Successive British governments failed to act despite having full knowledge of the extensive and murderous collaboration between the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and unionist paramilitaries in the North of Ireland, historical documents have shown.
According to files unearthed in the Public Records Office in London, up to 15% of the locally-recruited UDR were linked to pro-British death squads and supplying them with arms and intelligence for attacks on the Catholic community.
The main document, titled ‘Subversion in the UDR’, reveals that Downing Street lied when it claimed to have no specific knowledge of collusion between British troops and paramilitary groups such as the UDA, UVF and Orange Volunteers.
In fact, the UDR’s role in the North was enhanced and collusion was allowed to increase in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in hundreds of attacks and the deaths of scores of innocent civilians.
The 14-page paper was obtained by researchers for the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry and Justice for the Forgotten, which represents victims of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
It also confirms specific incidents of collusion, such as raids facilitated by British troops on UDR bases and RUC stations in which Protestant murder gangs were allowed to secure high-powered machine guns.
Forensic tests have revealed that just one such gun was subsequently used in at least a dozen paramilitary attacks, including a murder, a kidnapping, and several attempted murders.
This is the first time evidence has emerged to not only confirm the scale of collusion, but also that the British government was aware of it early in the conflict.
The documents reveal that the British Army was the “best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons” for the death-squads. British Army intelliegence was also aware that the weapons were being used in the murder and attempted murder of innocent Catholics.
The files date from August 1973, and in the two years that followed UDR members took part in the Miami showband massacre, and were linked to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people.
The regiment, which was the largest in the British army, recruited exclusively from the Protestant community in the North of Ireland. It was merged with another military unit in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment but remains mired in controversy.
One report by a British Army brigadier, stamped ‘secret’, expresses concern that the regiment could mutiny in response to orders seen to be against the interests of ‘Ulster’. There are also references to ongoing collusion between the RUC police (now PSNI) and the unionist paramilitary UVF.
It is also revealed that Margaret Thatcher was alerted to the collusion during a September 1975 briefing when she was leader of the Opposition. However, she continued to fully support and encourage the UDR after she came to power in 1979.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the collusion revelations “confirms what we have all known”.
He said collusion and state killings were a matter of “administrative practice” in the north and were authorised at the highest political level.
“This report on the role of the UDR will have surprised no-one. It is one further piece of evidence of the extent to which collusion took place,” he said.
The West Belfast MP referred to “a whole pile of reports”, including several by English police chiefs John Stevens and John Stalker, which have been suppressed.
He also pointed the mainstream media “were compliant in a huge amount of this”.
“I can’t think of another situation anywhere where the media wouldn’t be in there lifting the lid on what was an administrative practice - that the state conspired to kill citizens and to cover that up,” he said.
Mr Adams urged unionism to acknowledge the wrongs that had been done.
He called for “a vigilant media” in the north and “one which is not prepared to take press statements from RUC or British military headquarters and just produce it as fact”.