Prisoners of Conscience

I had intended that this piece would be an examination of how the political centre, namely the UUP and the SDLP, seem to understand, or at least seek to understand, physical force Loyalism far more, and far better, than the extreme Liberal fringe, epitomised by the Alliance Party and the Green Party.

I had intended to clearly demonstrate that the DUP does not, and has never at any time, clearly understood or sought to understand the driving forces which motivate militant Loyalism. However, as I began to think about this piece, I began to realise that it was always going to go in a very different direction.

For in the process of considering those themes, I was (reluctantly) forced to re-examine the War which was wasn’t a War, the role of Loyalists within that conflict and, on a more personal level, my own role in it and the pseudo war which has been fought since.

A re-examination of my own conscience which has neither been easy nor comfortable but which, on reflection, has been a long time coming. Not that I shall be making public much, if any, of that ‘soul searching’, but I will examine the outlines of the thought processes which were involved in my own introspection.

I sincerely hope that this piece will serve some purpose and that, at least, some of those who were most deeply impacted by the ‘Troubles’, both victims and participants alike, will derive something from it, however small.

Crossing the Rubicon

I will begin by stating something which I feel should be obvious to anyone seeking to understand the Ulster conflict; i.e. that within the working class communities of Northern Ireland, on both sides of the divide, violence is not, and was not, viewed as intrinsically evil or immoral. Both communities had men made notorious for being “street toughs”, both communities believed firmly in corporal punishment, and both ‘sides’ very firmly believed in the biblical concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, even before the advent of the 2nd ‘Troubles’ in 1969.

The idea must seem utterly foreign to the contemporary middle classes. Indeed, it may seem somewhat odd even to the younger members of some working class communities, but it is the fundamental starting point of this analysis. Violence, in one form or another, was part of our lives from a very early age. It is unsurprising then that when NICRA provoked the crises of the late 1960’s, that violent interaction between the two opposing factions would soon follow. The only real surprise was the level of violence which was to follow.

It is a truism that violence begets violence but it is worth bearing in mind. Once one rubicon had been crossed, it became easier to cross another and another. No tactic became ‘off limits’, nothing became unjustifiable. The two communities became ever more polarised and ever more entrenched in their respective positions. Good men did bad things and bad men did even worse.

Loyalist barricade, Belfast circa 1972

Ordinary killers

It is my personal opinion that some men are indeed “natural born killers”. As far back as Socrates and Plato it was postulated that some men felt driven to kill; that some men subconsciously saw in the act of killing, a sort of natural counterpart to the act of giving birth, which of course men cannot do under any circumstances. This theory of “birthing envy” is an intriguing one and one which is deserving of far more attention.

For every born killer however there are many, many more who are driven to kill. Driven to kill by rage, by circumstances, by a need for revenge, or, as incredible as it may seem, by fear. It is these men, those driven to kill, that constitute the vast majority of the killers, the gunmen and the bombers, of the Ulster conflict, and it is these men (and women) who would go on to perpetuate the violence, not for their own gain, not for their own twisted pleasure or some sense of divine purpose, but for reasons which will seem utterly alien and incomprehensible to those detached from the War, by distance, by time or by virtue of social class.

I recognise, as I have always recognised, that there were those on both sides who were not motivated by soaring rhetoric, or by idealism, but were driven instead by their own psychosis. By a deep seated, guttural and irrational hatred which moved such people to commit the most heinous and barbaric atrocities. Things indefensible and unconscionable.

What, in the process of my own individual reflection, I am forced to acknowledge now, perhaps for the first time, is that there were men and women “amongst the ranks of the enemy” who were people of integrity and of undoubted courage. Such people, whom in my opinion were motivated by an acutely skewed reading of history and who had scant regard for democracy, were nevertheless, decent people with real concerns, real grievances and genuine aspirations, however far those aspirations were from my own.

Prisoners of history

It is an undeniable truth of history that a war between two nations, separated by great distance, or even between two neighbouring states, is invariably less bitter, less savage and less brutal than a war between two peoples who share the same piece of territory. When one also factors in the long and complex history of Ulster, then it is unsurprising that the ‘Troubles’ turned out to be one of the most dirty wars ever fought in Europe.

It is also unsurprising that we have become prisoners of history. Prisoners of our own times. We will never be set free. For us, every generation born into the conflict, it is already too late. Our lives have been irrevocably altered by the war we were born into. The ‘Troubles’ are a millstone around our necks from which we will never be unfettered. We deserve sympathy that we will never receive. We deserve a respite which will never come. However, we can, and must, tell our story. We have a burden of responsibility to the younger generations to ensure that we never again slide headlong into a situation in which ordinary people are forced to become killers, ‘intelligence officers’, bomb makers, gun runners and ‘spotters’.

I genuinely fear that we will not be up to the task. There is too much malice, too much distrust and animosity on both sides. If the generation that fought the Second World War are remembered as “the greatest generation”, then perhaps those 3 generations or so who fought the ‘Dirty War’, might well be remembered as the worst generations. One generation who began a war they could not possibly win (and that applies to both sides), one generation who continued that war because they had no idea how to stop it, and one generation who continued it because they could not imagine life any other way.

Looking inward

We should nevertheless tell our stories. Although it would be infinitely more helpful if we, ‘the worst generations’, were to explain to our young people that we were motivated far more by what we thought was going on, rather than perhaps what was really happening. Suspending, as it were, the historical narrative as we understand it and instead relaying the personal narrative.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1994 CLMC ceasefire, militant Loyalism underwent a period of deep introspection. Such a period of introspection is once again required, and this time Irish republicans must include themselves, if indeed there is any real desire from that quarter for real reconciliation (which I, personally, very much doubt). Those who participated in the Conflict must also free themselves from the constraints of moral recrimination; that is, we must abandon objective moralism and, taking into account the circumstances of the times, must not be afraid to see ourselves as sometimes having been the villians, those who were clearly in the wrong, if only on certain occasions or in certain situations.

We must share the responsibility of maintaining good government” – John McMichael

Unlike Irish republicanism, Loyalism does not need to portray itself as whiter than white. True patriotism is not tarnished by the occasional uncomfortable truth. We are, along with every other Briton, the inheritors of the legacy of the British Empire. We recognise the moral ambivalence of that situation. That is perhaps why Loyalists have no fear of a critical analysis of the past and of their role therein.

Where to now?

What Northern Ireland needs now is for republicans to engage in the same kind of soul searching. To admit the immorality of at least some of their actions and, furthermore, to admit freely that the motivation for many of their actions was, at the very, very least questionable. What we also need is for the ‘3rd party’, the extreme Liberal fringe, to end their illegitimate occupation of the moral high ground and recognise, if they are capable of doing so, that there are those in Ulster who do not share their pacifistic and utopian ideals.

In particular I would appeal to the members and supporters of the Alliance Party, Green Party etc to stop the politics of wishful thinking and to acknowledge the very real and very deep divisions within NI society. To stop the utterly ineffectual lecturing of the working class Loyalist community, especially in Belfast. As I, and others within Loyalism, have stated repeatedly since 1998, peace and reconciliation cannot be imposed from the top down but must instead be built from the ground up. Indeed, my own opposition to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ stemmed primarily from my view that the Belfast Agreement was the very epitome of a ‘top down’ peace. Something that we, all the people of Northern Ireland, have a chance, however slim, to change.

Such change is however very unlikely unless or until all parties to the Conflict have the courage to admit our own past failings, recognise our common humanity (which applies even to those who have committed violent acts), fully recognise the intolerable hurt of innocent victims and resolve to never again allow our communities to be held to ransom by our inescapable past. In short, any real and just peace can only be achieved once we, the very people who, one way or another, created the Conflict, have all admitted that we are prisoners of conscience and that that is what we will always be.

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Do Not Become That Which You Despise

We have written much, mainly on social media, about the dehumanising rhetoric of Irish republicanism. About how republicans have carefully crafted a malignant stereotype of the Loyalist and wider Unionist community in Northern Ireland, reducing an entire people down to a grotesque caricature. That pernicious and nakedly sectarian narrative has now become so deeply entrenched within the republican and so-called ‘nationalist’ community that it is now almost ubiquitous. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find any Irish republicans, at least any under the age of 50, who are not firmly convinced that the ‘PUL’ community are a shambling, Ill-educated, ignorant and backwards people, obsessed with flags and marching.

“Dehumanisation is a first step towards genocide

The stereotype was carefully constructed and like all stereotypes it has, at it’s core, some kernel of validity. Irish republicans have, however, taken every negative aspect, every questionable facet, of the Loyalist/Unionist community and exaggerated them, twisted them beyond all recognition, creating a kind of Frankenstein’s monster from the rotten pieces of a cadaver that has never really existed.

The Twilight of the ‘Superprods’

Loyalism could stoop to the same odious, contemptible depths as republicanism, that however, would be both morally and politically wrong. In the 1980’s and 90’s Loyalist leaders, especially within the Ulster Democratic Party (and its predecessor, the NUPRG), worked tirelessly to eradicate the kind of narrow sectarian attitude which had existed within certain elements of Loyalism in the 1970’s, the sort of retrograde attitude typified by Paisley and the various ‘movements’ and ‘forces’ he and his fellow travellers headed from the mid 60’s onwards.

The ‘superprod’ segment of Loyalism, which was already very much a fringe element, was well and truly marginalised. Policy documents such as Beyond the Religious Divide (1979) and Common Sense (1987), made it abundantly clear that there was no room, at least within the Ulster Defence Association and its satellite groups, for the sort of lazy sectarianism purveyed by the ‘superprods’.

Common Sense; the brainchild of John McMichael

That is not a denial of the, sometimes overtly, sectarian actions of the UDA/UFF. It must be remembered however that “two eyes for an eye” was a military tactic. A brutal and callous tactic but one that nevertheless proved effective in the long term. The dual strategy of targeting republican activists and those who afforded them logistical, financial and moral support ultimately forced PIRA/Sinn Fein to the negotiating table, no longer able to ignore the pressure being exerted upon their movement and the community which provided the support and backup necessary to sustain their terrorist campaign.

Comparison of Ideology

Loyalism cannot be allowed to go backward. We cannot, and will not, stoop to the level of our opponents. We must recognise the humanity of our enemies. We must not allow ourselves to cultivate ignorant and dehumanising stereotypes about the Irish republican community, even though that is precisely what republicans have done in regards to our community. Loyalism is not a corrosive ideology, it is not seditious or insurgent. Loyalism does not have to dehumanise others.

At its core Ulster Loyalism is about reforming and maintaining the state and it’s institutions, Irish republicanism is about subversion, insurrection and the overthrow of the state. Rather than alienating and ‘othering’ people, Loyalism will profit infinitely more through inclusion and respect. At the very least we must remember that our opponents, even those who were formerly engaged in terrorism and those who act as apologists for that violence, are still human beings with genuine aspirations and fears and concerns. We are not Nazis, Communists or Irish republicans. We must retain the dignity, the core values and the integrity of our ideology. To do otherwise would be to betray the legacy of McMichael, Barr, Smallwoods et al.

Fight the Stereotype

The toxic narrative of Irish republicanism will never be challenged from within. The cult of violent failure allows for little in the way of dissent. Therefore it is incumbent upon Loyalists to undermine and destroy the malignant, repulsive myths spun by Irish republicans about our community and to challenge the stereotypes so carefully constructed about us.

Irish republicanism; the politics of violent failure

Challenge those who purvey these pernicious lies. Dispel their hateful mythos but do not lower yourself to their level. Conduct yourself with self respect and dignity. Never forget that you, as a Loyalist, seek to maintain and to protect, whereas those who oppose us seek to destroy, subvert, undermine and usurp. Remind yourself that Irish republicanism has been trying, and miserably failing, to attain its nefarious objectives for over 100 years and that for 98 years they have tried to destroy the state of Northern Ireland. Without success.

Perhaps such abject and abysmal failure is a motivating factor in the republican movements efforts to dehumanise and degrade the Loyalist and wider Unionist community. Perhaps it is a side effect of the cognitive dissonance caused by constantly being told that they are, at the same time, both a race of “gaelic supermen” and the world’s most victimised, oppressed and downtrodden people. Whatever is behind it, their wretched narrative will be demolished. It is a weapon which Loyalists can, and should, use against them.

Rebalancing Legacy- the Irish republican perspective

The “Legacy Battle”

Recently the Loyalist and wider Unionist community have been campaigning to bring some semblance of balance to the issue of the legacy of ‘The Troubles’. Loyalists and Unionists assert that Irish republicans/Irish supremacists have been busily engaged in a coordinated and concentrated effort to rewrite the history of the Ulster conflict- whitewashing Irish republican war-crimes, airbrushing out any reference to collusion between republican murder gangs and outside agencies, and generally trying to minimise the brutality and cruelty of Irish republican criminal gangs, especially PIRA/Sinn Fein.

Irish republicans strenuously deny any kind of historical revisionism or rewriting of history. That is a blatant and bare-faced lie, which this blog post and several more will prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

We will be using tweets, sent by Irish supremacists, to illustrate how these individuals a) are indeed attempting to rewrite the history of ‘The Troubles’, and b) that for reasons which will become clear at a later date, all of these individuals seem to be “singing from the same hymn sheet”. We had considered redacting the Twitter usernames of those whose tweets we will publish, however, these tweets were posted on a public forum and those responsible for authoring them should have no problem with them being seen on another public forum.

The ‘Examples’

The following are but a tiny fraction of some of the screenshots that we have taken over the past 5 weeks or so. They will prove ample illustration of the sort of attitudes held by Irish republicans and their peculiar, warped view of the history of Northern Ireland and, more specifically, the internecine conflict which ravaged our country between 1969 and the mid 1990’s.

You will no doubt notice the similarities in these tweets and in the type of Twitter user (or “bot”) that posted them. Enjoy and try not injure yourself laughing!

This is just a small snapshot, more will be posted soon. We believe that this is ample evidence, not only of the sheer bigotry, sectarianism and anti-British racism of Irish republican extremists, but also of their pathetic attempts to rewrite the history of Northern Ireland.

Who Armed the Provos? Dublin, Monaghan & the ‘Civil Rights’ Connection

Ulster- 1969

On the 16th of August, while parts of Belfast burned, Paddy Kennedy, then a protégé of Gerry Fitt, travelled to Dublin accompanied by fellow Stormont MP’s Paddy Devlin and Paddy O’Hanlon. They crossed the border looking for guns: making an impassioned appeal at a public meeting outside the GPO on O’Connell Street, and in private to officials in the Department of External Affairs. The crowd outside the GPO was sympathetic but largely unable to help. Later, the three were roundly rebuffed at Iveagh House. If these official channels proved uncooperative, however, other ‘official channels’ were more forthcoming.

It was through conversations with Paddy Kennedy that a certain John Devine first became aware of the importation and distribution of arms and ammunition to Irish nationalists and the role being played by certain Irish government minsters in facilitating this. Using information gleaned from Kennedy and others, including Paddy Devlin, Gerry Fitt and sources in the press, Devine began to piece together a remarkably detailed picture of covert operations that were ongoing across Ulster. Clearly a great deal of work went into compiling the document and checking the veracity of its claims. Devine stated:

Much of the information which follows has been checked out by me, and found to be fairly accurate. What is contained, unchecked, is passed on because it comes from what are described as “usually reliable” sources.”

The information that emerged subsequently- through the so-called “arms trials”, the investigation by the public accounts committee, Peter Berry’s diaries (published in ‘Magill’ magazine in 1980) and the numerous other exposés on the subject- have clearly demonstrated that the information contained in the memorandum were indeed remarkably accurate in every respect.

An early PIRA recruitment poster; Note how well armed the Provo gang in the above image is, just months after the formation of that organisation. How many of the Provo’s guns were gifted to them by the Irish state?

John Devine’s Investigation

Devine began by noting that since the publication of the Cameron report on the 12th of September, 1969, a great deal of media attention had been given to- “The influence of Left-Wing elements in the Civil Rights agitation in the North. While our attention has been diverted in that direction, certain other forces have been at work, and are working

He continued- “Since the recent major outbreaks of trouble an “agent” of Messrs. Haughey, Blaney and Boland, has been conducting military intelligence gathering on trips behind the barricades. Contacts are being built up and ammunition, arms and money have already been distributed…..the contacts are among the republican element in the North, who have more or less broken with the Dublin HQ of the IRA [those who would soon become known as the Provisional IRA], principally because this “agent” can deliver what the IRA cannot. The IRA is highly worried and indignant at the influence which these Fianna Fáil people are having among Northern republicans, the possibility of retaliation is likely from the Dublin end. Fianna Fáil have now established a chain of links from Belfast to Derry, including places like Dungannon, Newry, Armagh, Coalisland, Omagh and in other places where their sphere of contacts up to now has been negligible. Their aid is being accepted

The ‘Civil Rights’ Connection

Devine’s report went on to note that an office had been set up in Monaghan town, with the approval of the named ministers, from which the ‘Monaghan Civil Rights office‘ of NICRA (the so-called ‘Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’) operated. Among those activities was the production of Irish republican propaganda, including the pamphlet ‘Terror in Northern Ireland‘ (written by the journalist and arch-republican Séamus Brady, who was close to Blaney), which Paddy Devlin had distributed in London. The ‘Monaghan Office‘ also organised public demonstrations such as the meeting outside the GPO in Dublin on the 27th of September, 1969.

Paddy Kennedy MP, Republican-Labour

At that meeting, speakers called for donations to be made to the ‘Monaghan Civil Rights Group‘, and Paddy Kennedy (‘Republican Labour’ MP for Belfast Central) had told the crowd that “I think you will know what I mean if I say that never again do we want an August 14th in my city“. Other speakers were much more explicit- one called for guns and explosives, with all donations to go to the ‘Civil Rights Group‘ in Monaghan, while another appealed for actual recruits, unequivocally stating that the “machine-guns and revolvers” bought with public donations would require able bodied men to fire them. John Devine’s report continued-

The activities directly attributable to the ‘Monaghan Office’ continue to expand. It is now clear that a large number of meetings have been organised, especially in the western counties [of Northern Ireland)], and are aimed purely at rising the spirit of republicanism”. On Friday next the first of a series of weekly propaganda newspapers [‘Voice of the North’] will be circulated and distributed in the North. The paper will be bitterly anti-Unionist. The committee of management involves some of those named on the ‘Monaghan Committee’; Blaney, Boland and Haughey’s agent, and others, also known to me. The paper will be printed in the ‘Anglo-Celt’, Cavan. Five or six vans, necessary for transporting the newspaper, have already been acquired. As well, plans are in hand for the setting up of a powerful mobile pirate radio . . . This also has cabinet backing“.

A Strange Conclusion

Having gathered and verified his information, which clearly implicated government ministers and agents of the state in the illegal importation of arms and the founding, organising and funding of a vicious terrorist grouping (the Provisional IRA) Devine was left in a terrible predicament. The Gardaí were aware of what was happening but there was no visible evidence that anything was being done to interfere, nor was it likely that anything would be done.

Knowing that the information was good but not legally publishable, Devine decided to pass the information to the one person he believed had the sophistication to deal with it in the appropriate manner: The Irish Labour Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman- Conor Cruise O’Brien. O’Brien held the appropriate portfolio, he was also sharp enough to appreciate what exactly was in the document and how to deal with it, introducing it into Dáil Éireann through supplementary questions or by other means. It would appear however that somebody had ‘gotten at’ O’Brien. A couple of weeks before he had been given the Devine’s report O’Brien’s play ‘King Herod‘ had opened at the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Later that month, O’Brien travelled to New York to meet a Broadway producer for discussions on the possibility of staging his latest theatrical effort. Before boarding his flight, he rang John Devine from a payphone in Dublin airport to tell him he was “going away“, and promptly boarded his flight and left. Devine believed that O’Brien would take action arising from his dossier when he returned, but strangely nothing ever happened.

Conor Cruise O’Brien
It is very difficult to comprehend how or why he failed to act on the intelligence provided to him, especially when it concerned his nemesis, Charles Haughey. We cannot know what, or who, stopped O’Brien from using the information given to him, neither can we be certain what would have happened had he used Devine’s information appropriately. What seems likely, however, is that, in the face of the accusations becoming public, Lynch would have been compelled to act sooner rather than later, and at the very least the “Arms Crisis” of the following year would have been averted. Perhaps some of the substantial aid given to the Provo murder gangs by the Irish government in 1970-71 would not have been given. How many deaths are directly attributable to the Irish government of that period who, in the final analysis, were responsible for organising, financing, arming and training the nascent Provisional IRA? Would the Ulster conflict have escalated to the nightmarish internecine war it became in 1972, ’73, ’74 and later?

Collusion is not an Illusion

Devine’s dossier is further evidence of the extent of collusion between the nascent Provisional IRA and the Irish government during the formative early years of the Provo’s existence. Without the money, banking facilities, arms, ammunition, safe houses and organisation provided to the PIRA murder gangs (and their immediate predecessors) by the Irish state in the years 1969-1972 (and almost certainly later), it is highly unlikely that the Provos could have sustained an effective campaign for more than 7 or 8 years. Of course, the unjustifiable slaughter of ‘Bloody Sunday’ gave the Provos not only an influx of new recruits but also an increase in support, both passive and active, within the community from which they first emerged. However, had the government of Éire not sponsored republican terrorism in Northern Ireland, ‘Bloody Sunday’ might never have happened. The outbreak of inter-ethnic violence which had erupted in the Summer of 1969 might well have petered out by the following Spring. Especially since most, if not all, of NICRA’s demands had been met by the NI government by early 1970.

Belfast, September 1969

At the time, and for many years since, a section of Loyalism and Unionism has maintained that, at least from 1968 onwards, the ‘Civil Rights’ movement had become a front for violent Irish nationalism. At one time I would have dismissed such claims, as most people did. Now however I am reasonably convinced that NICRA did indeed become a vehicle for Irish republican terrorists, acting in collusion with the Irish state. From early 1969, at the latest, NICRA, or a significant element thereof, had been thoroughly infiltrated by people who would go on to involve themselves in some of the most heinous, reprehensible, inhuman acts of violence ever committed.

Whilst researching this article I was put in touch with two gentlemen, now elderly, from the South L’derry area. Both are from a Unionist background and both had been involved in the ‘Civil Rights’movement, albeit briefly, in 1969. Their take on the events of that era was quite illuminating, as was the fact that both had turned their backs on Leftist protest politics by the beginning of 1970, so much so in fact that when I asked how they would describe themselves now, one man said- “I suppose I’d maybe call myself a TUV man now“. The other man declared unequivocally that since 1998 he would describe himself as a “Dissident Loyalist”. That is quite a turn around, even in 49 years, but it is perhaps unsurprising given the events, and the horrors, witnessed by the two men since 1969.

I will end this piece now with the words of one of those men (both of whom wish to remain anonymous) when I asked about his involvement in the ‘Civil Rights’ movement-

I saw injustice, not only among the Roman Catholic people but among Protestants too. Catholics in Derry lived in slum housing and there was gerrymandering as they called it as well. Protestants in Derry didn’t have it much better but there were things the government could have done and should have done. ‘One man one vote’ should have been brought in here [NI] when it was in England after the [Second World] War. Stormont did not listen, never did, and didn’t seem to care. Many more Protestants and Unionists would have come to support the Civil Rights Association but they [Irish republicans] couldn’t keep the gun out of it. They didn’t really want decent houses and a fair vote, they wanted to overthrow the very state and a lot of them just wanted to kill Protestants. They couldn’t keep the gun out of it. I soon saw what was happening, even though they [republicans] were wary of talking freely in ‘mixed company’, so to speak, it was blatantly obvious what was going to happen. I walked away from it. Four or five months was more than enough to see what way the wind was blowing.

Economic & Strategic Warfare; The UDA/UFF Bombing Campaign in Éire (Part 2)

The Campaign Continues-

On the 20th of January, 1973, Dublin was once again hit by a Loyalist bomb. Bus conductor Thomas Douglas (25) was killed and 17 people injured when a car bomb exploded in Sackville Place, off O’Connell Street. The car used in the bombing had been hijacked earlier at Agnes Street, Belfast. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but it was most likely the work of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who throughout 1973, would match the Provisional IRA almost bomb for bomb.

After the January bomb attack there was something of a lull in offensive operations against targets in the Irish Republic, as both the UFF and UVF concentrated on targets within Northern Ireland.

On the 17th of March, the North Antrim & L’derry Brigade of the UDA/UFF lost a courageous and dedicated young NCO, Sergeant Lindsay Mooney, who was only 19 years old. Sgt. Mooney, of ‘A’ company, 1st Battalion, was killed when the IED he was taking to its target exploded prematurely, outside ‘Kirk’s Bar’, at Cloughfinn, near Lifford in Co.Donegal.

Mural dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Lindsay Mooney- 1st Btn, A coy.

On the 28th of September, 1973, a UFF Active Service Unit from the Border Counties Brigade (which comprised battalions from Armagh, Fermanagh, South & West Tyrone), detonated a car bomb in the centre of Pettigo, Co.Donegal. Thirteen people were wounded. This would be the last bomb attack carried out against a target in Éire by the Ulster Freedom Fighters for some time.

The Dublin Airport Bombing

Despite some minor sabotage operations, including the destruction of two stone bridges in Co.Monaghan in late ’73, the placing of some small incendiary type devices etc, the Ulster Freedom Fighters concentrated on operations within Northern Ireland for most of 1973-74. The UWC strike, which had brought down the hated ‘Sunningdale Agreement’, had consumed much time and energy and the UDA/UFF had also been busy in other areas. Significant time and resources had been put into the establishment of small arms factories, often in garages and workshops in rural Ulster, producing home-made sub-machine guns, pistols and ammunition.

On the 29th of November, 1975, Dublin Airport was rocked by an explosion. A bomb exploded in the public toilets in the arrivals terminal. The explosion killed Aer Lingus employee, John Hayes (38), and injured nine others (some reports put the number of wounded at 12). The device was hidden in a toilet tissue dispenser and went off after Hayes washed his hands and was about to leave. The blast ripped through a wall into the public bar. The airport was evacuated and a second, larger device, was discovered and made safe.

The aftermath of the Dublin airport bombing 1975

The bombing of the airport was designed to damage Éire’s burgeoning tourist industry,and therefore damage the economy of that state. Although in a statement admitting responsibility the UFF said –

We are striking back against the Irish Republic in retaliation for the murders of members of the security forces by the Provisional IRA, operating unhindered from the safe-haven of the Irish Republic with the blessing of the Dublin government“.

Further evidence that the attack was intended to damage the Irish tourist industry came on the 20th of February, 1976, when a 40 lbs. bomb exploded inside the ‘Shelbourne Hotel’ in Dublin causing extensive damage. No fewer than eight incendiary bombs also exploded in department stores and shops in the Grafton Street and Henry Street areas.

On the 3rd of July, 1976, the UFF detonated bombs at four hotels across the Irish Republic. There were explosions in Dublin, Limerick, Rosslare, Co.Wexford and Killarney, Co.Kerry. Adequate warnings were given in all cases and there were no fatalities or serious injuries, although substantial damage was caused. Five days later another UFF bomb exploded at the rear of the ‘Salthill Hotel’, Salthill, Co.Galway. Again there were no fatalities.

UFF Policy Changes

Towards the end of 1976 the leadership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters decided to call a halt to offensive operations in Éire. Although the situation in Northern Ireland was still critical, it was decided that further attacks against targets south of the border may be counter-productive, at least for the time being.

As it transpired, the “bomber holiday” would last a few years. With increased security on the border and a growing realisation that bomb attacks in Éire which caused civilian casualties did nothing to enhance the Loyalist cause, and with increasing success by the Security Forces in combating Irish republican violence within Northern Ireland itself, “bombs across the border” were no longer part of UDA/UFF strategic planning.

The 90’s

With the exception of a handful of, largely symbolic attacks, against the offices of ‘An Phoblacht‘ in 1981, and against economic targets in the Irish Republic in the wake of the signing of the ‘Anglo-Irish Agreement‘ in 1986-87 for example, the Ulster Freedom Fighters did not mount any kind of sustained bombing offensive against targets in Éire until the 1990’s.

With the UFF resurgent in Northern Ireland (benefiting as it did from the removal of certain senior figures in the late 1980’s), it was only a matter of time before economic and strategic warfare against the Irish Republic resumed.

In February, 1991, two incendiary devices were left in a Dublin department store but failed to detonate. On the 10th of March, 1991, an incendiary device partially exploded in a clothing store in Dundalk, Co.Louth, but it caused only minimal damage.

On the 25th of May, 1991, a UFF Active Service Unit assassinated PIRA/SF supremo Eddie Fullerton at his home in Co.Donegal. The UFF unit crossed Lough Foyle in a collapsible dinghy before making their way to Fullerton’s home in Buncrana. The UFF said that they killed Fullerton, a Sinn Féin councillor and also (allegedly) the former O/C of the Provisional IRA in Donegal, because of his involvement in the murder of a Co.Tyrone man, who had been shot dead by a Provo murder gang near the Tyrone/Donegal border earlier in the year.

PIRA/SF “activist” Eddie Fullerton

During the night of the 27th/28th of July, 1991, seven UFF incendiary bombs exploded in shops across Dublin, causing significant damage. Three days later a further three firebombs exploded in premises in Letterkenny, Co.Donegal.

At the beginning of 1992, a number of letter bombs were intercepted at mail sorting offices in the Irish Republic. Most of the devices were inside hollowed out books and addressed to PIRA/Sinn Féin activists living in counties Dublin, Monaghan and Louth. On the 29th of March a Dublin shop was extensively damaged by an incendiary device. The UFF later claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the run up to Christmas, 1992, the UFF carried out eight firebomb attacks against commercial targets- four in Dublin and two each in Moville and Buncrana, Co.Donegal- over a 48 hour period, causing significant damage. On the 20th of December Gardai confirmed that a “powerful incendiary device” started a fire in city centre store. It’s believed the UFF were responsible.

On the 18th of September, 1993, On the day of the “All-Ireland hurling final”, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim responsibility for planting a bomb outside Store Street Garda station, Dublin. The Garda station’s phone lines were also cut during the attack. On Christmas eve, 24th of December, 1993, incendiary type devices were found at a school in Dundalk Co. Louth and at a postal sorting office in Dublin. The devices had not detonated. On the 24th of January, 1994, five more UFF incendiary devices were discovered in Dublin and in Co.Cavan. On the 8th of June, in what would prove to be the last UDA/UFF bomb attack in Éire before the CLMC ceasefire, a small incendiary device exploded at a snooker hall in Trim, Co.Meath, causing only superficial damage.

Armed UFF volunteers delivering an official statement- circa 1993

Epilogue

It is almost impossible to gauge how much the UDA/UFF bombing campaign against economic and strategic targets in Éire effected public opinion in that country, or impacted government policy. Unquestionably it was Loyalist bombs that forced the Irish government in 1972 to pass draconian anti-terror legislation and distance themselves from the Provo murder gangs that they, the Irish state, had helped to create, fund and arm.

Later on in the mid 1970’s, it was Loyalist bombs that forced the Dublin government to tighten up security on their side of the border, consequently making it somewhat more difficult for Irish nationalist terrorists to transport arms, explosives and personnel into Northern Ireland from their logistical bases in the Republic.

For those reasons alone the UDA/UFF bombing campaign in Éire, and the equally effective (although more deadly in terms of civilian casualties) campaign of the Ulster Volunteer Force, must be regarded as a strategic and militarily successful one. Whilst the Ulster Defence Association and later the Ulster Freedom Fighters did their utmost to minimise “collateral damage”, i.e. civilian fatalities, it must be remembered that Irish civilians did die as a direct result. That is regrettable. It was right and correct therefore that the CLMC ceasefire pronouncement of 1994 offered “abject and true remorse” for any such civilian deaths.

“As we express our remorse, we must never forget that the most sincere form of contrition is not merely to utter the words, but also to live by them”

Humbly dedicated to the eternal memory of Sgt. L. Mooney. Forever young. QS

Economic & Strategic Warfare; The UDA/UFF Bombing Campaign in Éire (Part 1)

“In Striking we Defend”

Although formed as a defensive organisation, shortly after its formation the leadership of the Ulster Defence Association came to the realisation that certain pro-active operations would have to be undertaken in order to preserve the existence of Northern Ireland and ensure the safety of the Loyalist and wider Unionist community.

The UDA Inner Council (the collective leadership of the organisation) recognised the fact that Irish republican extremists, primarily the breakaway PIRA, were recieving significant aid and material support from the Irish Republic. With the “Arms Crisis” of 1970 proving that the Dublin government had armed, funded and, at least partially, organised the nascent Provisional IRA, the UDA leadership made the decision to designate the Irish state, and the organs thereof, as “Enemies of Ulster“, thus making them legitimate targets.

Plans were put in place, as early as the summer of 1971, to undertake offensive operations against Éire, concentrating on certain symbolic, strategic and economic targets, although no such operations were attempted until the autumn of 1972.

The Ulster Defence Association, circa 1971

The “Autumn Offensive” 1972

On the night of the 28/29th of October, a bomb containing approximately 12 lbs of commercial explosives was discovered at Connolly Station, Dublin. The device was defused by Irish Army technical officers. Incendiary devices were also left at four Dublin hotels. These attacks were however, just the beginning of what would turn out to be an effective offensive.

On the evening of the 2nd of November, 1972, The UDA’s Londonderry & North Antrim Brigade (then known as the “Londonderry Command” or “North-West Command”) bombed the ‘Hole In The Wall’ pub, near St. Johnston, Co.Donegal. Armed volunteers from ‘A’ Company, 1st Battalion, ordered everyone out of the premises, before detonating a hand grenade and a large blast-bomb type device inside the pub, causing extensive damage.

Just over a fortnight later, on the 19th of November, the Londonderry & North Antrim brigade struck another target in Co.Donegal. On this occasion a car showroom, owned by a prominent republican, was targeted with a bomb containing 7 and a half pounds of explosive. The device exploded causing substantial damage.

Londonderry & Nth. Antrim UDA/UFF

At approximately 1:15am on Sunday, 26th of November, 1972, an “unusually large” bomb exploded outside the rear exit door of the ‘Film Centre‘ Cinema, Burgh Quay, Dublin during a late night showing of a film. The bomb went off in the laneway connecting Burgh Quay with Leinster Market injuring 40 people, around 20 of them seriously, including facial, leg and serious abdominal wounds. There were approximately 160 people (both patrons and staff) inside the cinema at the time of the blast and a Garda spokesman said that it had been “nothing short of a miracle” that there had been no fatalities. The force of the explosion had hurled customers out of their seats and onto the floor and one employee had been blown the full length of the central aisle.

A large number of shops and buildings in the immediate vicinity received extensive damage from the blast. The area was quickly sealed off by the Garda and they immediately launched a forsenic investigation 9f the scene. A ballistic officer determined that the epicentre of the explosion had been just outside an emergency door leading from the cinema to the laneway. However, due to the ferocity of the blast and the total combustion of the explosive material, no trace of the bomb or the explosives used were ever found. Garda detectives at the time suspected the bombing to be the work of republican “subversive elements”, soon after however, Gardai discounted republican involvement and intimated that they now believed the bomb attack to have been the work of Loyalists, most likely a UDA active service unit “from the Derry or Mid-Ulster areas“.

Political Gain: the 1st of December Dublin Bombings

On the 1st of December, 1972, shortly before 8pm, a large bomb, concealed inside the boot of a blue Hillman Avenger car, exploded at 29 Eden Quay, Dublin. The blast blew the Avenger apart and what remained of the vehicle was catapulted 18 feet away, coming to rest outside an optician’s office. Six cars parked in the vicinity of the Avenger were set on fire, and piled on top of each other. Every window of the nearby ‘Liberty Hall‘ and a number of other nearby buildings were shattered. Although a number of people suffered injuries – some horrific – nobody was killed.
At the same time the car-bomb detonated in Dublin, the Belfast Newsletter received a telephone call from a man warning that two bombs had been left in cental Dublin and would explode imminently, giving the locations of the bombs as Liberty Hall and Abbey Street. Staff at the newspaper immediately phoned the RUC who in turn relayed the warnings to the Garda Control Room, Dublin, at just before 8:10pm. A team of Gardai were immediately dispatched to investigate the area.

Dublin, 1972

At a quarter past eight that evening, a large explosive device, packed into the boot and rear foot-wells of a silver Ford Escort, detonated in Sackville Place, 40 feet away from the junction at Marlborough Street. Two CIÉ (Córas Iompair Éireann/Irish Transport) employees, George Bradshaw (30), a bus driver, and Thomas Duffy (23), a conductor, were killed. One witness described the aftermath as follows- “There was a large pall of smoke hanging over the area of the blast. At least six cars were on fire . . . there were people strewn all over the street. One man was lying unconscious in a pool of blood from his legs . . . everywhere there was sobbing and screaming . . . people were running in all directions.”

As well as the two bus-men who were killed over 130 people were injured in the two incidents. Around 50 of them seriously. As at Eden Quay, the Sackville Place bombing caused considerable damage to buildings and vehicles near the blast’s epicentre. Sackville Place being a narrow street off O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare.

The bombs however did not just cause death and destruction; they also literally blasted into law controversial new measures. Just as the bombs were exploding in the city centre, Dáil Éireann was debating the controversial bill to amend the Offences Against the State Act’, which would enact stricter measures against the Provisional IRA and other republican murder gangs. As a result of the two bomb attacks, the Dáil voted for the amendment which introduced special emergency powers. In particular this meant that a member of a terrorist group could be sentenced on the sworn evidence of a senior Garda officer in front of three judges. Before the bombings, many commentators had believed the bill – considered by some to be “draconian” – would be soundly defeated. Indeed, until it was interrupted by the sound of Loyalist bombs exploding, the debate in the Dáil had been a bitter and heated one. Neil Blaney, recently expelled from Fianna Fáil due to his part in the “Arms Crisis”, spoke out forcefully against the proposed measures, describing the Provos as “freedom fighters“. In turn, supporters of the new legislation described the Fianna Fáil government as having “blood on their hands”, whilst Edward Collins TD castigated them as “the godfathers of the Provisional IRA“. At the last minute, undoubtedly swayed by the sound of bombs just a short distance away, Fine Gael TD’s abstained, thus ensuring that the bill would pass.

Sackville Place, Dublin, 1st December, 1972

Militant Ulster Loyalists had forced the hand of the Irish government in an unprecedented manor, forcing the authorities in Éire to take active steps against Irish republican terrorists for the first time in the conflict. Although the violent deaths of two civilians is deeply regrettable, the 1st of December bomb attacks had been spectacularly successful. Timed to precision and ruthlessly carried out, the bomb blitz in the heart of Dublin had demonstrated to the Irish state, in brutal fashion, that they would have to take action against the very terrorist groups that they had helped to create just two years earlier, or face the consequences!

Although there is speculation about whether the 1st of December attacks were the work of the UDA or the Ulster Volunteer Force, such speculation is more or less meaningless. Physical force Loyalism had, once again, penetrated into the heart of the Irish capital to devastating, and deadly effect. Forcing the hand of the Irish government and denying Irish republican murder gangs free reign in that country, although Éire would continue to be both a safe haven and a base of operations for republican terror groups throughout the conflict in Ulster.

Part 2- next week

When the UFF bombed London

The Target

In the 1970’s, Biddy Mulligan‘s pub on High Road, Kilburn, northwest London, was a notorious Irish republican meeting place. The unofficial headquarters of both the Official and Provisional factions of the IRA and a focal point for republicans from all across London. The premises lacked any semblance of class or charm, although that did not seem to deter the clientele, which included not only militant Irish nationalist extremists but also Far-Left activists and a not inconsiderable criminal element. “Biddy’s” was frequented by terrorists, petty criminals, would-be Communist revolutionaries, terrorist sympathisers and political tourists. The collection bucket was passed round on an almost nightly basis, with the donations, or at least most of them, being sent across the Irish Sea to help fund the murderous activities of the Official IRA and PIRA/Sinn Féin. The pub was once described by a local Conservative as being “a festering boil on the face of north London”. Just before Christmas, 1975, that “boil” was lanced in violent and spectacular fashion.

“Lancing the boil”

On the evening of Sunday, 21st December, 1975, a young man entered the premises carrying a small holdall. After a brief altercation with the bar steward, John Constantine, the young man left. Nobody seemed to notice that when he went he no longer had his holdall with him. There were 90 people in the pub at the time and the IRA collection bucket had not long been passed round. It seemed to be business as usual in Biddy Mulligan’s. Then, at shortly before 10 o’clock, the pub was rocked by an explosion. Five people were fairly seriously wounded, although none of the injuries were life threatening, and a number of others suffered minor injuries (the majority of whom refused hospital treatment and quietly slipped away before the police could question them).

The Metropolitan Police later stated that a bomb, containing “about three to five pounds of explosive” had been left in the pub doorway. The Police also said that a phone call had been received by the BBC the previous night, from an individual claiming to represent the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the UFF, calmly stating that the UYM were going to “carry the war against the IRA onto the mainland“. The Provisional republican movement in England were panicked, with Sinn Féin representatives openly expressing the concern that the Kilburn bombing was merely a prelude to a much wider ranging Loyalist bomb campaign against republican targets in England and Scotland. The Provos main concern however, was not the well being of republican activists and sympathisers. Tellingly one Sinn Féin man had spoken openly about how they raised “more than £17,000 a year” in Kilburn, most of that amount almost certainly coming out of Biddy Mulligan’s pub.

Aftermath

The following day landlords of Irish pubs across London and beyond put guards on the door to check people’s bags as they entered. Without the slightest hint of irony locals were said to be “very concerned” that the ‘Troubles’ had spread to Kilburn and told journalists that they now felt under “immense threat”. One might wonder how exactly they felt when they were stuffing pound notes into collection tins for Irish republican murder gangs, or if they ever spared a thought for the innocent victims of those gangs.
In October, 1976, four men appeared at the Old Bailey and were found guilty of carrying out the daring attack. Two young men from north Down received sentences of 14 and 15 years respectively. A 20 year old electrician from Belfast, the alleged bomb maker, got 12 years, and a 40 year old lorry driver, from Cumbernauld, Scotland, who allegedly procured the explosives for the bomb, received 10 years. In sentencing it was said the men were Loyalists who “were determined that the IRA and IRA sympathisers should not meet in the pub without retribution“. The judge said however that, “It should be clearly understood whatever political, religious or social feelings people may have, a crime of vengeance is not allowed“. Such is the lacklustre attitude of the UK establishment towards dens of sedition and terrorism in their own capital.

The Motive

It seems that the decision to strike at republican targets in England was taken by the Ulster Freedom Fighters in the wake of the events of Saturday, 8th June, 1974, when an estimated 3,000 people lined the streets of Kilburn for the funeral (or rather the first of three funerals) of Provisional IRA member Michael Gaughan. Gaughan, originally from Co. Mayo, Éire, had been living in the Kilburn area for a number of years when, in 1971, his ham-fisted attempts at armed robbery, supposedly on behalf of the OIRA, earned him a seven year prison sentence. Whilst in prison he defected to the Provos and in March, 1974, began a hunger strike that was to last 64 days and ultimately claim his life. He was joined on hunger strike by Hugh Feeney, the “Old Bailey bomber”, Frank Stagg, who along with Catholic priest, (Father) Patrick Fell, had commanded a PIRA unit based in the West Midlands, and Sinn Féin’s very own “medallion man”, Gerry Kelly, at the time better known as “bomber Kelly” for his part in bombing the Old Bailey and the Ministry of Agriculture in Whitehall.


Biddy Mulligan’s pub circa 1975


It would seem, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Ulster Freedom Fighters never had any serious intention of mounting a sustained campaign against republican targets in England. The Kilburn bombing seems to have been a warning, a “shot across the bows” as it were. It seems improbable that, if the UFF really had intended to strike at multiple targets in England and Scotland, that no other such attacks occurred. The capture of the Active Service Unit responsible for the attack on Biddy Mulligan’s was unfortunate, from the UFF’s point of view, but it would not have been at all difficult for them to have dispatched another ASU, or to have recruited one from Loyalists resident on the mainland. It is worth remembering that the UDA maintained, and to some extent still maintains, a “Mainland Brigade”, which is in actuality a number of brigades, with the UDA particularly strong in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, the northeast of England, Yorkshire, the Midlands and London.

Undoubtedly the decision not to begin a wholesale bombing campaign in England was the correct one. Whatever the benefits of striking Irish republican targets on the Mainland, they are more than outweighed by the potential detrimental effects such a campaign would have brought. No doubt a Loyalist bomb blitz, regardless of the nature of the targets, would have cost Loyalism much support, or at least grudging respect, from the English populace. In this instance, the decision by the leadership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters to refrain from action was ultimately a prudent one.

The Irish diaspora in England seemed to heed the warning that the UFF had so ruthlessly delivered in London. Collections on behalf of the republican murder gangs became much less frequent and there were no more displays like Michael Gaughan’s funeral. Biddy Mulligan’s continued on into the 1980’s but it’s heyday was most definitely over. Today “Biddy’s”, the once notorious republican mecca, is a bookmakers shop. Few who live in Kilburn even remember the name of the infamous pub that was once bombed by the UFF.