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

Visiting card for Long Kesh

This is a visiting permit for HM Prison, Maze (Long Kesh), signed by the prison governor, Robert Truesdale allowing Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Stanley Orme and Donald Concannon, Ministers of State, to visit Gusty Spense, UVF leader, on 12 July 1975.
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NAI, Department of Foreign Affairs, 2003/17/406, Extract from Report of the ECHR: Ireland v UK, 25 January 1976

A deliberate decision was taken by the RUC, the British Army and politicians to present the bombing of McGurk's Bar, Belfast on 4 December 1971 as an IRA 'own goal' despite reliable evidence, both eyewitness and forensic, to the contrary in the immediate aftermath. It is an entirely credible proposition that the disinformation campaign that emerged in the aftermath of...
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CJ4-1919 - First page of notes from meeting between Minister of State Stan Orme with UVF leaders on 15 May 1974

The meeting of Stan Orme with UVF leaders on 15 May was just one of several that took place between the NIO and UVF during the month of May 1974. This particular meeting took place as the UVF was being de-proscribed and made a legal organisation. Orme informed the delegation that the order had been taken through the House of...
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FCO87-1207 - Telegram to FCO from Sir Leonard Figg, British Ambassador to Dublin, re proscription of the UDA, 2 February 1982

In this telegram, Figg reported Irish media reactions to Andy Tyrie's statement that the UDA was a counter-terrorist organisation that would be prepared to pursue terrorists across the border. He was clearly anxious that Tyrie's statement had, once again, put UDA proscription on the political agenda.
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CJ4-830 - Memo to Bill Webster from James Allan, 14-05-1975

1975 was the year of the second IRA ceasefire when sectarian murders of Catholics was very much on the increase. Allan was worried about the alienation of the Catholic community, the rise of international pressure and the sensitivities of the Irish Government and the Vatican. He noted that 'the Catholic population (and indeed some Protestants) believe that there must be...
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