FORMER POLITICIAN TALKS ABOUT HIS LIFE IN THE UDA, UDR AND THE RUC
Steven McCaffery, Irish News | 15 May 2006
A former unionist councillor has revealed that while he was serving as a lance corporal in the Ulster Defence Regiment, he was also a commander in the paramilitary UDA. In a frank interview in today’s Irish News he confirms that the British army was aware of his links to the loyalist group and tells how he was a UDA commander and a UDR soldier, before later joining the ranks of the RUC.
He was identified in a secret military intelligence report detailing security force collusion with loyalists, which accuses him of providing the UDA with ammunition and weapons. Clifford Davison, left Northern Ireland more than 20 years ago and is a successful and respected businessman but he has opted to speak out to deny the allegations of “illegal arms dealings” and to stress that the UDA was a legal organisation at that time. The 1973 military intelligence document, entitled ‘Subversion in the UDR’, estimated that five to 15 per cent of UDR soldiers were linked to loyalists and said the regiment was the ‘best single source’ of weapons for loyalist groups.
In a series of special reports The Irish News published the document, together with files showing how this information – and concerns over elements of the police – was passed to Margaret Thatcher. For legal reasons an element of the ‘subversion’ document could not be reported at the time. It discussed how UDR commanders briefed on the loyalist connections of some soldiers refused to act, offering the example of one UDR member, regarded by his superior as a ‘model soldier’.
The document recorded how the soldier was also:
• deputy chairman of a district council
• ‘OC’ of Ballymena UDA
• had passed ammunition to the UDA
• and was suspected of selling guns to the UDA.
While the individual was not named, The Irish News has established that Clifford Davison is the soldier referred to in the military intelligence file. In an exclusive interview he flatly denies the allegations of providing guns and ammunition to loyalists but confirms he was deputy mayor of Ballymena and a UDR lance corporal in the 1970s, while also acting as ‘officer commanding’ of the Ballymena UDA.
Mr Davison says his UDR commanders were aware of his loyalist links but that having served a year in the regiment he was suddenly asked to leave. He says he was never given an explanation but now believes his superiors may have acted after he was identified in the ‘subversion’ document. Significantly, he says that he was never questioned on the allegation that he sold guns to loyalists and he reveals how within months of his UDR dismissal he joined the RUC, serving as a reserve constable for five years.
The UDA was a legal organisation at the time but was feared by Catholics and was responsible for paramilitary violence including murder. Mr Davison insists he was involved in no illegal activity whatsoever and attributes his membership of the UDA to the political turmoil of the period. He details his years of public service and his charitable fundraising. While insisting he is guilty of no crime, he addresses nationalist concerns that at the height of the Troubles, men with loyalist links were able to secure a role in the security forces.
POLITICIANS SEAMLESS MOVE FROM THE UDA TO UDR TO RUC
After official files linked loyalists to security forces one man identified by the documents tells how he moved from the loyalist UDA, to the British army and then the RUC....... The ‘Subversion in the UDR’ document paints a picture of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalists but equally revealing is the official reaction to this revelation. Letters accompanying the document see a senior Ministry of Defence official write: “I wish I could say that its contents come as a surprise but I am afraid they do not.”
When The Irish News initially revealed the contents of the ‘Subversion’ document, one section was withheld for legal reasons. In it, the report’s authors comment on the ease with which unionism, loyalism and the security forces can overlap in Northern Ireland. “In many areas where officers and men have known each other all their lives through church or social or Orange Order activities, membership of a Protestant para-military group might not be considered at all unusual or worth reporting to higher authority,” the report states. “At least some UDR battalion commanders appear to be concerned at this problem. Some members of the UDR, who also belong to subversive groups, undoubtedly lead ‘double lives’ and even with the aid of intelligence it is occasionally difficult to persuade a CO that one of his men is a risk. “Indicative, but not typical, is the case of a member of 1 [one] UDR, apparently a good citizen, the Deputy Chairman of a District Council, who had the following traces:
a. Subject was OC of Ballymena UDA
b. Subject had obtained ammunition for the UDA
c. Subject was suspected of illegal arms dealings, and of acquiring an SLR [semi-automatic rifle] and an SMG [sub-machine gun] in Scotland, and of selling them to the UDA.
“He was however described by his CO as ‘a model soldier’.” The Irish News has now established that the politician in question is Clifford Davison. Born in 1945, he became a well known architect in Ballymena and joined the town’s Rural District Council in 1967. After the reorganisation of local government in 1973, he stood as an independent candidate and became deputy mayor of Ballymena District Council. More than 20 years ago he left Northern Ireland to run a nursing home in Scotland. A highly respected figure, married with three grown-up children, he has cycled around Britain and Ireland raising money for charity.
But after being identified in the ‘subversion’ document, he is now revisiting his security force role during the Troubles and addressing allegations that while he was deputy mayor and a UDR soldier, he was also ‘Officer Commanding’ (OC) of the UDA in Ballymena – supplying them with ammunition and weapons. Two of those statements are completely untrue. “Never did I import anything from anywhere or was I involved in [dealing arms or ammunition],” he says. “No, that’s not true... I wouldn’t even know how to go to Scotland to buy arms, I wouldn’t even know who to speak to. It’s amazing.” He confirms that in the 1970s he was in the UDA for two years and for approximately half that period was the group’s OC in Ballymena.
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was not declared illegal until 1991/92, by which time it was the largest paramilitary group in the north and was responsible for 350 killings. It was established in Belfast in 1971 to oppose the nationalist clamour for political reform and to mobilise loyalists against the IRA. Official records estimate that within a year it had “up to 6,000 members and 15,000 supporters” and was associated with mass intimidation and violence. Mr Davison remembers the UDA in Ballymena as a loose organisation involved in low-level activity. Recalling his decision to join it, he says: “I think at that stage the country was in a problem and perhaps the official bodies might not be able to resolve the situation. “The country was in crisis so people felt they had to do something and there was nothing I could do that I thought was right, except do this. “But then when the opportunity came along to serve in a formal situation like the UDR, that might help to resolve the problem, I took that opportunity, realising the direction that the UDA was going was perhaps not the right one. “When I joined in the early stages it was really an unofficial organisation, there was no formal structure nothing like what it developed into 10 years later. And I was out before that happened.”
The Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974 brought down the Sunning-dale agreement with the help of the UDA – destroying the principles of power-sharing later revived in the Good Friday Agreement. In Ballymena, he says of the UDA: “They supported the workers strike. And on two or three occasions we isolated some areas [as a] demonstration against direct rule, as happened all throughout Northern Ireland. We were not involved in anything illegal.” He says the group never carried arms during this period and he explains that he came to lead the grouping as an accident of his standing in the community. “Well, let’s put it this way, if I’m involved in something then I’m involved. I work hard for that organisation and at that time it was not an illegal organisation, we were not involved in anything against the law, apart from creating barricades and sealing parts of the town off.” He adds: “I was in the UDA when I joined the UDR, I was only in the UDR a short period when I had a conversation with the senior officers and I decided the UDA were not for me and the UDR was.”
He describes this encounter as an “informal discussion”, adding: “They knew at that stage I was a member of the UDA. I mean I think it was pretty obvious because most of the community knew. I don’t think it was a secret because it wasn’t an illegal organisation.” But he says that when a new UDR commander arrived, “I was asked to a meeting to inform me that my services were no longer required”. “I was really annoyed, because I know I had already been promoted and I was in line for further promotion,” he says. His UDR career was ended without explanation after a year of service but between six and nine months later he joined the RUC. “I left it for a little while because I was so annoyed, then I made an approach to the RUC and I said would I be accepted to serve as RUC, knowing that I had been dismissed from the UDR. They came back and said not a problem.” He adds: “If there had been any questions of me gun-running from Scotland I certainly would not have been made a member of the RUC.”
But were the RUC aware of his UDA connections?
“Of course they were [but] I had no connection at that stage, that was all severed.” He said his UDA-past was dealt with in an “informal discussion” before he “signed on the dotted line” and started a five-year period in the RUC reserve in Ballymena. He confirms that at no point was he questioned by the UDR or the police about the allegations that military intelligence had made against him. He says he, therefore, missed the chance to counteract “false information”. But the episode also raises questions of the security forces – why did they suspect one of their men of such a crime yet never question him?
In May 1974 a loyalist gang touring the greater Ballymena area shot dead Catholic brothers Sean and Brendan Byrne at their bar outside the town, which had remained open despite the strike. Witnesses blamed around 30 drunken and hooded UVF and UDA men who were seen in two minibuses. Mr Davison had no part in the event but remembers the tragedy. “My memories of that were it was UVF, nothing to do with UDA Ballymena. It seemed to be a freelance group of UVF people who were touring the countryside. “These people suddenly appeared. They just seemed to be on a rampage.” He recalls how tragedy touched members of the security forces.
John Lamont was a fellow member of the RUC Reserve in Ballymena when he was shot dead by an IRA gunman as he carried out a midnight patrol in the town. “Here was a man trying to do his duty to keep law and order, walking down the street and all of a sudden his life was taken.” He had also known constable Robert Millar, who along with constable Samuel Donaldson, was killed in an IRA booby-trap in 1970. They were the first RUC officers to be killed by the IRA.
Throughout the 1970s he says he was motivated by a desire to defend Northern Ireland, adding: “Well I felt the country needed help and indeed I can tell you on the first occasion that the army moved into Derry I actually rang the local police station and asked was there anything I could do to help. “I just felt that was my duty. My country was in a state of collapse and I just felt that it was my duty. For the same reasons as I joined the RUC.” But what would he say to nationalists who feared such an easy progression from loyalist street politics to the mainstream security forces? “I would say basically the rule of law had broken down and at that time I was in support of whatever rules of law there were. Now if that happened to be against what the nationalist community saw, well then so be it but that was the rule of law.”
But the UDA set out to challenge the state and its reform plans?
“I think the majority of people in Northern Ireland at that time felt that way. Otherwise the Workers Strike wouldn’t have succeeded.”
Did he think Catholics in Ballymena feared the UDA?
“No more than any Protestant living in a republican area would be in fear.”
During 10 years in local government Mr Davison was an independent councillor who served on the governing body of a Catholic school. He knew DUP leader Ian Paisley through constituency work but says they never discussed politics. Looking back on the 1970s, Mr Davison says he is “as shocked as anyone” that the charges of arms selling were never put to him but he doubts whether his UDA link should ever have been an issue. “I would say that the majority of people who may have been UDA supporters, perhaps members as well, saw the only legal way they could contribute was to join the UDR. For what other purpose would they do it?” he asks. He challenges nationalists who raise UDA concerns: “Very well known republican sympathisers, have actually served in government.
“How does the Protestant side reconcile that? People who, it has been claimed, have actually committed murder – and now they are in government? I mean is that right?” He adds: “It’s very difficult for some people to sit round a table knowing somebody sitting on the other side has been responsible for horrendous crimes. Very difficult.”
Mr Davison confirms he is referring to Sinn Fein leaders such as Martin McGuinness, with confirmed IRA links, and says he has concerns over the Good Friday Agreement. “I would hope that maybe as we get older and a new generation comes forward, that people can be identified who have not been involved in criminal activity and those things can be behind us.”
But what of nationalists concerned that it was possible to move from the loyalist UDA, to the UDR and then the police? “That may be their opinion but we see it in the situation that the current governing body for Northern Ireland is the UK government and that is the legal and constitutional position. Now can I be criticised for supporting the current legal situation?”
Mr Davison has rejected all allegations of criminal activity levelled against him in the ‘subversion’ document. But his experience has confirmed one of the document’s central themes – that at the height of the Troubles it was all too easy to move from the ranks of loyalism into the ranks of the army and police.