The Ulster Defence Regiment started out in 1970 as a part-time volunteer force. Soon it developed into the British army’s largest regiment with a membership of around 6,000. It also spent longer on continuous active duty than any other unit in the army’s history. Micheal Smith’s new damning exposure UDR Declassified is based on released government files. They point to one conclusion.
It was an inherently sectarian organisation with links to Loyalist killers that successive British governments not only tolerated but encouraged. From its formation the UDR was a different type of regiment. Formed after a discredited sectarian force, the B Specials, was disbanded, the UDR was reserved for use solely in Northern Ireland. It was part of a long tradition of the use of such forces by the British empire.
Regular army soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland referred to the UDR as “native levies”—a term for local troops raised in, and for, suppression of “the colonies”.
For Catholics, an encounter with the UDR at one of its roadside checkpoints was often brutal and sometimes fatal. In one notorious incident the Miami Showband stopped their tour van at what they thought was a British army checkpoint.
Instead it was a trap set by members of the Glenanne gang who were serving off-duty UDR soldiers. Three of the band members were murdered and two seriously wounded. The killers were British soldiers by day, Loyalist paramilitaries at night. An investigation by a Historical Enquiries Team found that the only real motive for such attacks was to “frighten (victims) friends, other Catholics and supporters of the nationalist agenda”.
Weapons from UDR armouries, or from the homes of UDR personnel, provided a steady flow of military equipment straight into the hands of Loyalist gangs. Internal British army documents from the 1970s use the word collusion routinely and repeatedly. A 1973 military intelligence document called Subversion in the UDR found that up to 15 percent of the UDR members had paramilitary links. In many areas UDR commanders considered dual membership normal—paramilitaries even drank on UDR bases.
By the early 1990s, around 120 members of the regiment were serving prison sentences for serious crimes and 17 had been convicted of murder. But their identities were usually kept secret. Smith says on tracing the collusion though documents, “The denial of access to history is a part of a continuum of British state efforts to obscure its colonial past—to protect the reputation of the British state of generations earlier, concealing and manipulating history.”
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