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Paramilitary history July 13, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’ve always been fascinated by Ulster Resistance, the unionist paramilitary style grouping that emerged in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and which for some time appeared to be related to some figures who have recently gained a certain heightened profile in British politics.

Ian Cobain has a very good overview of UR in the Guardian, and even more importantly points to how weapons that were smuggled into Northern Ireland on its behalf wound up involved in 70 murders or attempted murders. 

What’s always struck me is how much the history of UR was downplayed – a political decision obviously due to the inconvenience of the reality of the organisation and the relationship with leading unionist politicians.

As Cobain notes:

Today, the DUP is a party that prides itself on its robust approach to law-and-order issues; the criminal justice section of its website declares that “there must be no amnesty for wrongdoers; there must be no rewriting of the past”. On Monday it completed its deal to prop up the minority Conservative government in return for £1bn of extra funding for Northern Ireland.

But the party continues to be haunted by the role that its hierarchy played in setting up Ulster Resistance, and the way in which this group helped to illegally import the deadly haul of VZ58s. Sammy Wilson is now the DUP MP for East Antrim. Nigel Dodds is now MP for Belfast North and leader of the party’s 10 Westminster MPs.

And:

Perhaps even more uncomfortable for the DUP are the lingering questions about any role that a man called Noel Little may have played as an Ulster Resistance gun-runner. Little’s daughter, Emma Little-Pengelly, is a newly elected DUP MP. One of the VZ58 massacres, in February 1992, in which four Catholic men and a child were shot dead and nine people were injured, took place at a betting shop on the Lower Ormeau Road, in the heart of her Belfast South constituency.

Cobain is entirely fair in the following:

It is not unusual for politicians in Northern Ireland to have been involved in political violence during the Troubles, of course, and many have been far more intricately involved than members of the DUP.

But the problem is that the DUP has positioned itself as entirely divorced from such matters – despite, as we know there’s another perhaps more prosaic but equally problematic issue of how members and representatives of the party sharing platforms with loyalist paramilitaries and so forth.

And what was UR but an effort to put pressure on the state? Organising bodies of (mostly) men in military style carries obvious connotations in the North in particular. That it should ultimately spin out of the politicians’s orbit and take on a life of its own is something that demonstrates – for many of us – a highly predictable dynamic.

What’s astounding reading Cobain’s account is how closely all this comes back to its genesis, how – as noted above – the connections reach into the present.

There’s another point that is worth making. UR never decommissioned, its weapons remain ‘stockpiled’.

In the history of the conflict arguably only two parties were untouched by such matters – those being Alliance and the SDLP. The UUP had a legacy of involvement in the original Stormont government exercising state power. Others had obvious connections with paramilitary groupings of one sort or another. But there’s something about the DUP’s position which is particularly striking, assuming a very particular stance in relation to paramilitarism while this history (and that other history of sharing platforms etc) existed.

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1. The Broken Elbow - July 13, 2017

It was an interesting enough article but it missed a crucial chapter in Noel Little’s history re this business, viz his arrest in a Paris hotel in the company of a S African diplomat while in possession of a mock up of a Shorts surface-to-air missile which had been stolen by a Ulster Resistance sympathiser, and Free Presbyterian working for Shorts. South Africa was deeply involved in the arms smuggling to Loyalists in NI; the British spy in the UDA, Brian Nelson gave a detailed account of the start of this relationship to his handlers in the British military which began with his trip to S Africa on behalf of the UDA and by the time of the Paris arrests, which followed the first arms smuggling, the S Africans were prepared to ratchet up the relationship in return for Shorts’ missile secrets. Thanks to Nelson, the Brits knew of this relationship some years before the arms arrived and, presumably, were following events closely. Cobain also misses another crucial link in the affair, to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of May 1974. The arms were smuggled to the same Co Armagh farm which had been the HQ for those bombers, who had links to the UVF, a farm which was very well known to the security forces for many years and was also the base for a joint UVF-RUC murder gang who had, inter alia, kidnapped a Catholic priest. After the weapons arrived arrangements were made to distribute them to the other Loyalists involved, the UDA and UVF, and they were told to go to this farm to make their collection. Nelson was assigned to pick up the UDA’s share but knowing what was planned by his bosses in the security forces, he cried off and his place was taken by Davy Payne, a notorious UDA assassin and sectarian killer. He was arrested and jailed while the British Army’s spy survived untouched. The discovery of the arms smuggling plot caused Paisley to distance himself from Ulster Resistance and then the arrests in Paris more or less killed it off. Some years later a very senior DUP person told me that he had argued with the Ulster Resistance people that it would be easier and less risky to manufacture their own guns. There was a gun factory discovered in Ballynahinch around this time which was making quite sophisticated automatic weapons. See this photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bc-burnslibrary/5692878781
The same DUP politician is, strangely, still waiting for his elevation to the House of Lords, for some reason. The plot came during the height of Loyalist outrage caused by the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and amongst the protests organised by DUP/Ulster Resistance was the so-called ‘invasion of Clontibret’ which resulted in the arrest of Peter Robinson. The late RUC Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon once told me that the Irish government and Gardai afterwards managed to cover up the fact that shots were exchanged between the Gardai and the Ulster Resistance crowd that night. Anyway the moral of the story is that Theresa May’s unofficial partners in government have a much more colourful history than many think.

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WorldbyStorm - July 13, 2017

Thanks for that, that’s some context. +1 re your last point.

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The Broken Elbow - July 13, 2017

can you change ‘later RUC Chief Constable’ to ‘late RUC etc’…..

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WorldbyStorm - July 13, 2017

Immediately!

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WorldbyStorm - July 13, 2017

I wonder is that on file somewhere, that exchange of shots, on file in Dublin I mean. I imagine it’s been well buried at this stage.

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GW - July 13, 2017

What a swamp that was / is.

I’d forgotten the depth of the South African connection.

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benmadigan - July 14, 2017

according to East Belfast socialist Andrew Boyd (Republicanism and Loyalty in Ireland) Panorama did a programme on Ulster resistance and the south African connection (December 1989), exposing a conspiracy to exchange classified missile technology and blueprints which were stolen from the Belfast aircraft factory for South African guns.

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2. roddy - July 13, 2017

Paddy Devlin and Paddy OHanlon (both now deceased) among others went south looking for weapons a matter of months before founding the SDLP.A veteran republican also told me about a still prominent SDLP member pestering him in the early 70s to get joining the provos.The veteran wisely fobbed him off ,deeming him to be no addition to any movement.

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3. roddy - July 13, 2017

Pre the Patton reforms,theRUC were able to discharge weapons without sanction and just blatantly lied it ever happened. A scuffle outside a chip shop in my local village resulted in a cop firing several shots over peoples heads.Several people made official complaints to theRUC complaints dept ,solicitors etc being involved and naievely expected some result.However several months later they were informed that following a “thorough inquiry police were satisfied that no such incident took place”! Thankfully the advent of the ombudsman has rendered such blatant lying obsolete.On several occasions cops have broken ranks and spilled the beans when the pressure came on from the ombudsmans office.

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