1974, 1981; Boal et al 1976; Murray and Boal 1979; and Feldman 1991.


One ‘territorial’ aspect of death squad killings of Catholics in north Belfast is their relationship to sectarian tensions resulting from large population shifts. The upheaval of the war helped establish a pattern in north Belfast, primarily along the Antrim Road, where Protestants left and Catholics moved in to replace them. They were then attacked by Loyalists who wanted to maintain the ‘purity’ of so-called Protestant areas, and the area came to be known as the "murder mile." Research in the 1970s (e.g. Dillon and Lehane 1973) showed that Catholics were shot in particular areas where they were moving into housing that had never been occupied by Catholics before.


Over the years, compelling evidence has emerged that British intelligence was behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. A British agent planted in the UDA has admitted driving the car containing the explosives part of the way to Dublin, and Clergy For Justice, among other reputable observers, have stated unequivocally that these bombings "were the work of Loyalists linked to the Security Forces through the RUC Special Branch" (Burke et al 1996:6). See also Bowyer Bell 1996.


After the ceasefires, on August 15, 1998, the "Real IRA," a breakaway group from the IRA opposed to their ceasefire, were responsible for the Omagh city bomb which killed 23 and injured over 200. However, unlike the Loyalist atrocities mentioned in this chapter, these deaths were the result of a military operation gone wrong, and not intentional. This terrible and tragic mistake destroyed the Real IRA, who disbanded shortly afterwards. Certainly, no Loyalist paramilitary group would disband in similar circumstances. Objectively, these accidental civilian casualties cannot and should not be equated with the intentional civilian casualties from Loyalist bombings.


See Feldman (1991) for an insightful discussion of the Shankill Butchers as representing the "outer limit" of Loyalist paramilitary killings.


Protestant stereotyping of Catholics is similar to the stereotypes of ‘natives’ held in settler colonial societies and constitutes a form of racism little distinguishable from settler racism (Clayton 1996).


The Shankill Butchers "had no ideological struggle to wage so they used the strategy which Gusty Spence [best-known figure in the revived UVF] had initiated in 1966: ‘If you can’t get an IRA man, get a Taig"’ (Dillon 1989:12).


Many working-class Catholics refused to fill out census forms in 1981 and 1991 because they believed that the information would go into their intelligence dossiers (virtually all working-class Catholics have such dossiers), including the route they took to and from work, and that this information could be passed on to Loyalist paramilitaries and used to plan their assassinations.


In February 1992, Nelson was convicted of five counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Defense Secretary Tom King pleaded for leniency, and in court a British army officer described him as a hero who was working out of a sense of patriotism, but became "a little too enthusiastic." A senior judge, Basil Kelly, handed down a ten year prison sentence to Nelson, the minimum he could impose, and described him as a man who had shown "the greatest courage." He served five years, and was released again in February 1996. Catholics interpreted this episode as another obvious sign of, if not formal collusion, at least informal collusion and the "natural" sympathy between British state authorities and Loyalist death squads.


Employing the international definition of mass murder as five or more homicides in a single event, Loyalist death squads have, on a number of occasions, been guilty of political mass murder.


For example, in the 1790s, Catholics in the north of Ireland suffered at the hands of mobs from the forerunner of the Orange Order - the Peep O’Day Boys. This gang of sectarian supremacists would raid Catholic homes, beat and sometimes kill the occupants, torch the house, destroy the crops, stampede the farm animals, and wreck any industrial implements or machinery. Their aim was, as it remains today, to ‘make the croppies lie down’ - that is, ensure that Catholics posed no political, economic, social or cultural threat to Protestant hegemony.


1998, investigative journalist Sean McPhilemy published The Committee: Political Assassinations in Northern Ireland, which blew the lid off RUC collusion with Loyalist death squads. He revealed the existence of a secret Committee of high-ranking RUC and locally-recruited British army officers who ran a campaign of political and sectarian assassination against Nationalists in the late 1 980s and early 1 990s. Central to the Committee was an "Inner Circle" of RUC officers who colluded with senior Unionist politicians and members of the Loyalist death squads in a campaign of political murder by proxy. According to McPhilemy, this Inner Circle "routinely assisted the Loyalist death squads to assassinate Republicans and Catholics whom the Committee selected for elimination" (cited in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 19 March 1998, p.5).


To provide an example of this, in October 1996, following an IRA bomb attack on the British army headquarters in Lisburn which killed a soldier, the media spent a lot of time speculating about whether or not the Loyalists would abandon their ceasefire in retaliation. The reports said things like: "Since 1969, and most particularly in 1989-94, the Loyalist death squads carried out ‘defensive’ attacks on the IRA that were considered some of the most ruthless of the Northern Ireland conflict" (Reuter-AFP, 9 October 1996). These attacks were not attacks on the IRA but rather against innocent Catholic civilians, and they were certainly not "defensive" since the victims represented no threat whatsoever.


The Relatives for Justice report (1995) recorded the following complaints made by Catholics against the Security Forces and their attitude to Loyalist violence; failure to respond to Catholic demands for protection, failure to detect or deter Loyalist murder gangs despite massive Security Forces’ presence and surveillance in Catholic districts, slow and complacent police response after Loyalist attacks, that the Security Forces flood Catholic areas following Loyalist attacks rather than direct their attention to the areas into which the Loyalists have escaped, incidents when there has been no follow-up operation by the police, that members of the Security Forces have sometimes insulted and abused the families of the victims and have beaten and insulted mourners at funerals of their murdered relatives, that police forensic teams have been willfully negligent or incompetent in gathering evidence at the scene of murders carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries, and the denial of gun licenses to elected representatives of the Catholic community (Relatives for Justice 1995:1-2).


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Gordon, Edmund (1991) "Anthropology and Liberation." In Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation. F. Harrison, ed. Washington, DC: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Huizer, Gerrit (1979) "Anthropology and Politics: From Naivete Toward Liberation?" In The Politics of Anthropology, From Colonialism and Sexism Toward a View From Below. G. Huizer and B. Mannheim, eds. The Hague: Mouton.

Kelly, Kevin (1982) The Longest War: Northern Ireland and the IRA. London: Zed Books.

Kelters, Seamus and Thornton, Chris (1993) "Where Death Stalks the Streets." Three part Irish News Special Investigation, 27-29 January.

Kitson, Frank (1960) Gangs and Counter-Gangs. London: Barrie and Rockcliffe.

(1971) Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books.

Kuhlmann, Annette (1992) "Collaborative Anthropology Among the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma.." Human Organization, 51:3, pp.274-283.

MacRuairi, Marcas (1998) "Understanding Loyalist Death Squads." An Phoblacht/Republican News, 22 January, p.9.

McPhilemy, Sean (1988) The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland. New York: Roberts Rinehart.

Messer, Ellen (1993) "Anthropology and Human Rights." Annual Review of Anthropology, 22, pp.221-249.

Miller, David (1978) Queen’s Rebels: Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.

Mills, C. Wright (1963) "On Knowledge and Power." In Power, Politics and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills. I. Horowitz, ed. New York: Ballantine Books.

Murray, Raymond (1990) The SAS in Ireland. Cork: Mercier.

Murray, R. and Boal, F.W. (1979) "The Social Ecology of Urban Violence." In Social Problems and the City: Geographical Perspectives. D. Herbert and D. Smith, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, Sarah (1984) Ulster’s Uncertain Defenders: Loyalists and the Northern Ireland Conflict. Belfast: Appletree.

O’Brien, Jack (1989) British Brutality in Ireland. Cork: Mercier.

O’Duffy, Brendan (1995) "Violence in Northern Ireland 1969-94: Sectarian or Ethno-National?" Ethnic and Racial Studies, 18:4, pp.740-772.

Paine, Robert (ed.) (1985) Advocacy and Anthropology. St. John’s: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of New Foundland.

Relatives for Justice (1993) Shoot-To-Kill and Collusion: Violations of Human Rights by State Forces in N. Ireland - A Record of Murders by Loyalist Paramilitaries, 1990-1992. Derry: Relatives for Justice.

Relatives for Justice (1995) Collusion 1990-1994: Loyalist Paramilitary Murders in the North of Ireland. Derry: Relatives for Justice.

Rolston, Bill (1995) Drawing Support 2: Murals of War and Peace. Belfast: Beyond the Pale.

Ryan, William (1971) Blaming the Victim. New York: Vintage Books.

Saoirse (New Zealand Irish Post) (1991) "Britain’s Death Squads in Ireland." Saoirse, 8:1, pp.6-7.

Saoirse (New Zealand Irish Post) (1996) "Nelson: Steeped in Blood." Saoirse, 12:2, pp.3-4.

Silent Too Long (1982) Silent Too Long. The Association of the Families of Innocent Victims of Loyalist, UDR, RUC and British Army Violence. Belfast: Silent Too Long.

Sinn Fein (1994a Collusion - Britain’s Links With Loyalist Death Squads. Ireland Information Fact File. Dublin: Sinn Fein Department of Foreign Affairs.

(1994b ) British Intelligence, Brian Nelson and the Rearming of the Loyalist Death Squads. Dublin: Sinn Fein.

(1990) The Ulster Defense Regiment - The Loyalist Militia. Dublin: Sinn Fein Publicity Department.

Sluka, Jeffrey (1995) "Domination, Resistance and Political Culture in Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Nationalist Ghettos." Critique of Anthropology, 15:1, pp.71-102.

Sluka, Jeffrey (1989) Hearts and Minds, Water and Fish: Popular Support for the IRA and INLA in a Northern Irish Ghetto. Greenwich: JAI Press.

Sutton, Malcolm (1994) An Index of Deaths From the conflict in Ireland 1969-1993. Belfast: Beyond the Pale.

Taussig, Michael (1984 ) "Culture of Terror - Space of Death: Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture." Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26, pp.467-97.

Taylor, John (1998) Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Urban, Mark (1992) Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA. London: Faber and Faber.

van Willigen, John (1993) Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. Revised edition. Westport: Bergin and Garvey.

Publication Contents

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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