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Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Participant in The Troubles
Uda flag.jpg
A UDA flag commonly flown in Loyalist areas of Northern Ireland.
Active September 1971 – present (officially ended armed campaign in November 2007)
Ideology Ulster loyalism
Leaders Original Leadership
Charles Harding Smith, Tommy Herron, Andy Tyrie
Commander of the UFF
John McMichael (until 1987)[1]
Inner Council
Jackie McDonald, Johnny Adair, Jim Gray, Andre Shoukri, Billy McFarland, John Gregg, James 'Jimbo' Simpson[1]
Headquarters Belfast
Area of
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Strength Unknown
Allies LVF[2]
RHD (until 2002)[3]
Opponents Irish republicans, Irish nationalists

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. It was formed in September 1971 and undertook an armed campaign of almost twenty-four years during "The Troubles". Most UDA attacks were carried out using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). It is classified as a terrorist group in the United Kingdom.[4]

The UDA's declared goal was to defend unionist areas from attack[5] and to counter Irish republican paramilitaries. However, about 80% of its 259 known victims were civilians.[6] The majority of these were Catholics,[7] killed in what the group called retaliation for attacks on Protestants.[8][9] High-profile attacks carried out by the group include the "Milltown massacre", the "Castlerock killings" and the "Greysteel massacre". The UDA declared a ceasefire in 1994, although sporadic attacks continued until it officially ended its armed campaign in November 2007.[10]




The Ulster Defence Association emerged in Belfast during September 1971. It was formed as an umbrella organisation for "vigilante" groups called "defence associations", which were tasked with defending Protestant, unionist and loyalist areas from attack.[11] Its first leader was Charles Harding Smith, and its most prominent early spokesperson was Tommy Herron.[11] However Andy Tyrie would emerge as leader soon after.[12] Its original motto was "law before violence" and it was a legal organisation until it was banned on 10 August 1992.[11]At its peak of strength it held around forty thousand members, mostly part-time.[13][14] During this period of legality, the UDA committed a large number of attacks using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters,[15][16] including the assassination of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) politician Paddy Wilson in 1973.[17] The UDA was involved in the successful Ulster Workers Council Strike in 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement—an agreement which some loyalists and Unionists thought conceded too much to nationalist demands. The UDA enforced this general strike through widespread intimidation across Northern Ireland. The strike was led by Vanguard Assemblyman and UDA member, Glenn Barr.[18]

Paramilitary campaign

Throughout the majority of its period of legality, the UDA's attacks were carried out under the name Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). The UFF's campaign of violence began in 1972. In May of that year, the UDA's under-pressure leader Tommy Herron decided that responsibility for acts of violence committed by the UDA would be claimed by the UFF. Its first public statements came one month later.[19]

The UFF's official position during the Troubles was that if the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provisional IRA) called off its campaign of violence, then it would do the same. However, if the British government announced that it was withdrawing from Northern Ireland, then the UDA would act as "the IRA in reverse."[20]

Active throughout the Troubles, its armed campaign gained prominence in the early 1990s through Johnny Adair's ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C. Company, which resulted in a greater degree of tactical independence for the UFF.[21] They benefited, along with the Ulster Volunteer Force and a group called Ulster Resistance set up by the Democratic Unionist Party, from a shipment of arms imported from Lebanon in 1988.[22] The weapons landed included rocket launchers, 200 rifles, 90 pistols and over 400 grenades.[23] Although almost two–thirds of these weapons were later recovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), they enabled the UDA to launch an assassination campaign against their perceived enemies.

A UFF mural in the Kilcooley estate near Bangor
A UFF mural in the Sandy Row area of South Belfast

Leading UDA member Davy Payne was arrested after his "scout" car had been stopped at a RUC checkpoint and large caches of the weaponry were discovered in the boots of his colleagues' cars. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In 1992 Brian Nelson, a prominent UDA member convicted of sectarian killings, revealed that he was also a British Army agent. This led to allegations that the British Army and RUC were helping the UDA to target Irish republican activists. UDA members have since confirmed that they received intelligence files on republicans from British Army and RUC intelligence sources.[24]

One of the most high profile UDA attacks came in October 1993, when three UFF men attacked a restaurant called the Rising Sun in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, County Londonderry, where two hundred people were celebrating Halloween. The two men entered and opened fire. Eight people, including six Catholics and two Protestants were killed and nineteen wounded in what became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA or UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA's Shankill Road bombing which killed nine, seven days earlier.

According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster's CAIN project,[25] the UDA or UFF was responsible for 259 killings during the Troubles. 208 of its victims were civilians (predominantly Catholics), 12 were civilian political activists (mainly members of Sinn Fein, 37 were other loyalist paramilitaries (including 30 of its own members), three were members of the security forces and 11 were republican paramilitaries. A number of these attacks were carried out with the assistance or complicity of the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or both, according to the Stevens Enquiry, although the exact number of people killed as a result of collusion has not been revealed. The preferred modus operandi of the UDA was individual killings of select civilian targets in nationalist areas, rather than large-scale bomb or mortar attacks.

Post-ceasefire activities

Its ceasefire was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Paul Murphy and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde.

A UDA or UFF mural in Belfast

Since the ceasefire, the UDA has been accused of taking vigilante action against alleged drug dealers, including tarring and feathering a man on the Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast.[26][27] It has also been involved in several feuds with the Ulster Volunteer Force, which led to many killings. The UDA has also been riddled by its own internecine warfare, with self-styled "brigadiers" and former figures of power and influence, such as Johnny Adair and Jim Gray (themselves bitter rivals), falling rapidly in and out of favour with the rest of the leadership. Gray and John Gregg are amongst those to have been killed during the internal strife. On February 22 2003, the UDA announced a "12-month period of military inactivity".[28] It said it will review its ceasefire every three months. The UPRG's Frankie Gallagher has since taken a leading role in ending the association between the UDA and drug dealing.[29]

Following an August 2005 Sunday World article that poked fun at the gambling losses of one of its leaders, the UDA banned the sale of the newspaper from shops in areas it controls. Shops that defy the ban have suffered arson attacks, and at least one newsagent was threatened with death.[30] The PSNI have recently begun accompanying the paper's delivery vans.[31][32] The UDA was also considered to have played an instrumental role in loyalist riots in Belfast in September 2005.[33]

On 13 November 2005 the UDA announced that it would "consider its future", in the wake of the standing down of the Provisional IRA and Loyalist Volunteer Force.[34]

In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported UDA involvement in organised crime, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion, money laundering and robbery.[35]

A UFF mural on Newtownards Road in East Belfast

On June 20, 2006, the UDA expelled Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab, two of its senior members who were heavily involved in crime. Some see this as a sign that the UDA is slowly coming away from crime.[36] The move did see the south-east Antrim brigade of the UDA, which had been at loggerheads with the leadership for some time, support Shoukri and break away under former UPRG spokesman Tommy Kirkham.[37] Other senior members met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for talks on 13 July in the same year.[38]

On 11 November 2007 the UDA announced that the Ulster Freedom Fighters would be stood down from midnight of the same day,[39] with its weapons "being put beyond use" although it stressed that these would not be decommissioned.[40]

Although the group expressed a willingness to move from criminal activity to "community development," the IMC said it saw little evidence of this move because of the views of its members and the lack of coherence in the group's leadership as a result of a loose structure. While the report indicated the leadership intends to follow on its stated goals, factionalism hindered this change. Factionalism was, in fact, said to be the strongest hindrance to progress. The report also said the main non-splintered faction remained active, though it was considerably smaller than the resulting party. Individuals within the group, however, took their own initiative to criminal activity. Although loyalist actions were curtailed, most of the loyalist activity did come from the UDA. The IMC report concluded that the leadership's willingness to change has resulted in community tension and the group would continue to be monitored, although "the mainstream UDA still has some way to go." Furthermore, the IMC warned the group to "recognise that the organisation's time as a paramilitary group has passed and that decommissioning is inevitable." Decommissioning was said to be the "biggest outstanding issue for loyalist leaders, although not the only one."[41]

A UDA mural in Belfast

On 6 January 2010, the UDA announced that it had put its weapons "verifiably beyond use".[42] The decommissioning was completed five weeks before a government amnesty deadline beyond which any weapons found could have been used as evidence for a prosecution.[42] The decommissioning was confirmed by Canadian General John de Chastelain, chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, as well as Lord Eames, former Archbishop of Armagh and Sir George Quigley, former top civil servant.[43] Chastelain stated that the decommissioning included arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices and the UDA stated that the arms "constitute the totality of those under their control".[42] Following the decommissioning the Ulster Political Research Group, the UDA's political representatives, stated that the "Ulster Defence Association was formed to defend our communities; we state quite clearly and categorically that this responsibility now rests with the Government and its institutions where legitimacy resides".[43] UDA representative Frankie Gallagher also stated that the group now regretted being responsible for the killing of more than 400 people.[44]

Shaun Woodward, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that this "is a major act of leadership by the UDA and further comprehensive evidence of the success of politics over violence in Northern Ireland" and the act was also welcomed by Sinn Féin and DUP politicians.[45] The President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese, described the decommissioning as "a very positive milestone on the journey of peace".[46] American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also welcomed the move as a step towards lasting peace in Northern Ireland.[47]

South East Antrim breakaway group

For more information see UDA South East Antrim Brigade.

The breakaway faction continues to use the "UDA" title in its name, although it too expressed willingness to move towards "community development." Though serious crime is not prevalent among the members, some of whom were arrested for drug peddling and extortion were exiled by the Brigade. Although a clear distinction was not available between the faction, as this was the twentieth IMC report was the first to differentiate the two, future reports would tackle the differences.[41]


Some UDA leaders supported an independent Northern Ireland in the mid–late 1970s

In the 1970s the group favoured Northern Ireland independence, but they have retreated from this position.[48]

The New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG) was initially the political wing of the UDA, founded in 1978, which then evolved into the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party in 1981 under the leadership of John McMichael, a prominent UDA member killed by the IRA in 1987, amid suspicion that he was set up to be killed by some of his UDA colleagues.

In 1987, the deputy UDA's deputy commander John McMichael (who was then the leader of the UFF) promoted a document titled "Common Sense", which promoted a consensual end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, while maintaining the Union. The document advocated a power sharing assembly, involving both Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed constitution and new Bill of Rights. It is not clear however, whether this programme was adopted by the UDA as their official policy.[23] However the killing of McMichael that same year and the subsequent removal of Tyrie from the leadership and his replacement with an Inner Council saw the UDA concentrate on stockpiling weapons rather than political ideas.[49]

In 1989, the ULDP changed its name to the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and finally dissolved itself in 2001 following very limited electoral success. Gary McMichael, son of John McMichael, was the last leader of the UDP, which supported the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but had poor electoral success and internal difficulties. The Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) was subsequently formed to give political analysis to the UDA and act as community workers in loyalist areas. It is currently represented on the Belfast City Council.

In early January 1994, the UDA released a document calling for ethnic cleansing and repartition, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[50] The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The vastly Catholic and nationalist areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left stranded in the "Protestant state" would be "expelled, nullified, or interned".[50] The story was printed in The Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January.[51] The "doomsday plan" was based on the work of Dr Liam Kennedy, a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast.[50] In 1986 he had published a book called Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition; though it did not call for ethnic cleansing. The UDP's Raymond Smallwoods said "I wasn't consulted but the scenario set out is a perfectly plausible one".[50] The DUP's Sammy Wilson stated that the plan "shows that some loyalist paramilitaries are looking ahead and contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity".[50]

Links with other groups

In his book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke claimed that the UDA had links with Neo-Nazi groups in Britain—specifically Combat 18[52] (formed in 1991) and the British National Socialist Movement[53] (formed in 1985). He claims that members of these groups helped to smuggle weapons for the UDA and UFF. Ian S Wood's book Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA claims that the UDA has received backing from Combat 18, the British National Front and the British National Party.[54] In 2006, the BBC also reported that the group has links with Combat 18.[55] It is unknown whether these links still exist.

The Red Hand Defenders is a cover name used by breakaway factions of the UFF and the LVF.[1] The term was originally coined in 1997 when members of the LVF carried out attacks on behalf of Johnny Adair's "UFF 2nd Battalion, 'C' Company (Shankill Road)" and vice-versa.[1] The relationship between the UFF (specifically Adair's unit, not the wider leadership of the UDA) was initially formed after the death of Billy Wright, the previous leader of the LVF, and Adair's personal friendship with Mark 'Swinger' Fulton, the organisations new chief.

The necessity for a cover name resulted from the need to avoid tensions between the UDA and the UVF, the organisation from which the LVF had broken away. It was perceived that any open co-operation between the UDA and the LVF would anger the UVF, something which proved to be the case in following years and resulted in the infamous 'Loyalist Feud'.[1] There has been debate as to whether or not the Red Hand Defenders have become an entity in their own right[56] made up of dissident factions from both the UDA and the LVF (both of which have now declared ceasefires whilst the RHD has not), though much intelligence has been based on the claims of responsibility which, as has been suggested,[1] are frequently misleading.

Structure and leadership

A UDA mural showing some of the groups it contained or was linked to

The UDA is made up of:

  • the Inner Council
  • the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)—whose role was to carry out attacks on republican and nationalist targets.
  • the Ulster Defence Force (UDF)—whose role was to give specialised "military training" to a select group of members. This training was given by former British Army soldiers and officers. It was described by the UDA as "the nucleus of a new loyalist army at the ready". Formed in 1985 as a response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.[57]
  • the Ulster Young Militants (UYM)—the "youth wing" of the group. Formed in 1973.[58]
  • the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG)—the UDA's "political advisory body". Formed in 1978.[59]

The UDA operated a devolved structure of leadership, each with a brigadier representing one of its six "brigade areas".[60] Currently, it is not entirely clear whether or not this structure has been maintained in the UDA's post cease-fire state.

Some of the notable past brigadiers include:

Jackie McDonald—South Belfast (~1980s-present)[61] Resident of the Taughmonagh estate in South Belfast.[62] McDonald was a cautious supporter of the UDA's ceasefire and a harsh critic of Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair during his final years of membership of the organisation.[63] McDonald remains the only brigadier who did not have a commonly used nickname.

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair—West Belfast (1990–2002)[60] An active figure in the UFF, Adair rose to notoriety in the early 1990s when he led the 2nd Battalion, C Company unit of the UFF in West Belfast which was responsible for one of the bloodiest killing sprees of the Troubles.[60]

Jim 'Doris Day' Gray—East Belfast (Unknown–2005)[60] An unlikely figure in Northern Ireland loyalism, the openly bi-sexual[60] Gray was a controversial figure in the organisation until his death on October 4, 2005. Always flamboyantly dressed, Gray was a key figure in the UDA's negotiations with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid. It is widely believed that Gray received his nickname from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch.[60]

Jimbo 'Bacardi Brigadier' Simpson—North Belfast (Unknown–2002)[60] Simpson is believed to have been an alcoholic, hence his nickname. He was leader of the UDA in the volatile North Belfast area, an interface between Catholics and Protestants in the New Lodge and Tiger's Bay neighbourhoods.[60]

Billy 'The Mexican' McFarland—North Antrim and Derry (Unknown–Unknown)[60] He Earned his nickname because of his moustache and swarthy appearance, and had overall command of the UDA's North Antrim and Derry brigade at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. He supported the leadership against Johnny Adair and has been associated with the magazine 'Warrior', which makes the case for Ulster Independence

Andre 'The Egyptian' Shoukri[60]—North Belfast (2002–2005)[60] Initially a close ally of Johnny Adair, Shoukri and his brother Ihab became involved with the UDA in his native North Belfast. The son of an Egyptian father and a Northern Irish mother, he was expelled from the UDA in 2005 following allegations of criminality.

John 'Grug' Gregg—South East Antrim (Unknown–2003) John 'Grug' Gregg was a man with a fearsome reputation within the loyalist movement, known as a "Hawk" in loyalist circles, and controlled the streets of south east Antrim. On March 14, 1984, he severely wounded Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in an assassination attempt for which he was jailed. When asked by the BBC in prison if he regretted anything about the shooting, his reply was "only that I didn't succeed." He was killed on Belfast's Nelson Street, along with another UDA member (Rab Carson), while travelling in a taxi from the docks in 2003, and the murder was blamed on supporters of Johnny Adair, who had recently been expelled from the UDA in 2002.

Deaths as a result of activity

According to the University of Ulster's Sutton database, the UDA and UFF was responsible for 259 killings during "the Troubles", between 1969 and 2001.

Status Deaths Percentage
Civilian 196 76%
Civilian political activist 12 5%
Loyalist paramilitary 37 14%
Republican paramilitary 11 4%
Security forces 3 1%

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f David Lister and Hugh Jordan, Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair
  2. ^ David Lister and Hugh Jordan Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair
  3. ^
  4. ^ Home Office, Government of the United Kingdom – Proscribed Terrorist Groups. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths: Organisation responsible for the death
  7. ^ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths: Crosstabulation (select "religion summary" + "status" + "organisation")
  8. ^ Sarah Nelson, Ulster's Uncertain Defenders: Loyalists and the Northern Ireland Conflict, Published by Appletree Press, Belfast, (1984), pp.117–127
  9. ^ David McKittrick, Ireland: 'Many of Belfast's most deadly acronyms are now back in action, The Independent, 20 January 1998
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c Cain web Service: Abstracts on Organisations
  12. ^ H. McDonald and J. Cusack, UDA – Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Dublin, Penguin Ireland, 2004, pp. 64–65
  13. ^ The downfall of Mad Dog Adair, part 2 | Magazine | The Observer
  14. ^ The Peace Process in Northern Ireland 2
  15. ^ BBC News | UK | UFF involved in Ulster murders – police chief
  16. ^ Ulster Defense Association
  17. ^ The Guardian
  18. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 128–131. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7. 
  19. ^ Wood, Ian, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA (Edinburgh, 2006), p. 21
  20. ^ Brendan O'Brien, the Long War, the IRA and Sinn Féin (1995), p.91
  21. ^ Table from CAIN showing deaths per year
  22. ^ O'Brien p.92
  23. ^ a b Ibid.
  24. ^ Peter Taylor Loyalists
  25. ^ Conflict Archive on the Internet
  26. ^ Henry McDonald Terror gangs fight to keep street power, The Observer, 2 September 2007, accessed 13 January 2008
  27. ^ Henry McDonald Law and order Belfast-style as two men are forced on a 'walk of shame', The Observer, 13 January 2008, accessed 13 January 2008
  28. ^ Scotland on Sunday
  29. ^ Loyalist Drug Dealers Are "Scum" Says UPRG
  30. ^ Press Gazette
  31. ^ Times Online
  32. ^ Nuzhound
  33. ^ BBC
  34. ^ RTE
  35. ^ Eighth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission
  36. ^ BBC Report
  37. ^ UDA expels south east Antrim brigade chiefs
  38. ^ UTV report
  39. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | UFF given the order to stand down
  40. ^ CBC News: Protestant paramilitary group in N. Ireland renounces violence
  41. ^ a b
  42. ^ a b c "UDA confirm guns decommissioned" BBC news; retrieved 8 January 2010
  43. ^ a b "UDA decommissions all weapons" UK Press Association; retrieved 8 January 2010
  44. ^ "Northern Ireland's outlawed Ulster Defence Association says it has fully disarmed" The Canadian Press; retrieved 8 January 2010
  45. ^ " Northern Ireland politicians hail UDA move " Belfast Telegraph; retrieved 8 January 2010
  46. ^ "President hails 'milestone on journey of peace'" The Irish Times; retrieved 8 January 2010
  47. ^ " Clinton welcomes weapons decommission by N. Ireland's loyalist paramilitary group " Xinhua; retrieved 8 January 2010
  48. ^ Ulster Defence Association
  49. ^ "UDA"
  50. ^ a b c d e Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Pages 184–185.
  51. ^ CAIN
  52. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. NYU Press, 2003. Page 45.
  53. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. NYU Press, 2003. Pages 40–41.
  54. ^ Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Page 339-40.
  55. ^ Why UDA expelled 'unlikely loyalists'
  56. ^ FAS
  57. ^ Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Page 123.
  58. ^ [2]
  59. ^ [3]
  60. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lister, David (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company. Cox & Wyman. ISBN 978-1-84018-890-5. 
  61. ^ Lister, David (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company. Cox & Wyman. pp. 280–283. ISBN 978-1-84018-890-5. 
  62. ^ Lister, David (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company. Cox & Wyman. pp. 280–283. ISBN 978-1-84018-890-5. 
  63. ^ Lister, David (2004). Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company. Cox & Wyman. pp. 280–283. ISBN 978-1-84018-890-5. 

Further reading

  • Steve Bruce, The Red Hand, 1992, ISBN 0-19-215961-5
  • Colin Crawford, Inside the UDA: Volunteers and Violence, 2003.
  • Ed Moloney, The Secret History of the IRA
  • Brendan O'Brien, The Long war, the IRA and Sinn Féin

External links

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