8 April 2010 Edition
Gone but not yet forgotten
BY LAURA FRIEL
Almost without exception, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) passed without notice last week.
An article in the Belfast Newsletter and a parade in Ballymena were not insignificant but neither could disguise the fact that the commemoration of an organisation, once integral to the Orange State, could no longer command its former place within civic society.
Of course the marginalisation of the UDR is mostly a consequence of political transformation but it also reflects the success of the families of victims and survivors in exposing the UDR’s role in violent crime and state-sponsored murder.
A locally recruited counter insurgency militia, the Ulster Defence Regiment was established in April 1970. From the outset the UDR was a sectarian force, drawing the majority of its founding recruits from the notorious B Specials. Within the first two years over 2,500 former B Specials had been recruited.
Film footage broadcast for the first time to a mass television audience exposing their brutality had led the Hunt Report to recommend the disbandment of the B Specials in 1969. Tellingly, instead of disbanding, the British government merely provided another vehicle, the UDR, through which the B Specials could not only be maintained but also granted greater access to more deadly weaponry.
Not surprisingly given its anti-republican role, the UDR was almost exclusively drawn from the community most loyal to British occupation and most hostile to reform or progressive change. In other words, the UDR was 97% Protestant and 100% unionist. But significantly, unlike its predecessor the B Specials, the UDR came under the direct control of the British army rather than the Orange State.
Released reluctantly by the British state under the 30-year rule in 2004, a secret dossier compiled by British Military Intelligence in 1973 exposed the fact that the British army and their political masters were very well aware of collusion between members of the UDR and unionist paramilitaries. The dossier admitted widespread joint membership, with large numbers of UDA members also recruited into the UDR.
The secret dossier detailed the role of UDR members in providing intelligence, training and arms to unionist paramilitaries. It admitted that some of the UDR’s most deadly weaponry was now in the hands of “the most violent of the criminal sectarian groups within the Protestant Community”.
Violent, criminal and sectarian they might be, but in compiling the dossier British Military Intelligence wasn’t concerned about collusion between unionist paramilitaries and the UDR in relation to the threat it posed to the civilian population, most particularly the northern nationalist community.
The hypothesis the dossier explored was the likely reaction of the UDR in the event of any declaration of unilateral independence by the Orange State. In other words, what was the risk of a regimental mutiny and would the UDR, or UDR armed paramilitaries, ever turn their weaponry against the British army?
Some commentators have been confused by an apparent inconsistency between British Military Intelligence investigating ‘subversion’ within the UDR while at the same time using the UDR and its paramilitary links to conduct a covert war.
But, as this dossier reveals, British Intelligence did not regard collusion as ‘subversive’, and apparently neither did their political masters, for whom the document was prepared, as long as it served British interests. It would only become ‘subversive’ if it were ever deployed against the British state.
The confusion arose because when the dossier was published in 2004, in the public arena the British state had already dedicated a great deal of time and energy into distancing itself from collusion as a means of dealing with allegations of state-sponsored murder.
By the end of the century Britain was promoting the notion that collusion was something ‘unknown’, something that the state had to inquire into, a deviation, a subversion of, rather than a part of, British strategy.
But it is clear that from its earliest beginnings members of the UDR were enlisted by specialist groups within the British army as assassins and bombers in covert operations.
Robert Nairac, the second in command of the British army’s 14th Intelligence Unit, recruited members of the UDR and RUC to act as pro-British death squads in the 1970s. Nairac has been implicated in some of the most dastardly acts of that period, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the assassination of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green and the Miami Showband massacre.
A documentary screened by Yorkshire television in 1993 revealed Nairac’s recruitment and deployment of members of the UDR and RUC to carry out covert bombings and assassinations. Nairac was abducted in County Armagh in 1977 and is presumed dead.
After Nairac’s disappearance, The 14th Intelligence, a close associate of the British SAS, continued to use members of the UDR as pro-British death squads. The unit was later superseded by the Force Research Unit and was later renamed the Joint Support Group.
Willie Frazer, a spokesperson for FAIR (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives), has revealed that his father Robert, a UDR soldier killed by the IRA, had “worked closely with 14th Intelligence”.
“It was those who were helping the SAS and Special Forces who were selected for killing by the IRA. Other members of the UDR were not assassinated. The IRA picked a group of people who had been in something together. It was not just any member of the security forces,” admitted Frazer.
In the late 1980s, unionist paramilitaries, in an attempt to refute that they were engaging in sectarian hate crime, began revealing the intelligence sources used to target their victims. The vast majority of the material came from UDR security files. With hundreds of documents being made public, the British government dispatched John Stevens to ‘investigate’ allegations of collusion.
Stevens’ probe attempted to exonerate the UDR by claiming that collusion was “limited to a few low rank soldiers”. But it was too little too late and in 1992, in what was little more than a cosmetic exercise, the UDR was merged with another regiment and renamed the Royal Irish Regiment. However it continued to attract controversy and in 2005 the northern battalions of the RIR were ‘rewarded’ with a £250 million redundancy package and disbanded.
The UDR was 97% Protestant and 100% unionist