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Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Participant in The Troubles
The UVF emblem.
Active May 1966 – present (ended armed campaign in May 2007)
Ideology Ulster loyalism
Leaders "Brigade Staff"
Headquarters Belfast
Area of
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Strength Unknown
Allies Red Hand Commandos
Opponents Irish republicans, Irish nationalists

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. The current incarnation was formed in May 1966 and named after the Ulster Volunteers of 1912, although there is no direct link between the two. The group undertook an armed campaign of almost thirty years during "The Troubles". It declared a ceasefire in 1994, although sporadic attacks continued until it officially ended its armed campaign in May 2007.

The UVF's declared goal was to destroy Irish republican paramilitary groups. However, the vast majority (more than two-thirds)[1][2] of its 481 known victims were Catholic civilians. During the conflict, its deadliest attack in Northern Ireland was the "McGurk's Bar bombing", which killed 15 civilians. The group also carried out a handful of attacks in the Republic of Ireland, the most deadly of which was the "Dublin and Monaghan bombings" — this killed 33 civilians, the highest number of deaths in a single day during the conflict.

The group is a proscribed organisation in the Republic of Ireland and a designated terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom.



The 1960s

The year 1966 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising — when Irish republicans seized key buildings in Dublin and declared an independent Irish Republic. On 8 March 1966, a group of ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers planted a bomb that destroyed Nelson's Pillar in Dublin. On 17 April, large republican parades took place in Belfast to mark the anniversary. Some unionists and loyalists feared there would be a "revival" of the IRA. Since 1964 there had also been a growing campaign for equality reforms in Northern Ireland. This was led by groups like Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), which became the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). They sought to end the discrimination suffered by Catholics in housing, employment and through gerrymandering. Prime Minister Terence O'Neill was willing to accept some of the demands. The unionists, who were overwhelmingly Protestant, feared losing their grip on power.

An old UVF mural on Shankill Road, where the group was formed

On 7 May, a group of loyalists led by Gusty Spence petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub on Shankill Road, Belfast. Fire also engulfed the house next door, killing the elderly Protestant widow who lived there.[3] On 21 May, the group (calling itself the "Ulster Volunteer Force") issued a statement:

From this day, we declare war against the Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups. Known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation. Less extreme measures will be taken against anyone sheltering or helping them, but if they persist in giving them aid, then more extreme methods will be adopted . . . we solemnly warn the authorities to make no more speeches of appeasement. We are heavily armed Protestants dedicated to this cause.[4]

On 27 May, four UVF men were sent to kill an IRA volunteer, Leo Martin, who lived on Falls Road. Unable to find their target, the men drove around in search of a Catholic. They shot dead John Scullion, a civilian, as he walked home.[5] Spence later wrote:

At the time, the attitude was that if you couldn't get an IRA man you should shoot a Taig, he's your last resort.[5]

On 26 June, the group shot dead a Catholic civilian and wounded two others as they left a pub on Malvern Street, Belfast.[3] Two days later, the Government of Northern Ireland declared the UVF illegal.[3] The shootings led to Gusty Spence being arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum sentence of twenty years.[6]

In 1969, the UVF took part in a string of bomb attacks on electricity and water installations in Northern Ireland.[7] It was hoped that this would be blamed on the IRA and halt the equality reforms promised by Terence O'Neill.[7] These reforms would have ended discrimination against Catholics. The attacks were carried out with help from the short-lived Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), another loyalist paramilitary group.[7] The UPV was the paramilitary wing of the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee, founded by Ian Paisley. Many of those involved were members of both groups. There were bombings on 30 March, 4 April, 20 April, 24 April and 26 April.[7]

On 12 August 1969, the "Battle of the Bogside" began in Derry. The rioting spread throughout Northern Ireland. This is generally seen as the beginning of "the Troubles". As violence between loyalists and republicans grew, the UVF began a campaign of attacks on both republicans and Catholic civilians.

The 1970s

A UVF mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

The UVF's attacks were aimed at Catholics, in what it called retaliation for attacks on Protestants by the Irish republican groups. As the violence in Northern Ireland began to escalate in the early 1970s the UVF's attacks became more random and lethal. One example of this is the McGurk's Bar bombing in the New Lodge area of Belfast on 4 December 1971, which killed fifteen Catholic civilians. The attack was initially blamed on republican paramilitaries by the authorities and media but the UVF later admitted responsibility.[8][9] From late 1975 to mid-77, a unit of the UVF dubbed the Shankill Butchers (a group of UVF men based on Belfast's Shankill Road) carried out a series of sectarian murders of Catholic civilians. Six of the victims were abducted at random, then beaten and tortured before having their throats slashed. Another UVF group was responsible, allegedly with help from former and serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and British Intelligence,[10] for the bombs in Dublin and Monaghan of 17 May 1974 when thirty-three people were killed. The UVF was also to blame for the deaths of twelve civilians in an attack on 2 October 1974. The organisation carried out further attacks throughout the 1970s. These included the "Miami Showband killings" of 31 July 1975 — when three members of a showband from the Republic of Ireland were killed having been stopped at a fake British Army checkpoint on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Two members of the group survived the attack and later testified against those responsible. Two UVF members were accidentally killed by their own bomb while carrying out this attack. Two of those later convicted (James McDowell and Thomas Crozier) were also members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a part-time, locally recruited regiment of the British Army.

The group had been proscribed in July 1966, but this ban was lifted in April 1974 in an effort to bring the UVF into the democratic process. A political wing was formed in June 1974, the Volunteer Political Party which contested West Belfast in the October 1974 General Election, polling 2,690 votes (6%). The UVF spurned the government efforts however and continued killing. Colin Wallace, part of the intelligence apparatus of the British Army, asserted in an internal memo in 1975 that MI6 and RUC Special Branch formed a pseudo-gang within the UVF, designed to engage in violence and to subvert moves of the UVF towards the political process. Captain Robert Nairac of 14 Intelligence Company was alleged to have been involved in many acts of UVF violence.[11] The UVF was banned again on 3 October 1975 and two days later twenty-six suspected UVF members were arrested in a series of raids. The men were tried and in March 1977 were sentenced to an average of twenty-five years each.[12][13]

The 1980s

In the 1980s, the UVF was greatly reduced by a series of police informers. The damage from security service informers started in 1983 with "supergrass" Joseph Bennett's information which led to the arrest of fourteen senior figures. In 1984, they attempted to kill the northern editor of the Sunday World, Jim Campbell. By the mid 1980s, a Loyalist paramilitary-style organisation called Ulster Resistance was formed on 10 November 1986 by Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Peter Robinson of the DUP, and Ivan Foster. The initial aim of Ulster Resistance was to bring an end to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Loyalists were successful in importing arms into Northern Ireland. The weapons were Palestine Liberation Organisation arms captured by the Israelis, sold to Armscor, the South African state-owned company which, in defiance of the 1977 United Nations arms embargo, set about making South Africa self-sufficient in military hardware[citation needed]. The arms were divided between the UVF, the UDA (the largest loyalist group) and Ulster Resistance.[14]

The UVF received large numbers of Sa vz. 58 assault rifles

The arms are thought to have consisted of:

  • 200 Czech Sa vz. 58 assault rifles,
  • 90 Browning pistols,
  • 500 RGD-5 offensive grenades,
  • 30,000 rounds of ammunition and
  • 12 RPG-7 rocket launchers and 150 warheads.

The UVF used this new infusion of arms to escalate their campaign of sectarian assassinations. While this era saw a more widespread targeting on the UVF's part of IRA and Sinn Féin members, most of their victims continued to be Catholic civilians uninvolved in paramilitary activity.

The early 1990s

A UVF mural on Island Street, Belfast

(see article on IRA and loyalist paramilitaries)

The UVF also attacked republican paramilitaries and their political activists. These attacks were stepped up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The largest death toll was on 3 March 1991 when the UVF killed IRA members John Quinn, Dwayne O'Donnell and Malcolm Nugent, and civilian Thomas Armstrong in the car park next to Boyle's Bar, Cappagh.[15] Republicans responded by assassinating UVF leaders, including John Bingham, Trevor King[16] and Leslie Dallas.[17]. The UVF also killed republicans James Burns, Liam Ryan and Laurence Marley.[18] According to Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), the UVF killed 17 active and four former republican paramilitaries. CAIN also states that Republicans killed 13 UVF members.[19]

1994 ceasefire

In 1990 the UVF joined the Combined Loyalist Military Command and indicated its acceptance of moves towards peace. However, the year leading up to the loyalist ceasefire, which took place shortly after the Provisional IRA ceasefire, saw some of the worst sectarian killings carried out by loyalists during the Troubles. On 16 June 1994, UVF members machine-gunned a pub in Loughinisland, County Down on the basis that its customers were watching the Republic of Ireland national football team playing in the World Cup on television and were therefore assumed to be Catholics. The gunmen shot dead six people and injured five.

The UVF agreed to a ceasefire in October 1994.

Post-ceasefire activities

More militant members of the UVF, led by Billy Wright who disagreed with the ceasefire, broke away to form the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). This development came soon after the UVF's "Brigade Staff" (its Belfast-based leadership) had stood down the Mid-Ulster brigade, on 2 August 1996, for the murder of a Catholic taxi driver near Lurgan during Drumcree disturbances.[20]

A UVF mural in Carrickfergus

There followed years of violence between the two organisations, with UVF also clashing with the UDA in the summer of 2000. The feud with the UDA ended in December following seven deaths. Veteran anti-UVF campaigner Raymond McCord, whose son, a Protestant, was beaten to death by UVF men in 1997, estimates the UVF has killed more than thirty people since its 1994 ceasefire, most of them Protestants.[citation needed] The feud between the UVF and the LVF erupted again in the summer of 2005. The UVF killed four men in Belfast and trouble ended only when the LVF announced that it was disbanding in October of that year.[21]

On 14 September 2005, following serious loyalist rioting during which dozens of shots were fired at riot police, the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain announced that the British government no longer recognised the UVF ceasefire.[22]

On 12 February 2006, The Observer reported that the UVF was to disband by the end of 2006. The newspaper also reported that the group refused to decommission its weapons.[23]

On 2 September 2006, BBC News reported the UVF may be intending to re-enter dialogue with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, with a view to decommissioning of their weapons. This move comes as the organisation holds high level discussions about their future.[24]

On 3 May 2007, following recent negotiations between the PUP and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and with Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, the UVF made a statement that they would transform to a "non-military, civilianised" organisation.[25] This was to take effect from midnight. They also stated that they would retain their weaponry but put them beyond reach of normal volunteers. Their weapons stock-piles are to be retained under the watch of the UVF leadership.[26][27][28]

In January 2008, the UVF was accused of involvement in vigilante action against alleged criminals in Belfast.[29]

In the twentieth IMC report, the group was said to be continuing to put its weapons "beyond reach," (in the group's own words) to downsize, and reduce the criminality of the group. The report added that individuals, some current and some former members, in the group have, without the orders from above, continued to "localised recruitment," and although some continued to try and acquire weapons, including a senior member, most forms of crime had fallen, including shootings and assaults. The group concluded a general acceptance of the need to decommission, though there was no conclusive proof of moves towards this end.[30]

In June 2009 the Ulster Volunteer Force, formally decommissioned their weapons in front of independent witnesses as a formal statement of decommissioning was read by Dawn Purvis and Billy Hutchinson.[31] The IICD confirmed that "substantial quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices" had been decommissioned and that for the UVF and RHC, decommissioning had been completed. [32]

Drug dealing

The UVF state they are against drug dealing, and will 'deal justice' to drug dealers. The UVF, has put a series of anti-drugs posters up on the estates they run to warn dealers that they are not welcome.[33]

The UVF have been implicated in drug dealing in areas where they draw their support from. Recently it has emerged from the Police Ombudsman that senior North Belfast UVF member and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch informant Mark Haddock has been involved in drug dealing. According to the Belfast Telegraph, "...70 separate police intelligence reports implicating the north Belfast UVF man in dealing cannabis, Ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine."[34]

Strength and support

The strength of the UVF is uncertain. The first Independent Monitoring Commission report in April 2004 estimated the UVF/RHC had "a few hundred" active members "based mainly in the Belfast and immediately adjacent areas"[35] The UVF weaponry was limited to small arms, with its sporadic bombing efforts being made using stolen quarrying explosives.

Affiliated groups

  • The Red Hand Commando (RHC) is an organisation that was established in 1972 and is closely linked with the UVF.
  • The Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) is the youth section of the UVF. It was initially a youth group akin to the Scouts, but became the youth wing of the UVF during the Home Rule crisis.
  • The Protestant Action Force and, much less commonly, the Protestant Action Group were cover names used by the UVF to avoid directly claiming responsibility for killings and other acts of violence. The names were first used during the early 1970s.[37]

Deaths as a result of activity

The UVF has killed more people than any other loyalist paramilitary group. According to the University of Ulster's Sutton database, the UVF and RHC was responsible for 481 killings during "the Troubles", between 1969 and 2001. Note that these figures include killings that were claimed by the "Protestant Action Force" and "Protestant Action Group".

Status Deaths Percentage
Civilian 401 83%
Civilian political activist 11 2%
Republican paramilitary 21 4%
Loyalist paramilitary 42 9%
Security forces 6 1%

See also


  1. ^ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths: Organisation responsible for the death
  2. ^ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths: Crosstabulation (select "religion summary" + "status" + "organisation")
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ See Nelson, Sarah. "Ulster's Uncertain Defenders: Protestant Political Paramilitary and Community Groups and the Northern Ireland Conflict" Belfast: Appletree Press, 1984 Page.61.
  5. ^ a b Dillon, Martin. The Shankill butchers: the real story of cold-blooded mass murder. Routledge, 1999. Pages 20-23
  6. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 44. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7. 
  7. ^ a b c d
  8. ^ See Sutton database here [1].
  9. ^ Lost Lives 2007 edition, p.123, ISBN 978-1-84018-504-1
  10. ^ Loyalists by Peter Taylor (ISBN 0-7475-4519-7), page 126
  11. ^ Death Squad Dossier, Irish Mail on Sunday by Michael Browne, 10 December 2006, also partly quoted in Barron Report (2003) p, 172 see also, Irish Daily Mail, 30 November 2006 for further information
  12. ^ Boyce, George (2001). Defenders of the Union: British and Irish Unionism, 1800-1999. Routledge. pp. 269. ISBN 978-0415174213. 
  13. ^ "What is the UVF?". BBC. 3 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  14. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 189–195. ISBN 0-7475-4519-7. 
  15. ^ "NI Conflict Archive on the Internet". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  16. ^ "CAIN". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  17. ^ Ed Moloney, Secret History of the IRA, p.321, Brendan O'Brien, The Long War, p314
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "UVF disbands unit linked to taxi murder" The Independent, 3 August 1996; retrieved 18 October 2009
  21. ^ "BBC News". BBC News. 2005-10-31. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  22. ^ "BBC News". BBC News. 2005-09-14. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  23. ^ "The Observer".,,1708038,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  24. ^ "BBC News". BBC News. 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  25. ^ "UVF Statement". BBC News. 2007-05-03. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  26. ^ "RTÉ News - Statement Imminent". 2007-05-03. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  27. ^ "Statement Imminent". BBC News. 2007-05-03. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  28. ^ "Statement Released". BBC News. 2007-05-03. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  29. ^ Henry McDonald Law and order Belfast-style as two men are forced on a 'walk of shame', The Observer, 13 January 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  30. ^ "412882_HC 1112_Text" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  31. ^ 'Loyalist Weapons "put beyond use"' - BBC News, 27 June 2009
  32. ^ 'Report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning' - IICD, 04 September 2009
  33. ^ "Drugs". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  34. ^ Haddock's drug den and the link to a gun tragedy - Local & National - News - Belfast Telegraph
  35. ^ IMC.
  36. ^ "Northern Ireland | What is the UVF?". BBC News. 2005-09-14. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  37. ^ "CAIN: Abstracts of Organisations". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 


  • Steve Bruce, The Red Hand, 1992, ISBN 0-19-215961-5
  • Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald, UVF, 2000, ISBN 1-85371-687-1
  • Martin Dillon, The Dirty War
  • Brendan O'Brien, The Long War - the IRA and Sinn Féin
  • Peter Taylor, Loyalists
  • Tony Geraghty, The Irish War

External links

Simple English

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is a Loyalist paramilitary (civilians trained as soldiers) group formed in 1966. It takes its name from the UVF of World War I. The Ulster Volunteer Force was started as a Protestant/Unionist militia (citizen military force) in 1912 to oppose the Home Rule campaign for a separate Irish parliament. Many UVF members formed the 36th (Ulster) Division that fought with the British Army in World War I. The Progressive Unionist Party is the political wing of the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando. Although the PUP is called a loyalist fringe party, it has more moderate unionist views than any of the traditional unionist parties.

Other pages


  • Steve Bruce, The Red Hand, 1992, ISBN 0-19-215961-5
  • Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald, UVF, 2000, ISBN 1-85371-687-1
  • Martin Dillon, The Dirty War
  • Brendan O'Brien, The Long War - the IRA and Sinn Féin
  • Peter Taylor, Loyalists
  • Tony Geraghty, The Irish War

Other websites

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