UDR came to be seen as carbon copy of Protestant-only B-Specials

THE discredited 'B Specials', an exclusively Protestant part-time police reserve, was abolished in 1969 following its role in the violence of that watershed year. In 1970 the Ulster Defence Regiment was formed to replace it and would become the largest regiment in the British army. The UDR was to recruit solely in Northern Ireland but came under Ministry of Defence control and sought to attract Protestants and Catholics.

Unionists lamented the passing of the B Specials but nationalists came to see the UDR as a carbon copy. Nevertheless, around 18 per cent of initial recruits were Catholic. However, the 'Subversion' document in today's Irish News confirms that membership "continually declined" and in August 1973 was "just under four per cent".

The UDR started with 4,000 soldiers but grew to 6,300, with half serving as part-time members. The regiment became a favoured target of the IRA, which helped to drive down Catholic numbers. Republicans killed 197 serving UDR members and 60 former members - a death toll that Protestants viewed as a sectarian attack on their community. Unionists blamed UDR wrongdoing on a few "bad apples" but that argument withered in the face of a catalogue of sectarian incidents - including murder. Complete figures for criminal activity by UDR members were never disclosed but by 1991 it was admitted that 17 were convicted for murder.

Nationalists said it was the tip of an iceberg, claiming offenders simply left the regiment before appearing in court, while collusion with loyalists accounted for an unknown number of illegal acts. In 1990, after large amounts of security files were passed to loyalists, John Stevens, who later headed the Metropolitan Police, launched the first of three inquiries into security force collusion with loyalists. As with the Stalker/Sampson inquiries investigating the RUC in the 1980s, his findings were not made public. Ten members of the UDR were charged as a result of the probe, while the regiment is believed to have come in for serious criticism in his report.

On July 1 1991 the Queen visited Northern Ireland after a 14-year absence, and performed the ceremonial 'presenting of colours' to the UDR. Later that month it was confirmed the UDR was to merge with the Royal Irish Rangers, a regiment with a 300-year-old Irish connection. The head of the British army in Northern Ireland conceded the UDR had a "perception problem", and declared the new 'Royal Irish Regiment' a sea-change. The army said the UDR was 96 per cent Protestant but 30 per cent of the Royal Irish Rangers were Catholic, many drawn from the Republic. Four months later, however, it admitted that it had made an error, confirming that only six per cent of the Royal Irish Rangers were Catholic.

Unionist MP David Trimble later revealed that only 83 of the 1,413 Rangers came from the south and he objected to the use of the word 'Irish' in the new title: 'Ulster' was more appropriate. He estimated that one per cent of the new regiment would be Catholic. IRA attacks on the UDR continued against the new 'RIR' with the same ruthlessness, killing seven soldiers. In addition to this, revelations linking RIR soldiers to loyalists ended any hopes of a new beginning.

In August 2005 the British army announced there was no longer a military requirement for RIR battalions in the north, confirming their disbandment. The 3,000 troops involved will have access to a £250 million redundancy package.