Declassified official documents shed an interesting light on British government attitudes towards loyalist infiltration of the security forces and loyalist violence in the 1970s. The British Government has sought to portray its role here as that of the neutral broker, the peacekeeper caught between two warring factions. The secret memos and letters, marked UK Eyes Only, tell a different story.
Literally hundreds of mostly Catholic civilians were murdered before the British Government even contemplated the possible extension of internment to loyalists. Clearly the very existence of internment meant that the north was not a democratic state governed by the rule of law. Added to this was the complete denial by the authorities of the loyalist assassination campaign as evidenced by the failure to intern loyalists until 1973. This was tantamount to the state condoning such violence. In December 1971 15 civilians were murdered when loyalists bombed Mc Gurks Bar in Belfast. The RUC and the British Army attempted to blame the IRA. How do we know? Declassified documents.
The failure, until 1992, to ban the largest loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA, together with the toleration of widespread infiltration of the UDR, the locally recruited regiment of the British Army, is clear evidence of a counterinsurgency policy that viewed loyalist paramilitaries as allies in the war against the IRA. It is worth remembering that the UDA was still legal when the organisation murdered Pat Finucane at the behest of RUC Special Branch, MI5 and the FRU. In effect the relationship between loyalist paramilitaries and the British state was similar to the relationship between the Contras and the US administration of Ronald Reagan. The fact that many civilians were murdered as part of these counter insurgency policies was regarded as mere collateral damage by those in London who prosecuted this war.
Other official documents demonstrate a shocking disregard for civilian lives in respect of the actions of the British Army - when the Attorney General asserted in 1971 that soldiers were incapable of committing murder since they were ‘on duty’ this gave a de facto ‘license to kill’ to members of the security forces. Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy Massacre was the inevitable result. It would be foolish to believe that this is of historical interest only. The interrogation methods used here in the seventies were used again in Iraq. The Labour government claimed it had ‘forgotten’ that these methods were ruled illegal by the European court. Even today, in the year 2010, a soldier is still serving in the British Army despite his conviction for the murder of Peter McBride in Belfast in 1992.