'One man's collusion, another man's anti-terrorism activity'

Documents showing the British government was aware of large scale collusion between security forces and loyalists from as early as 1973 were written by officials who “did not know what they were talking about”, a leading Ulster Unionist has claimed.

Ken Maginnis, now Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, a founder member of the UDR and former company major in the regiment, dismissed the documents, insisting military intelligence officers were “fishing in the dark” and that leading British politicians of the time were out of touch. His claims have led a nationalist counterpart to claim unionists were ‘burying their heads in the sand’. The dispute centres on three sets of official files revealed in The Irish News:

- a report from 1973, stamped ‘secret’ and entitled ‘Subversion in the UDR’, saw military intelligence officers estimate that five to 15 per cent of UDR members were linked to loyalists, and that the regiment was the “best single source of weapons” for loyalists
- separate documents showed how nationalist MPs who asked questions at the time were not told of the evidence of collusion
- finally, a memo from 1975 showed Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Northern

Ireland Secretary of State Merlyn Rees brief Margaret Thatcher on how “elements of the police” were linked to the UVF, and describing the UDR as “heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants”. Mr Maginnis dismissed the documents. “The guys who came over here and who were responsible for intelligence, and I worked with some of them in the early 1970s, if they had been good, the IRA would never have got off the ground,” he said. “These are guys who fished in the dark, so I would place remarkably little dependability on their assessment, because they simply did not know what they were talking about. “As far as the UDR was concerned, by and large, the UDR were decent people who paid a very high price for their desire to maintain law and order.”

The UDR had 197 members and 60 former members killed by republicans during the troubles, while many others were injured. Mr Maginnis answered the concerns over collusion among the regiment, saying: “It’s not as simple as ‘was there collusion?’. One of the problems is that one man’s collusion is another man’s anti-terrorist activity. “And if you take a place like Northern Ireland in the early seventies and a great number of murders going on, it was very difficult to keep a tab on who was doing what, when a conversation was, or was not, conspiracy.” He insisted there was “no wholesale surrender of weapons to loyalists” and said “the real killing machine was the provisional IRA”.

Lord Maginnis, left, said of the Downing Street link in the documents: “How many times was Harold Wilson in Northern Ireland? He was the guy who talked about the people of Northern Ireland as spongers. I didn’t value his judgment greatly. “Merlyn was a well intentioned fellow but at the same time he was not somebody who had any knowledge of counter-terrorism.” He added: “What I would say to nationalists is that if they are going to give credibility to these documents, then they must give credibility to those who arranged who would be interned at that time. They must either think both were not credible or both were credible.”

At the beginning of the ‘Subversion in the UDR’ document its authors record that their report was based on contacts with UDR headquarters, army intelligence, personnel files, weapons loss reports, intelligence reports, and visits to UDR battalions. Sinn Fein has said the revelations confirmed longheld republican beliefs on the scale of collusion. Alban Maginness of the SDLP, above left, said: “I think I, like many people in the nationalist community, long suspected a degree of collusion between the UDR and loyalists paramilitaries.

“But I think when one is confronted with the cold analytical facts of military documentation more or less confirming that this was in fact true, and was on an organised basis over a prolonged period, I think in those circumstances I do think you do become quite shocked. “I think the unionist reaction is one of denial. I think that it’s very unhelpful for them simply to bury their head in the sand. “I think a much healthier approach would be for them to face up to the historic facts, analyse them carefully and try to explain how this all happened. Because it did happen.”