Declassified Documents

Declassified official documents shed an interesting light on British government attitudes towards loyalist infiltration of the security forces and loyalist violence in the 1970s. The British Government has sought to portray its role here as that of the neutral broker, the peacekeeper caught between two warring factions. The secret memos and letters, marked UK Eyes Only, tell a different story.

Literally hundreds of mostly Catholic civilians were murdered before the British Government even contemplated the possible extension of internment to loyalists. Clearly the very existence of internment meant that the north was not a democratic state governed by the rule of law. Added to this was the complete denial by the authorities of the loyalist assassination campaign as evidenced by the failure to intern loyalists until 1973. This was tantamount to the state condoning such violence. In December 1971 15 civilians were murdered when loyalists bombed Mc Gurks Bar in Belfast. The RUC and the British Army attempted to blame the IRA. How do we know? Declassified documents.

The failure, until 1992, to ban the largest loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA, together with the toleration of widespread infiltration of the UDR, the locally recruited regiment of the British Army, is clear evidence of a counterinsurgency policy that viewed loyalist paramilitaries as allies in the war against the IRA. It is worth remembering that the UDA was still legal when the organisation murdered Pat Finucane at the behest of RUC Special Branch, MI5 and the FRU. In effect the relationship between loyalist paramilitaries and the British state was similar to the relationship between the Contras and the US administration of Ronald Reagan. The fact that many civilians were murdered as part of these counter insurgency policies was regarded as mere collateral damage by those in London who prosecuted this war.

Other official documents demonstrate a shocking disregard for civilian lives in respect of the actions of the British Army - when the Attorney General asserted in 1971 that soldiers were incapable of committing murder since they were 'on duty' this gave a de facto 'license to kill' to members of the security forces. Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy Massacre was the inevitable result. It would be foolish to believe that this is of historical interest only. The interrogation methods used here in the seventies were used again in Iraq. The Labour government claimed it had 'forgotten' that these methods were ruled illegal by the European court. As late as 2010, a soldier was still serving in the British Army despite his conviction for the murder of Peter Mc Bride in Belfast in 1992

Latest Declassified Documents

Mtg of N Division Local Security Committee (added Sept 2017)

Behind Closed Doors

Occasionally the minutes of apparently unimportant meetings offer a fascinating insight. Meetings between unionist delegations (in this case local councillors who were members of the Local Security Committee) and the NIO/RUC and British army, provide a snapshot of the type of lobbying that unionists indulged in when meeting with 'their' local security forces.

Described as a 'lively' meeting it appears that demands were made for more troops and police to be deployed to S. Armagh. Hardly surprising but the next comment is. Such deployment should take place 'even if more deaths resulted-it was part of their job.' Another councillor then suggests that 'helicopter gunships [should] shoot people behaving suspiciously...' and added that '...terrorists should be burnt in their cars.' The implication is that the helicopter gunships could fulfil this task.

The notetaker was less than impressed with the 'outrage' expressed at the flying of a tricolour in Camlough since said provocation seemed to have caused more outrage 'than recent murders in the area'.

A further complaint about the arrest and interrogation of a 'loyal protestant woman' at Gough Barracks led an RUC Inspector to accuse the councillor of 'double standards'. This led to a row about the type of interrogation that suspects should be subjected to.

All behind closed doors at the meeting of the Local Security Committee !  


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Weapons and Shooting Statistics (added Aug 2017)

Official memo on weapons seized on both sides of the border between 1969-1976 with a breakdown of types of weapons and a summary of key seizures. The information was supplied by the RUC Data Reference Centre which carried out intelligence analysis under the aegis of Special Branch. This February 1977 memo highlights the involvement of republican and loyalist organisations in the importation of weapons. It is striking that this (and hundreds of other declassified official documents) refer only to the UDA and never to the fictional UFF which was the nom de guerre used until the UDA was finally proscribed in 1992.

The document notes that the UDA was believed to have imported weapons in a container lorry from Belgium in October 1976. It goes on to speculate that "...UDA and UVF units in Belfast are apparently highly pleased with the excellent quality of the home-made SMGs [Ed note-Sub-Machine Guns] they are now receiving. "  No 'UFF' weapons were seized because the Data Reference Centre, Chief Constable, GOC and SoS were well aware that there was no such organisation.   

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Memo to Secretary of State on security options-Feb 1978 (added Aug 2017)

1978 memo to SoS (author unknown) outlining security options and highlighting the 'danger signs' that the (British) army are deploying patrols for "suppression" and Intelligence" with no intention of arresting and charging suspects. The memo goes on to suggest that any 'drift' back to army methods and goals is the "road that leads to executive action against terrorists, rather than action through the courts."  'Executive action' is a euphemism for shoot-to-kill. The reference to it being an alternative to 'action through the courts' is unambiguous. The document goes on to suggest that a substantial body of opinion in the army supports such action. The author doubts if the GOC is "actively damping it down." A number of shoot-to-kill incidents took place in 1978 and in the following years. In June that year for instance Denis Heaney was shot dead in Derry by undercover soldiers in plain clothes. Weeks later in July 1978 the SAS shot dead schoolboy 16 year old John Boyle in Dunloy, Co. Antrim.      

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De-proscription of unlawful organisations (added Aug 2017)

Declassified 1974 NIO discussion doc on de-proscription of UVF and Sinn Fein. The juxtaposition of Sinn Fein (as opposed to the IRA) with the UVF tells us much about British government attitudes to loyalist paramilitary organisations. At the time the UDA remained legal and it would be another 18 years before London finally accepted that the UFF was nothing more than a nom de guerre for the UDA. This memo was written weeks before the UVF (Glenanne Gang) bombing of Dublin and Monaghan and the de-proscription went ahead on May 23rd, just days after the multiple bombings. See A State in Denial for detailed documentation on this aspect of de-proscription.


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The "Hooded Men"- Irish State case

In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the British government had violated Article 3 of the European Commission on Human Rights in their treatment of 14 men in 1971. These "Hooded Men" had been selected for 5 techniques of "Deep Interrogation" - white noise, wall standing/ stress positions, sleep deprivation, bread and water diet, and hooding. The ECtHR found this amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, but not torture.


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