Here’s the total coverage from the Irish News todate on the Subversion in the UDR story. It’s the order it came out in the paper version, starting with yesterday’s stories, and is considerably more detailed than anything we have so far reported online. Keep an eye out for more in the paper tomorrow. It also contains most, but not all of the original draft document from 1973.THE British government was aware of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries from as early as 1973, according to documents revealed today in the Irish News.
The files show Downing Street knew that significant numbers of soldiers were linked to loyalist paramilitaries, but failed to act.
The collusion file contains a detailed report on “Subversion in the UDR’’ including estimates of the numbers of soldiers linked to loyalists – while intelligence documents show how more than 200 British army rifles and sub machine guns were passed to loyalists.
This is the first time evidence has emerged to show, not only the scale of collusion, but also that government was aware of it early in the Troubles.
The documents reveal that military intelligence:
– estimated 5-15 per cent of UDR soldiers were linked to loyalist paramilitaries
– believed that the “best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR’’
– feared UDR troops were loyal to eUlsterf rather than “Her Majesty’s Government’’
– knew that UDR weapons were being used in the murder and attempted murder of Catholics
Against this background it is significant that as the Troubles unfolded, the government went on to increase, rather than decrease, the regiment’s role in areas of high tension in Northern Ireland.
The files date from August 1973 – and in the two years that followed UDR members took part in the Miami showband massacre, and were linked to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people.
The UDR – or Ulster Defence Regiment – was formed in 1970 to replace the disgraced B Specials police reserve, but nationalists came to see it as a carbon copy.
The new regiment, which was the largest in the British army, recruited exclusively in Northern Ireland and eventually became almost 100 per cent Protestant.
It was merged with another military unit in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment – but it also attracted controversy and its Northern Ireland battalions are now being disbanded.
While the new documents concentrate on the UDR, they also include files that show senior political figures making disturbing references to wrong-doing within the ranks of the RUC. The Irish News has had exclusive access to the documents and over two days of special reports will reveal the content of the files which – for the first time – form a paper trail stretching from murder on the streets of Belfast, to decision making at No10 Downing Street.
The UDR saw 257 members and former members killed by republican paramilitaries, and in today’s coverage a UDR veteran recalls her memories of death and terrible injury.
On the new intelligence files, she says that if the British government knew of wrongdoing, “they should have done something’’.
The new documents were discovered by campaigners probing allegations of security force collusion in the murder of their loved ones.
The son of one victim recounts uncovering the collusion files, and tells The Irish News: “It was quite alarming to find that the British government at the highest level knew, as they put it themselves, that there was `subversion within the UDR’.
“They knew that it went as far as getting guns for loyalists, and involvement in murder.’’
SHOCK TRUTH OF BAR KILLINGS
Thirty years ago a gun and bomb attack on a south Armagh pub killed three people. Now a bereaved relative is establishing the truth of what happened. What he has learned may force a rethink of the history of the Troubles…
TREVOR Brecknell got to see his new daughter before he died. It is one of the few things his killers could not take from him.
After visiting his wife and two-day-old baby in hospital, he drove to Donnelly’s bar in Silverbridge.
It was the evening of December 19 1975. Nearly Christmas. Trevor, 32 and now a father-of-three, was surrounded by friends and relatives, and a sing-song was under way.
Within minutes he was among three dead. Six people were injured, including Trevor’s brother-in-law who was shot five times, and his sister-in-law, who survived being shot in the head.
The loyalist gang killed 24-year-old Patsy Donnelly first shootin him as he pulled up to the petrol pumps.
One survivor recalls what happened next.
“I heard a banging outside then the door was kicked in. Shots were fired into the bar.
“Trevor and I were sitting opposite the door. It had a heavy spring on it and it slammed back in the gunman’s face. He broke the glass panel with his gun and began firing through the broken glass.
“Trevor just slumped forward beside me without saying a word. I got shot twice and fell to the floor. Everyone else was huddled in the corner, with the man still shooting.”
Michael Donnelly (14), the bar owner’s son, died when the gang threw in the bomb shouting: “Happy Christmas you fenian bastards.”
Another witness later said he recalled “hearing a blurred figure laughing” as he fell to the ground.
In recent years Trevor Brecknell’s eldest son, Alan, has pieced to-gether what happened that night and has learned that security force members were among the gang.
“There was always an allegation of security force involvement,” he says.
“I grew up believing it was as little as making sure that the roads were kept clear. In more recent years it has been confirmed to us by the police that there was a member of the UDR, a reserve RUC officer and loyalists from Portadown involved in the attack. The UDR member was subsequently killed by the IRA in 1976 and it’s been alleged he was involved in a number of other incidents including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. His name was Robert McConnell.”
It was not until the more positive atmosphere that followed the ceasefires of the mid-1990s that the families bereaved at Donnelly’s bar felt it was safe to begin to dig deeper into the events.
During a business trip to Derry, Alan knocked on the door of the Pat Finucane centre, the human rights group named after the solicitor killed in a conspiracy between the state and loyalist paramilitaries, the full truth of which is still emerging.
They helped gather statements from those connected to the tragedy at Donnellys and issued an appeal for the RUC officer who led the original investigation to come forward. He agreed to meet them.
“His opening comments to us were, ‘I have no doubt that there was collusion between members of the UDR, RUC and loyalist paramilitaries on the attack on Donnelly’s bar’.
“While we maybe knew it in the back of our own heads, it was still shocking to hear from an official source,” Alan says.
The relatives did not have the names of those believed to have been responsible but they lobbied the authorities and took court action to force more information into the open.
Alan eventually became a res-earcher for the Pat Finucane Centre, forging close ties with Justice for the Forgotten, representing those be-reaved in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings in which 33 died.
The two groups sent a team to scour the mass of paperwork in the public records office in London each time new government files were released under the 30-year rule.
UDR members have been linked to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and the Donnelly’s bar attack, so when one of the team discovered a document entitled ‘Subversion in the UDR’, they all took notice.
“This is the most significant thing we have found at any stage. It was quite alarming to find that the British government at the highest level knew, as they put it themselves, that there was ‘subversion within the UDR’,” Alan says.
“They knew that it went as far as getting guns for loyalists and in-volvement in murder.”
Alan now knows that more than two years before his fathe r’s death British authorities were aware that large numbers of UDR members were connected to loyalist paramilitary groups, and were the “only source of modern weapons” for loyalists. The government, nevertheless, expanded the regiment’s role.
He is shocked, but says it is also a positive step on his journey. “It is official; it settles that part of the story now. No-one can say it’s the rantings of Alan Brecknell or whoever. It’s official.”
The files he helped discover have now been passed to the police Historic Enquiries Team to help shed light on other cases. Trevor Brecknell was from Birmingham but none of his English relatives
attended his funeral.
His parents were told Trevor was killed by the IRA and it would not be safe for them to cross the Irish Sea. The RUC is blamed for the false information.
“That to me is unforgivable,” said Alan suddenly struggling to hold back tears. “Granny Brecknell died not knowing what really happened to her son.”
TERRIBLE LEGACY OF THE PAST:
Republican violence took a heavy toll on the ranks of the Ulster Defence Regiment. One former member was among those who counted the cost …..
MEMORIES of the Troubles revisit Reatha Hassan every night. “I have to take a pill to get to sleep,” she says
“I have dreams. There is one where I see someone strangling another person. I never witnessed anything like that but it must have something to do with my experiences.”
The sitting room of her home in the Co Armagh village of Markethill is filled with family photographs. Sun streams through the window.
It is peaceful but the past is never far away.
The former civil servant joined the UDR in Armagh in 1973 and took up a welfare role in the regiment. Throughout 22 years of service, she was frequently touched by death.
“You had to go out to the homes and break the sad news to the widows, wives
“It was difficult. But I find it more difficult, believe it or not, now, thinking back. You seemed to get strength in those days.”
Today she chairs a victims group that includes security-force families. The ages of its 500 members are surprisingly diverse, stretching from 80 to eight.
Mrs Hassan has seen the impact of violent bereavement rippling down through the generations, where young children, who never knew the Troubles, still feel the pain, or the resentment, radiating from older relatives.
“I always say we might be victims of the past but we should not be-come prisoners of the past,” Mrs Hassan says.
The years of violence hold disturbing memories for her. Many of the more than 60 UDR members killed in her area were neighbours or friends.
Private Paul Sutcliffe (24) was a Lancashire-born soldier who joined the UDR in 1989. Mrs Hassan remembers teasing him over his mop of dyed blond hair.
“It wasn’t a good colour,” she says. “I remember saying to him, ‘Sutcliffe if your mother could see you’.”
In 1991 he was patrolling in a UDR Land Rover when the IRA deployed a new weapon, a horizontal-firing mortar. Witnesses said the vehicle was “ripped apart”.
Mrs Hassan was asked to identify the young soldier’s remains. She was warned to prepare for the terrible smell.
“When I went into the room I smelt nothing, but I remember his hair it was all scorched and curly, tight to his head.”
Years later she was in a clothes shop in Newry at the time of the foot-and-mouth crisis when a girl behind the counter remarked at cattle being burned on her farm.
“I remember she said: ‘I can’t get the smell of the burning flesh out of my nose’, and all of sudden I could smell young Sutcliffe in that room.”
Recalling the UDR members murdered in her area, she recounts example after example of death and near-death.
“He was at home reading his Bible when they broke-in and murdered him….”
“One fella had lost his leg and the other man was very bad with blast holes….”
“From the office I could see young soldiers practising carrying a coffin, knowing the next day their friend’s remains would be in it….”
Similar UDR stories are recorded in ‘Legacy of War’, a booklet published by the Conflict Trauma Resource Centre.
A former soldier recounts training his children to answer the front door by standing to the side of it and shouting ‘who’s there?’ He noticed his 11-year-old grandson is now doing the same.
Others recalled the trauma of burying friends, or explained how soldiers received no ‘deprogramming’ for the civilian world and so still live restricted lives, obsessed with security and unable to trust others.
There is also anger. One former soldier says: “We knew who was involved in the IRA, not them all now but a fair few, and it would have been so easy to have went and took revenge…”
That soldier said he acted within the law but others did not. There were UDR members who were directly involved in paramilitary activities. Mrs Hassan says that if such crime went on “it must have been well hidden”.
“I never served with, or knew anyone involved in anything like that.” She adds: “If things like this come out, and they’re true, I honestly can’t believe it.” If the government knew of wrongdoing, she says “they should have done something”.
“There must be a certain amount of evidence there but the whole 22 years I was in the UDR there were two occasions on which I heard [soldiers] were charged. They were put out [of the UDR] and had to pay for their crimes in prison.”
The former UDR and RIR member says her colleagues were trained to preserve life. “I think in the back of most people’s minds was hope for a better, peaceful country. “You took it that the IRA, or whoever it was, were out there to kill the people… but it would never have meant that you should kill.”
She hopes for a return of power-sharing government and stresses the need to build a new future. “You’ll never forget the past but I think it’s now time for people who really want peace to go for it and commit themselves to it. I would hate to see those things happening again.”
UDR BECAME SEEN AS CARBON COPY OF 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.
UDR THE TOP SOURCE OF ARMS FOR `PROTESTANT EXTREMISTS’:
The collusion file obtained by The Irish News is made up of several documents, but the most important is a 14-page paper stamped ‘secret’ and entitled: ‘Subversion in the UDR’. This is a detailed summary…
THE document was compiled by British military intelligence and a covering letter written by a brigadier indicates it is a draft being circulated among senior colleagues.
He writes: “In view of the MoD’s responsibility for the UDR, including its internal security, I believe that you will want to have the opportunity to comment on the paper before it gets into JIC channels.”
The JIC, or Joint Intelligence Committee, provides top-level intelligence assessments to the prime minister and other government ministers.
Formed in 1936, the JIC recently came to prominence for its role in compiling the dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
The brigadier’s letter, dated August 1973, ends: “As you will see the paper is largely factual…..The paper gives an estimate of the percentage of men in the UDR who are, or have been, members of extremist Protestant groups. The evidence on this is by no means firm and further research is in progress. This is the one point in the paper on which Commander UDR is not entirely happy.”
The document itself begins by explaining it is based on the “evidence and intelligence available to us”.
Its research is said to have included a questionnaire sent to UDR headquarters and army intelligence and security departments, personnel files, weapons loss reports, intelligence reports and visits to UDR battalions.
The document continues: “Since the first days of the UDR the dangers of raising a local force from the two communities, at a time of intercommunal strife, has been clearly recognised, and each applicant has been subjected to a security vetting process.
“However, following the impetus given to the recruiting of Protestant paramilitary and extremist groups by the imposition of direct rule, (the UDA in particular was estimated to have a strength of 4,000 6,000 members in Belfast plus 15,000 supporters by September 1972), the problem of divided loyalties amongst UDR recruits became more marked. Joint membership of the UDA (which had objectives incompatible with those of HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]) and the UDR, became widespread, and at the same time the rate of UDR weapons losses greatly increased.”
The report defines subversion as including:
– “Strong support for, or membership of, organisations whose aims are incompatible with those of the UDR”;
– “Attempts by UDR members to use their UDR knowledge, skills, or equipment to further the aims of such organisations.”
But it goes on to note: “The discovery of members of paramilitary or extremist organisations in the UDR is not, and has not been, a major intelligence target…. it is unlikely that our intelligence coverage of this area is in any way comprehensive.”
This is followed by a crucial section, stating: “Despite the improvements in the vetting of applicants, it seems quite unlikely that the security vetting system, or subsequent intelligence material, can reveal all the members of subversive groups who have applied to join the UDR.
“It seems likely that a significant proportion (perhaps five per cent in some areas as high as 15 per cent) of UDR soldiers will also be members of the UDA, Vanguard service corps, Orange Volunteers or UVF.
“Subversion will not occur in every case but there will be a passing on of information and training methods in many cases and a few subversives may conspire to ‘leak’ arms and ammunition to Protestant extremist groups.
“The presence within the UDR of members of extremist groups does, however, contain within it the danger that at some future stage, if HMG’s actions were perceived to be unfavourable to ‘loyalist’ interests, those men could act as a source of information, training and weapons for their fellows and might even work within the UDR to make it unreliable.”
Under the heading, ‘Loss of Arms and Ammunition’, the report continues:
“Since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant ex-tremist groups has been the UDR.”
It then sets out the “details of UDR arms losses for 1972/3”, carrying two tables detailing the UDR weapons gone missing during the period. The table of information for 1972 covers three categories of weapons.
For ‘SLR’ self-loading rifle, also known as a semi-automatic rifle it says that 102 were lost or stolen at UDR armouries or from soldiers on duty, but notes that 62 were later recovered after a loyalist raid on Lurgan UDR base detailed later in the report.
It adds that a further 38 SLRs were lost or stolen from UDR soldiers at home or on their way to work and remain unaccounted for.
For SMG submachine gun it notes that 24 were lost or stolen at UDR armouries or while UDR soldiers were out on duty and records that eight of these were recovered. A further four submachine guns are noted as having been lost or stolen at home or on the way to work and remain unaccounted for.
For pistols, it records that 22 are unaccounted for.
The document concludes, therefore, that in 1972, almost 190 semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns and pistols were lost or stolen from the UDR, with 70 recovered.
The document adds: “By comparison, Regular Army weapons losses in Northern Ireland in 1972 were six SLRs, one SMG and nine pistols.”
A second table of figures covering the first seven months of 1973 notes that the UDR has shed a total of 28 semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns and pistols, all of which remain unaccounted for.
It adds: “By comparison Regular Army weapons losses in Northern Ireland in the same period were two SLRs, nil SMGs and six pistols.”
The document continues: “We believe that the vast majority of weapons stolen from the UDR during this period are in the hands of Protestant extremists.
“In the case of the weapons stolen from UDR armouries and from the UDR guard detachments disarmed at a polling station (7 March 1973) and a key point in Belfast (7 Nov 1972) there is a substantial body of intelligence to support the view.
“The question of whether there was collusion by UDR members in these thefts is a difficult one. In no case is there proof positive of collusion: but in every case there is considerable suspicion, which in some instances is strong enough to lead to a judgment that an element of collusion was present.”
The document then gives detailed accounts of three such raids.
The first incident is described as, “The arms raid on the HQ of 10 UDR at
Lislea Drive (14 Oct 72)”.
On this Belfast raid, the document reads: “14 self-loading rifles and a quantity of ammunition were stolen from this location, when armed men ‘overpowered’ the Camp Guard.
“The raid was well organised and was carried out by persons who had prior knowledge of the unit layout and de-tails of guard arrangements.
“It subsequently transpired that the guard commander on the night of the raid had nine previous convictions for de-ception and had spent a period in
“He had been arrested in September 1972 for riotous behaviour outside Tennant street RUC station following the shooting of two men by security forces in the Shankill and the arrest of a UDA leader.
“He had one UDA trace and three separate reliable rep-orts subsequently indicated that he was a member of the UVF. The initial security report into the incident concluded that it was probably carried out with ‘inside help’ and that it was possible that ‘one or more members of the guard had prior knowledge of the intended raid and actively assisted in its prosecution’.”
The document then recounts a major raid in Co Armagh.
“The arms raid on the UDR/TAVR [territorial army] centre at Lurgan on 23 Oct 72: At about 0420 on the morning of 23 October 1972 members of ‘C’ coy 11 UDR, and 85 Sqn, 40 (Ulster) Sig. Regt. TAVR on guard at the Kings Park Camp in Lurgan were ‘overpowered’ by a number of armed men and 85 SLRs and 21 SMGs were stolen.
“It is apparent that the raiders found rather more weapons in the armoury than they had bargained for and within a matter of hours 63 SLRs and eight SMGs had been recovered close to an abandoned Land Rover.
“Of the 22 SLRs and 13 SMGs that were not recovered, 16 and 11 respectively were the property of the UDR, the rest of the TAVR.
“One of the concluding paragraphs in the Provost Company (RMP) investigation of the incident read as follows: ‘It is quite apparent that the offenders knew exactly what time to carry out the raid. Had they arrived earlier they may have been surprised by returning patrols and had they arrived later they may have been intercepted by the Tandragee power station guard returning from duty. The very fact that all the guard weapons had been centralised and there was only one man on the gate, a contravention of unit guard or-ders, was conducive to the whole operation. The possibility of collusion is therefore highly probable’.”
The document then recounts the theft of “UDR weap-ons” from Claudy RUC station on October 30 1972.
That night the unmanned station was broken into and four UDR submachine guns were stolen.
“The circumstances of the raid indicated that the raiders knew both the layout of the building and the presence of the weapons. The security section report on the incident was unable to discount the possibility of collusion by a member of the UDR or the RUC.”
The document says “the possibility of UDR collusion in arms raids by Protestant extremist groups exist in at least two further cases”.
It cites the theft of eight SLRs and ammunition from a UDR guard at a polling station in east Belfast by six to nine armed men in March 1973 and says that five months earlier 14 SLRs and ammo were taken from a UDR key point guard by eight men “themselves armed with self loading rifles”.
The report adds: “It may be of interest that shortly before the polling station incident, two men had strolled past the sentry and told him that they would return in a couple of hours ‘to steal your guns’.
“Thus in a series of four arms raids 121 SLRs and 21 SMGs have been taken from armed UDR/TAVR defensive guards by well briefed gangs who knew what they were doing, without a shot being fired in anger, or any significant attempt made to resist. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that members of the UDR were party to these incidents.
“The circumstances in which some weapons have been stolen from UDR soldiers at home or on the way to work has also aroused suspicion and it is likely that a number of these raids or hold-ups were carried out with the foreknowledge of the subject.”
On the leakage of UDR ammunition to “groups such as the UDA and UVF”, it adds: “It is almost impossible to estimate the quantities involved. Similarly there have been a number of reports of UDR soldiers giving weapons training to UDA, UVF and OV extremists: the scale of this training is not known.”
In a further significant section, the report continues: “There can be little doubt that subversion in the UDR has added significantly to the weapons and ammunition stocks of Protestant extremist groups.
“In many cases ex-UDR weapons are the only automatic and semi-automatic weapons in their possession.
“Neither the British army, nor the minority community has yet experienced the full force of these weapons, for many are in store.
“Several have, however, been used and there is strong evidence that they have been in the hands of the most violent of the criminal sectarian groups in the Protestant community.
“One of the Sterling SMGs stolen from the Lurgan UDR/ TAVR centre was recovered in the Shankill on 21 July 1973 in the possession of three men, two of whom were known members of the Shankill UFF/UVF group: they had just robbed a bar.
“Research at the data reference centre has subsequently indicated that this weapon has been used in at least 12 terrorist outrages, including the murder of a Catholic, and seven other attempted murders (details are at Annex E).”
The Irish News has obtained a copy of “Annex E”.
It details how the weapon was also used in a kidnapping, while the ‘seven’ attempted murders referred to involve drive-by shootings at groups of Catholic youths, that could have led to a large number of deaths.
The document adds: “It is a statement of the obvious that circumstances may well arise in which all the weapons stolen from the UDR may well be used, perhaps against the British army. They would form a most significant part of the armoury of the Protestant extremists.”
It then considers circumstances that might render the UDR “unreliable”.
“The ability of the UDR to carry out its duties has been compromised on only a very few occasions to date by the activities of disloyal or subversive soldiers.
“It does not require great mental agility, however, to conceive of circumstances in which subversion in the UDR might become a much greater problem.
“There are two possible situations in which elements of the UDR might well cease to be reliable.
“a: Should the Assembly fail and future Westminster plans also meet with no success, it is possible that the future leader of a ‘Loyalist’ political party might well declare a ‘UDI’ [Possible reference to a ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence’] for Ulster in an attempt to return power to ‘Loyalist’ hands. In these circumstances the loyalty of UDR members to HMG would be sorely tried, particularly if required to play any part in military activity against ‘Loy-alist’ groups.
“b. If at any time it became a feature of HMG policy, perhaps under a labour government, to encourage early and substantial progress towards the setting up of a powerful council of Ireland, or towards the achievement of a United Ireland, the reliability of elements of the UDR would be brought into serious question. If the latter policy objective were to be undertaken by HMG it is conceivable that a large number of UDR soldiers would desert taking their weapons with them.”
Under ‘Conclusions’, the document states: “The danger of subversion in the UDR, by comparison with other British Army regiments, is enormously heightened:
a) By the circumstances in which it was set up
b) By the communities from which it recruits
c) By the task it is expected to fulfil
d) And by the political circumstances that have prevailed in the first three years of its existence.
“It goes without saying that the first loyalties of many of its members are to a concept of ‘Ulster’ rather than to HMG, and that where a perceived conflict in these loyalties occur, HMG will come off second best.
“So far this division of loyalties has not been seriously tested but already disquieting evidence of subversion is available.
“We know comparatively little, from an intelligence point of view, of subversion in the UDR. Often what intelligence there is, is of a ‘post facto’ character.
“But despite our limited sources and the limited evidence available to us a fair number of UDR soldiers have been discovered to hold positions in the UDA/UVF.
“A number have been involved in overt terrorist acts.
“It is most unlikely that our intelligence coverage presents anything like the whole picture of infiltration of the UDR by the UDA and other groups and there is no immediate prospect of it doing so.”
The report continues: “It is likely that there remain within the UDR significant numbers of men (perhaps five to 15 per cent) who are, or have been, members of Protestant extremist organisations.
“Subversion in the UDR has almost certainly led to arms losses to Protestant extremist groups on a significant scale. The rate of loss has, however, decreased in 1973.
“Subversion in the UDR may well have been responsible for materially adding to the reservoir of military skills amongst Protestant extremists and it is likely that there remain in the regiment men who would be willing to engage in further arms raids should it be thought necessary.
“In most cases our intelligence on stolen arms has been limited to ascertaining blame after the event.
“Except in limited circumstances subversion in the UDR has not compromised its ability to carry out its duties. There are, however, a number of predictable political circumstances in which the regiment might not only suffer a much higher level of subversion than at present, but in which elements of it might cease to be reliable.
“There is no substantial threat of subversion from republican extremists.
“The evidence and intelligence available to us on subversion in the UDR is limited, and there are large gaps in our coverage.
“Improvements in intelligence would certainly help weed out subversive and troublesome men.
“But by the nature of its being, and the circumstances in which it operates, the regiment is wide open to subversion and potential subversion.
“Any effort to remove men who in foreseeable political circumstances might well operate against the interests of the UDR could well result in a very small regiment indeed.”
SUBVERSION REPORT `NO SURPRISE’:
THE ‘Subversion in the UDR’ document is accompanied by four letters of response from very senior officials.
And although the document is described as a draft, it is significant that none of the letter writers disagree with its contents.
One goes so far as to say he wishes he “could say the contents came as a surprise, but cannot”, and fears that the report will raise questions “once it has reached No 10”.
A top military figure writes that the vetting of UDR recruits is “only a screening procedure” and “has no relationship to normal security vetting carried out on people who require to have access to classified information”.
He reveals that the additional requirement for recruits to provide a reference had “been successful as part of the PR exercise”, but is open to abuse and “can add little” to the screening.
A second response recommends changing the language of a number of paragraphs, but says: “I have no reason to dissent from the conclusions of this paper”.
A third reply suggests that the report’s author offer “wider coverage” on the “85-95 per cent not thought likely to be members of Protestant extremist organisations”.
The same intelligence officer asks if more work could be done to identify UDR units that should be disbanded in the event of a reduction in the size of the regiment being proposed.
He then suggests extra research be carried out, adding, however: “You may consider that the submission of the paper, particularly in view of its depressing content, should not be delayed.”
A final letter of response on the report, penned by a senior MoD civil servant, reads: “I wish I could say that its contents come as a surprise, but I am afraid they do not.”
He adds that until further “hard evidence” is available: “I would agree with the doubts expressed by Cdr UDR about the validity of including the percentage figures shown as estimates of the proportion of UDR involved now or in the past in Protestant extremist groups.”
There is no indication as to whether or not the author acted on the request to have the five to 15 per cent figure removed.
The civil servant finishes by writing that if “it begins to look fairly definite that the draft will become a JIC approved paper”, it should be circulated more widely among officials before it is passed on.
“This would enable them to be prepared to some extent for the questions which, I would guess, are bound to follow once it has reached No10.”
SECOND DAY OF IRISH NEWS COVERAGE:
COLLUSION: ARMY GUN USED IN 12 MURDER BIDS:
– Downing Street concerns over leaks to Paisley
– MPs misled over collusion
BRITISH prime ministers were aware of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries, soldiers and RUC officers and believed security forces were “handing information to” Ian Paisley.
Evidence of this is contained in dramatic documents that include minutes of a Whitehall meeting where Margaret Thatcher was briefed on how security forces in Northern Ireland were “heavily infiltrated”.
In the second day of a series of special reports, the Irish News reveals further files prepared by the British government and military intelligence on collusion.
The documents revealed today show how:
– an army sub-machine gun was used in a sectarian murder and 11 attempted murders, with the intelligence document even listing the victims’ names
– civil servants answering MPs’ questions on collusion concealed its existence
– a military dossier lists a string of incidents across Northern Ireland where arms were passed to loyalists with the collusion of soldiers
The dramatic new evidence comes after the Irish News yesterday revealed the existence of official files showing the British government was aware of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalists from as early as 1973.
The document estimated that 5-15 per cent of Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers were linked to loyalist groups, adding that “the best source of weapons, and only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR”.
Letters accompanying that document indicated that it was due to be forwarded to Downing Street.
Today that link to the heart of government is reinforced by minutes of a meeting in September 1975 when the prime minister of the time, Harold Wilson, and his secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, briefed Margaret Thatcher as leader of the opposition.
A crucial section of the minutes, marked ‘confidential’, reads: “The secretary of state said that he was more worried by the current sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast.
“Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF, and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley.
“The army’s judgment was that the UDR were heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants, and that in a crisis situation they could not be relied upon to be loyal.”
The document making reference to DUP leader Ian Paisley is followed by a discussion on how British MPs were receiving letters from constituents calling for a pull-out from Northern Ireland.
The minutes show how Mrs Thatcher feared this would lead to further bloodshed, making a withdrawal from the north impossible.
The minutes add: “The prime minister agreed and said that any impression that the government were taking the line that the Irish could cut their own throats would immediately give the appearance that we had given in to the IRA.”
Today’s coverage also includes an in-depth report on the military intelligence document, which was never made public, but which records how an army sub-machine gun stolen with the help of soldiers was used in a murder and 11 attempted murders.
The document names those who were shot with the weapon and today we tell the story of the murder victim Thomas Curry, a sea captain from Lancashire who docked in Belfast and was killed when loyalists machine-gunned a pub.
In a further development, we report how the army sub-machine gun may also have been used in a second murder not included in the document, where loyalists shot dead a 16-year-old Catholic.
Shocking documents show that as early as 1973 the British government knew security force collusion with loyalists was resulting in murder.
In the second day of a series of special reports, we recount the murderous history of an army gun as recorded by British military intelligenc.e
ANNEX E HOW ARMY WEAPON WAS USED TO MURDER:
THE single page of typed sentences looks like a common or garden shopping list, but its contents are chilling.
“February 3rd, kidnapping….”
“February 20th, attempted murder….”
“May 9th, attempted murder….”
Number ‘6’ on the list of loyalist paramilitary attacks reads: “31/5/73 The murder of Thomas Curry, and the attempted murder of others in Muldoon’s bar, Tomb St. Fired cases found at the scene.”
The page is entitled ‘Annex E’ and is attached to a document detailing ‘Subversion in the UDR’ both were written in August 1973 by British military intelligence and have never before been seen in public.
The main ‘Subversion’ document, carried in yesterday’s Irish News, contained a series of shocking revelations, including that:
– five to 15 per cent of UDR members were linked to loyalist groups
– the “only significant source of modern weapons for Protestant extremist
groups has been the UDR”
– the first loyalty of many soldiers was to “Ulster” rather than “Her
– removing undesirables from the UDR could “result in a very small regiment
The documents offer an unprecedented insight into the scale of security-force collusion and accompanying letters indicate that the information was to be passed to “No 10 Downing Street”.
In an extraordinary development, the documentation, therefore, forms a paper trail that stretches from the heart of the British government to the scene of murder and attempted murder in Belfast.
The trail begins on page seven of the main document, where intelligence officers recount how, in October 1972, UDR and territorial army troops at the King’s Park camp in Lurgan “were ‘overpowered’ by a number of armed men” the report’s author using inverted commas to signal his scepticism.
The document asks:
– how the gang successfully avoided a series of patrols arriving and leaving the camp
– why the base’s weapons had been gathered in one central location
– why guard orders were “contravened” to ensure “there was only one man on the gate”.
“The possibility of collusion is therefore highly probable,” the report says, adding later: “It is difficult to resist the conclusion that members of the UDR were party to these incidents.”
The loyalist gang left with 85 semi-automatic rifles and 21 sub-machine guns. According to the document: “It is apparent that the raiders found rather more weapons in the arm-oury than they had bargained for and within hours 63 SLRs and eight SMGs had been recovered close to an abandoned Land Rover.”
A total of 22 SLRs [self-loading, or semi-automatic, rifles] and 13 SMGs [sub-machine guns] were not recovered until July 1973.
The main document explains: “One of the Sterling SMGs stolen from the Lurgan centre was recovered in the Shankill on 21 July 1973 in the possession of three men, two of whom were known members of the Shankill UFF/UVF group: they had just robbed a bar.
“Research at the Data Reference Centre has subsequently indicated that this weapon has been used in at least 12 terrorist outrages, including the murder of a Catholic, and seven other attempted murders (details are at Annex E).”
Today The Irish News reproduces Annex E.
It bears the heading: “A list of terrorist outrages in which one of the sub-machine guns stolen in the Lurgan UDR/TAVR [territorial army] Centre arms raid on 23 October 1972, has subsequently been used.”
It states: “The examination of test [shell] cases fired from the SMG recovered from three men, two of whom were known UFF/UVF, following an armed robbery and attempted murder at 192 Shankill Rd on 21 July 1973, has revealed that the same weapon has been used in the following incidents…..”
It then lists 11 loyalist attacks, including references to a murder, a kidnapping, two unidentified shooting incidents and seven attempted murders.
All of the shootings took place in the Belfast area and in most cases the victims of the attacks are named.
Significantly, while the annex identifies seven attempted murders, three of the shootings targeted separate groups of Catholic youths and a detachment of security forces.
When the information is matched with news reports from the time, it becomes clear that the shootings could have ended in multiple deaths.
The third incident on Annex E is listed as: “20/3/73 The attempted murder of three youths who were fired at from a passing car on Brookvale Avenue.”
The reference to the incident carries little detail, but the Irish News report from the time suggests an atrocity was narrowly avoided.
“Twelve boys in the 14-15 years old age group, playing together in Brookvale Avenue, off Antrim Road, had narrow escapes when a masked gunman stepped from a Ford Cortina which pulled in close to them and opened fire,” reads the report in The Irish News.
“The boys scattered in terror. The gunfire, from an automatic weapon, missed.” The paper quotes an eyewitness as saying: “It was a miracle there were not half a dozen bodies left behind.”
The fact that the Brookvale murder bid was carried out using a British military weapon and that security forces believed it was stolen with the help of soldiers, was never made public.
In a further point, which may yet prove significant, it is reported that the gunmen sped off in a ‘Ford Cortina’.
The Irish News records that on the same night loyalist gunmen also armed with a sub-machine gun and driving what was described as a ‘white Ford Cortina’ killed one Catholic youth and injured another.
The tragedy is not mentioned in the annex but the circumstances of the death raise further questions of the security forces.
The report in The Irish News of the time reads: “A 16-year-old Catholic youth was shot dead and a schoolboy companion critically wounded from a passing car at the corner of Merrion street and Grosvenor Road, Belfast, late last night.
“The dead boy was Bernard McErlean of Durham Street. He was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, only 200 yards away, but he was dead on arrival.
“The wounded boy… was hit by six bullets from a sub-machine gun in the chest, arms and buttocks.
“Soon after the shooting lower Falls residents accused the British army of ‘facilitating Protestant extremist gangs’.
“Eyewitnesses said the boys were shot from a white Ford Cortina car which passed, did a U-turn, and re-passed the corner of Merrion Street when the gunmen opened fire.
“Local residents said that only minutes before the boys were shot an army saracen burst through a barricade at the corner of Merrion Street, scattering barrels and other articles ‘in all directions’, before
‘disappearing into the darkness’.”
The Irish News quotes one woman as saying: “People came running out when they heard the crash and a crowd gathered at the corner of Merrion street.
“Then the Ford Cortina came up Grosvenor Road, turned, and the gunmen opened fire.
“Young McErlean was killed in-stantly. It looked like a well timed operation first the barricade was swept aside, bringing a crowd into the street, then the murder car swept by. The people around here can’t be blamed for thinking that the British army had a hand to the murder.”
The death of Bernard McErlean does not feature in the Annex and it may be unrelated to the British army sub-machine gun in question.
But the attacks happened on the same night, both involved a sub-machine gun and on each occasion the gunmen used a Ford Cortina.
If, however, the same weapon was used, then Thomas Curry was not the only person killed by the gun taken in the “self-service” raid in Lurgan.
And the significance of the attack may yet go further. The youth who was shot and injured alongside Bernard McErlean was 15-year-old Kieran Nugent.
Nugent, of Merrion Street, survived and went on to become a well-known republican and a key member of the prison ‘blanket protest’.
Imprisoned in 1976, he refused to wear inmates’ clothing: “The only way I will wear a prison uniform is if they nail it to my back.”
Although he died six years ago, his words kick-started years of republican prison protests, culminating in the hunger strikes and he is commemorated in a mural on the Falls Road.
The main ‘Subversion’ document details how large quantities of UDR semi-automatic rifles, pistols and machine guns were stolen by “well briefed gangs, without a shot being fired in anger or any significant attempt made to resist”.
The document also reveals that: “Since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR.”
‘Annex E’ has given us the story of just one of those weapons.
THE STORY OF THOMAS CURRY
THOMAS Curry, a civilian sea captain from Lancashire, was gunned down by hooded men after going ashore in Belfast to post a letter.
Capt Curry was well known at Belfast’s commercial docks and he stopped for a drink in a nearby bar before returning to his vessel, the Orwell Fisher.
The UDA/UFF launched an attack on the pub. A witness remembered seeing hooded men “with a sub-machine gun, spraying the customers in Muldoon’s Bar with bullets, while a home-made pipe bomb was thrown in”.
Nine customers and staff were injured, including two off-duty solders in civilian clothes who were drinking at the bar.
The Irish News reported at the time that the attack on May 31 1973 was one of three “bomb and bullet attacks on Catholic-owned public houses” that day.
“Belfast’s night of bloodshed began at 8:30pm when a gunman sprayed the inside of Muldoon’s bar with bursts of sub-machine gunfire,” reads the report in The Irish News.
“One man standing at the bar close to the door was in the direct line of fire and was hit at least twice in the throat. He died almost immediately.”
Capt Curry was from Preston in Lancashire and had been married for only six months when he was killed.
Members of Belfast’s seafaring community attended a dockside service as his coffin was carried aboard his vessel for its journey home.
Annex E records that in the weeks after Thomas Curry’s murder, the same army sub-machine gun was used in four attempted murders including when shots were fired from a passing car injuring four Catholic teenagers on Belfast’s Antrim Road in June 1973.
The main ‘Subversion’ document, to which Annex E is attached, records that: “There can be little doubt that subversion in the UDR has added significantly to the weapons and ammunition stocks of Protestant extremist groups.”
It adds: “Neither the British army, nor the minority community has yet experienced the full force of these weapons, for many are in store.” Looking to the future, it strikes a warning note: “It is a statement of the obvious that circumstances may well arise in which all the weapons stolen from the UDR may well be used, perhaps against the British army. They would form a most significant part of the armoury of the Protestant extremists.”
TEXT OF ANNEX E
Annex E: A List of Terrorist Outrages In Which One of the Sub-Machine Guns Stolen in the Lurgan UDR/TAVR Centre Arms Raid on 23 October 1972 Has Subsequently Been Used.
The examination (by the DRC) of test cases fired from the SMG (sub-machine gun) recovered from three men, two of whom were known UFF/UVF, following an armed robbery and attempted murder at 192 Shankill Rd on 21 July 1973, has revealed that the same weapon has been used in the following incidents.
1. 3/2/73 Find of fired case in car CIJ 7010 at junction Crumlin Rd/Century St.
2. 3/2/73 Kidnapping of R W Stewart. Fired cases found in car 5848 WZ Ballygomartin Rd.
3. 20/3/73 The attempted murder of three youths, who were fired at from a passing car, on Brookvale Avenue.
4. 9/5/73 The attempted murder of Mrs E Armstrong, Tobergill St. Fired cases found at scene in car AJA 7339.
5. 14/5/73 The attempted murder of Francis McCourt, Church Rd, Whiteabbey. Fired cases found at scene.
6. 31/5/73 The murder of Thomas Curry, and the attempted murder of others
in Muldoon’s Bar, Tomb St. Fired cases found at scene.
7. 9/6/73 Find of fired cases at Carnan St (0450 hours). No report of
8. 9/6/73 Attempted murder of Frank Haddock in Pacific Avenue/Atlantic
Avenue. Fired cases found at scene.
9. 10/6/73 Attempted murder of Messrs, Thompson, Cochrane, McGowan, and
O’Neill, on the Antrim Rd, who were fired at from a passing car. Fired
cases were handed to police.
10. 11/6/73 Attempted murder of members of the Security Forces, Shankill Rd.
11. 9/6/73 Attempted murder of J J Hawthorne, on Shankill Rd.
[Were you or a member of your family affected by incidents outlined in
these documents? If you wish to discuss this information you can contact
The Irish News on 028 9033 7544]
HOW POLITICIANS WERE MISLED:
The British parliamentary system places great store in its respect for the
House of Commons but the files being revealed by The Irish News show how
MPs who asked questions about UDR activity, were told half-truths….
NATIONALIST communities who believed security forces were conspiring with
loyalists demanded that their elected politicians raise the alarm.
But now two sets of documents reveal for the first time how questions
on paramilitary crime inspired ‘sterile’ political answers.
Frank McManus was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 1970, having
successfully stood as a nationalist ‘unity’ candidate.
In August 1972 he asked a parliamentary question of the minister for
defence, and a written record has emerged.
The document records that Mr McManus asked: “How many guns have been
reported stolen from members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the last six
months; and how many have been recovered following investigations.”
The written answer to his parliamentary question, reads: “Since 1 February
1972 49 weapons of different kinds have been reported lost by, or stolen
from, the UDR. Five of these weapons have been recovered to date.”
However, a second page was filed along with the answer.
It is marked “Confidential Background note”, and lists three points:
– firstly, it lists the weapons as including 14 pistols, but also 31
semi-automatic rifles and four sub-machine guns
– secondly, it reveals weapons were stolen from UDR members’ homes, but
also from “UDR armouries or guard rooms”
– the crucial third point reads: “In a number of cases collusion is
This additional information was never made public, until today.
Mr McManus, who still works as a solicitor in Fermanagh, said he asked his
question against a background of concerns over the UDR.
Surprised to hear of the file’s existence, he said it was clear that
important information had been kept from him.
“Everyone knew that there was collusion and of course the government was
always at pains to cover up,” he said yesterday.
“A number of very close friends of mine were killed and it was common
knowledge that it was men in uniform who did it.”
He added: “Technically the answer I received is, in some respects, correct
but the real point is that they were concealing the essential parts. They
wanted to conceal it.”
Bernadette Devlin MP raised her concerns over the UDR on the floor of the
House of Commons in a July 1972 debate with then secretary of state William
He told the House: “The honourable lady makes a very serious accusation
about the connection of the Ulster Defence Regiment with the Ulster Defence
“If she has specific evidence she owes it to me to send it to me in
writing… in fairness to everybody concerned.”
She sent Mr Whitelaw a list of allegations of UDR violence.
“Should you require a ‘blow-by-blow’ account of intimidation in the areas
concerned, I suggest you contact the RUC in Cookstown, Magherafelt, Coagh
and Moneymore, where the files are currently gathering dust,” she wrote.
A reply from the secretary of state’s office arrived in October, 1972,
reading: “The thefts of eight UDR weapons in Co Tyrone are being
investigated. In none of these cases has any proof been found of collusion
between members of the UDR and paramilitary organisations. The appropriate
action would of course be taken if such collusion was proved.”
But the new files contain the letters sent between the officials who
drafted the reply.
One considers allegations that UDR soldiers shot at the home of a Catholic
man: “Police enquiries have failed to implicate members of the UDR,
although they were suspected…”
Another writes: “Nine self-loading rifles are missing from the UDR in
County Tyrone. In none of these cases has collusion been proven between the
UDR and paramilitary organisations, although in some cases there are
suspicions of such collusion (perhaps in association with intimidation) and
investigations are in hand. East Tyrone is an area where we believe that
certain UDR members may be sympathetic towards the UDA.”
Crucially, the civil servant advises a colleague: “I suggest that the reply
to Miss Devlin should not quote specific figures but should say: ‘Certain
thefts of UDR weapons in the Tyrone area are being investigated. In none of
these cases is there any proof of collusion between members of the UDR and
paramilitary organisations. The military authorities would of course take
severe action if such collusion were proven’.”
As in the case of Frank McManus MP before her, Bernadette Devlin,
Westminster representative for Mid Ulster, raised concerns, but heard
nothing of the official suspicions of collusion.
WEAPONS THEFTS RECORDED IN EVERY COUNTY
THE ‘half-truths’ presented to politicians are all the more shocking when
set against yet another document listing how army guns were passed to
The document entitled ‘Subversion in the UDR’, detailed in yesterday’s
Irish News, revealed how loyalists launched major weapons raids on army
bases in 1972/73 with the help of soldiers.
But in addition to this document, a separate file shows how military
officials recorded the loss of small amounts of weapons at locations in
every county in Northern Ireland.
The losses usually involve single weapons one officer calculating them on
the back of a page, as pictured.
A total of 64 weapons mainly semi-automatic rifles were recorded as
stolen from UDR members. The author fills out a ‘comment’ box for each case
and in 23 cases collusion was suspected.
The comments written for these cases include remarks such as:
– “UDA Portadown believed responsible. Possible collusion with unknown
member of unit.”
– “Three armed masked men took two UDR
soldiers’ weapons whilst sitting in their car outside their home. One
soldier’s son is known to be member of the UDA.”
– “Car stopped by armed men. Weapon taken. One of the men seemed to know
soldier. Possible collusion, but maybe coercion as children were in the car
at the time.”
In the majority of cases the weapons went to loyalists but two thefts are
blamed on republicans. In one of these, the IRA brutally murdered UDR
member Tommy Fletcher who was taken from his Fermanagh farmhouse in front
of his wife and shot 14 times in a nearby field.
FILES CONFIRM SUSPICIONS
THE significance of the files made public in the last 48 hours is that they
have delivered confirmation of what was once dismissed as a ‘collusion
They represent a substantial addition to the debate on how the Troubles
developed and why violence lasted so long.
For the first time they give a dramatic insight into the scale of collusion
and, crucially, how much the British government knew about it.
The ‘Subversion in the UDR’ document was written in August 1973 by military
intelligence and Ministry of Defence officials, with one civil servant
expressing fears over the questions that “are bound to follow once it has
reached No 10”.
They were obviously concerned that the then prime minister would be shaken
by their report that 5 to 15 per cent of UDR troops were linked to
loyalists and that the regiment was the “best single source” of weapons for
So what questions did Downing Street ask?
We know that the shocking reports of subversion reached the prime
This is confirmed by a further document, stamped ‘confidential’, which
records a meeting in September 1975 two years after the subversion
document was written.
The document is a summary of a meeting where the prime minister at the
time, Harold Wilson, and his secretary of state for Northern Ireland Merlyn
Rees, brief the leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, on political
and security matters.
The five-page document shows that the politicians held a meeting in the
House of Commons where Mrs Thatcher was brought up to date on events in
It is clear the discussion was frank and wide-ranging. They discuss the
IRA, the performance of the courts and the overcrowding of prisons.
However, a key section on the security situation confirms that Downing
Street was aware of the UDR subversion and reveals additional concerns over
“The Secretary of State said that he was more worried by the current
sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast,” reads the document.
“Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very
close to the UVF and who were prepared to hand over information, for
example, to Mr Paisley.
“The army’s judgement was that the UDR were heavily infiltrated by
extremist Protestants and that in a crisis situation they could not be
relied on to be loyal.”
The record of the discussion sheds no further light on these revelations.
None of the politicians are recorded as raising concerns or expressing
surprise at the comments.
Two years after the subversion document was written, therefore, the UDR
remained “heavily infiltrated” and Downing Street was linking elements
within the RUC to the loyalist UVF.
With this in mind an extraordinary RTE documentary filmed in 1977 gives a
revealing insight into the UDR at the latter stages of the decade.
The programme interviews a number of senior officers, including an unnamed
There is no suggestion that the officer was involved in any wrongdoing
whatsoever but his comments echo those of his colleagues on the programme,
offering a valuable insight into UDR thinking.
The TV reporter and soldier discuss the UDR’s role.
Interviewer: “Who do you see as the enemy in your area?”
Officer: “Well the Provisional IRA is the only enemy we have.”
Interviewer: “Are you suspicious of the Catholic community in your area?”
Officer: “Well a certain amount of them you have to be suspicious, because
a lot of them are involved in the deaths of members of this company.”
Interviewer: “Well could you give me an idea of how many Catholics in your
area that you are suspicious of?”
Officer: “Well that’s a very difficult question to say, well roughly
speaking say 50 per cent.”
A nationalist resident tells the programme: “Obviously there are very good
and very decent men in the UDR but the record has been poor.
“The great difficulty I see with the UDR is it in fact brings one section
of the community into the security forces and keeps the other out.”
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Stalker and Sampson inquiries examined
allegations of wrong-doing in the RUC, while three investigations by John,
now Lord, Stevens probed allegations of security force collusion with
The British government never allowed the inquiry teams to publish their
Now these files unearthed from the government’s own records have confirmed
that as early as 1973 it was aware of large-scale collusion.
We know that politicians who asked questions were misled.
Crucially, there is no evidence of any substantial effort by government to
These files amount to a few dozen pages, but they have confirmed
allegations that were evaded throughout the Troubles.
They leave us with one important unanswered question: What is in the files
we have yet to see?