Military Wiki
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Participant in The Troubles
The UVF emblem, with the motto "For God and Ulster"
Active May 1966 – present (ended armed campaign in May 2007)
Ideology British unionism
Ulster loyalism
Right-wing politics
Leaders Brigade Staff
Headquarters Belfast
Area of
Northern Ireland (mostly)
Republic of Ireland
Strength Unknown
Allies Red Hand Commando
Opponents Irish republicans, Irish nationalists

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. It was formed in late 1965 or early 1966 and named after the Ulster Volunteers of the early twentieth century. Its first leader was Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. The group's volunteers 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.

Noted for secrecy and a policy of limited, selective membership,[1][2][3][4][5] the UVF's declared goals were to combat Irish republicanism – particularly republican paramilitaries, and to maintain Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. The vast majority (more than two-thirds)[6][7] of its 481 known victims were Catholic civilians. During the conflict, its deadliest attack in Northern Ireland was the 1971 McGurk's Bar bombing, which killed fifteen civilians. Since 1969 the group had also carried out attacks in the Republic of Ireland. The deadliest of these were the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 33 civilians, the highest number of deaths in a single day during the conflict. The no-warning car bombings had been carried out by units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster Brigades. The Mid-Ulster Brigade was also responsible for the 1975 Miami Showband ambush, in which three members of the popular Irish cabaret band The Miami Showband were shot dead at a bogus military checkpoint by gunmen dressed in British Army uniforms. Two UVF men were accidentally blown up in this attack. The UVF's last major attack was the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, in which its members shot dead six Catholic civilians in a rural pub.

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

Aim and strategy

(False)The UVF's goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and maintain Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom.[8] Most of its victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often chosen at random.[9] Whenever it claimed responsibility for its attacks, the UVF usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or IRA sympathisers.[10] Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as "retaliation" for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community. Such retaliation was seen as both collective punishment and an attempt to weaken the IRA's support; it was thought that 'fear of retaliation' would make the Catholic community rein in the IRA.[11] Many retaliatory attacks on Catholics were claimed using the covername "Protestant Action Force" (PAF), which first appeared in Autumn 1974.[12] They always signed their statements with the fictitious name "Captain William Johnston".[13]

Like the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF's modus operandi involved assassinations, mass shootings, bombings and kidnappings. It used sub machine-guns, assault rifles, pistols, grenades (including homemade grenades), incendiary bombs, booby trap bombs and car bombs. Referring to its activity in the early and mid-1970s, journalist Ed Moloney described no-warning pub bombings as the UVF's "forte".[14] Members were trained in bomb-making and it developed home-made explosives.[15] In the late summer and autumn of 1973 the UVF detonated more bombs than the UDA and IRA combined,[16] and by the time of the group's temporary ceasefire in late November it had been responsible for over 200 explosions that year.[17] However, from 1977 bombs largely disappeared from the UVF's arsenal owing to a lack of explosives and bomb-makers, plus a conscious decision to abandon their use in favour of more contained methods.[18][19] The UVF did not return to regular bombings until the early 1990s when it obtained a quantity of the mining explosive Powergel.[20][21]


The 1960s

Since 1964, there had been a growing civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland. The civil rights movement sought to end discrimination against Catholics by the Protestant and Unionist-dominated government of Northern Ireland.[22] In March and April 1966, Irish republicans held parades throughout Ireland to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. On 8 March, a group of ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers planted a bomb that destroyed Nelson's Pillar in Dublin. At the time, the IRA was weak and not engaged in armed action, but some unionists and loyalists warned that it was about to be revived and launch another campaign against Northern Ireland.[22] In April, loyalists led by Ian Paisley, a Protestant fundamentalist preacher, founded the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC). It set up a paramilitary-style wing called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV).[22] The 'Paisleyites' set out to stymie the civil rights movement and oust Terence O'Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Although O'Neill was a unionist, they saw him as being too 'soft' on the civil rights movement and too friendly with the Republic of Ireland. There was much overlap in membership between the UCDC/UPV and the UVF.[23]

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

A UVF flag in Glenarm, County Antrim

On 7 May, loyalists petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub in the loyalist Shankill area of Belfast. Fire engulfed the house next door, badly burning the elderly Protestant widow who lived there. She died of her injuries on 27 June.[22] The group called itself the "Ulster Volunteer Force" (UVF), after the original UVF of the early 20th century. It was led by Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. Spence claimed that he was approached in 1965 by two men, one of whom was an Ulster Unionist Party MP, who told him that the UVF was to be re-established and that he was to have responsibility for the Shankill.[24] On 21 May, the group 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.[25]

On 27 May, Spence sent four UVF members to kill IRA volunteer Leo Martin, who lived in Belfast. Unable to find their target, the men drove around the Falls district in search of a Catholic. They shot John Scullion, a Catholic civilian, as he walked home.[26] He died of his wounds on 11 June.[22] 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".[26]

On 26 June, the group shot dead a Catholic civilian and wounded two others as they left a pub on Malvern Street, Belfast.[22] Two days later, the Government of Northern Ireland declared the UVF illegal.[22] The shootings led to Spence being arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum sentence of twenty years.[27] Spence appointed Samuel McClelland as UVF Chief of Staff in his stead.[28]

By 1969, the Catholic civil rights movement had escalted its protest campaign, and O'Neill had promised them some concessions. In March and April that year, UVF and UPV members bombed water and electricity installations in Northern Ireland, blaming them on the dormant IRA and elements of the civil rights movement. Some of them left much of Belfast without power and water.[29] The loyalists "intended to force a crisis which would so undermine confidence in O'Neill's ability to maintain law and order that he would be obliged to resign".[30] There were bombings on 30 March, 4 April, 20 April, 24 April and 26 April. All were widely blamed on the IRA, and British soldiers were sent to guard installations.[29] Unionist support for O'Neill waned, and on 28 April he resigned as Prime Minister.[29]

On 12 August 1969, the "Battle of the Bogside" began in Derry. This was a large, three-day riot between Irish nationalists and the police (RUC). In response to events in Derry, nationalists held protests throughout Northern Ireland, some of which became violent. In Belfast, loyalists responded by attacking nationalist districts. Eight people were shot dead and hundreds were injured. Scores of houses and businesses were burnt-out, most of them owned by Catholics. The British Army were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland. The Irish Army also set up field hospitals near the border. Thousands of families, mostly Catholics, were forced to flee their homes and refugee camps were set up in the Republic of Ireland.[29]

On 12 October, a loyalist protest in the Shankill became violent. During the riot, UVF members shot dead RUC officer Victor Arbuckle. He was the first RUC officer to be killed during the Troubles.[31]

The UVF had launched its first attack in the Republic of Ireland on 5 August 1969, when it bombed the RTÉ Television Centre in Dublin.[32][33] There were further attacks in the Republic between October and December 1969. In October, UVF and UPV member Thomas McDowell was killed by the bomb he was planting at Ballyshannon power station. The UVF stated that the attempted attack was a protest against the Irish Army units "still massed on the border in County Donegal".[34] In December the UVF detonated a car bomb near the Garda central detective bureau and telephone exchange headquarters in Dublin.[35]

The early to mid-1970s

A UVF mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

In January 1970, the UVF began bombing Catholic-owned businesses in Protestant areas of Belfast. It issued a statement vowing to "remove republican elements from loyalist areas" and stop them "reaping financial benefit therefrom". During 1970, 42 Catholic-owned licensed premises in Protestant areas were bombed.[36] Catholic churches were also attacked. In February it began to target critics of militant loyalism – the homes of MPs Austin Currie, Sheelagh Murnaghan, Richard Ferguson and Anne Dickson were attacked with improvised bombs.[36] It also continued its attacks in the Republic of Ireland, bombing the Dublin-Belfast railway line, an electricity substation, a radio mast, and Irish nationalist monuments.[37]

In December 1969 the IRA had split into the Provisional IRA and Official IRA. In early 1971 they began a concerted campaign against the British Army and RUC. The first British soldier to die in the conflict was killed by the Provisional IRA in February 1971. That year, a string of tit-for-tat pub bombings began in Belfast.[38] This came to a climax on 4 December, when the UVF bombed McGurk's Bar, a Catholic-owned pub in Belfast. Fifteen Catholic civilians were killed and seventeen wounded. It was the UVF's deadliest attack in Northern Ireland, and the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[39]

The following year, 1972, was the most violent of the Troubles. Along with the newly formed Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF began carrying out gun attacks on random Catholic civilians and using car bombs to attack Catholic-owned pubs. It would continue these tactics for the rest of its campaign. On 23 October 1972, the UVF carried out an armed raid against King's Park camp, a UDR/Territorial Army depot in Lurgan. They managed to procure a large cache of weapons and ammunition including self-loading rifles, Browning pistols, and Sterling submachine guns. Twenty tons of ammonium nitrate was also stolen from the Belfast docks.[40]

The UVF launched further attacks in the Republic of Ireland during December 1972 and January 1973, when it detonated three car bombs in Dublin and one in Belturbet, killing five civilians. It would attack the Republic again in May 1974, during the two-week Ulster Workers' Council strike. This was a general strike in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement, which meant sharing political power with Irish nationalists and the Republic having more involvement in Northern Ireland. Along with the UDA, it helped to enforce the strike by blocking roads, intimidating workers, and shutting any businesses that opened.[41] On 17 May, two UVF units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster brigades detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. Thirty-three people were killed and almost 300 injured. It was the deadliest attack of the Troubles. There are various credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with the UVF in the bombings. The Irish parliament's Joint Committee on Justice called the bombings an act of "international terrorism" involving the British security forces.[42] Both the UVF and the British Government have denied the claims.

The UVF's Mid-Ulster Brigade was founded in 1972 in Lurgan by Billy Hanna, a captain in the UDR and a member of the Brigade Staff, who served as the brigade's commander until his shooting death in July 1975. From that time until the early 1990s, the Mid-Ulster Brigade was led by Robin "the Jackal" Jackson, who then passed the leadership to Billy Wright. Hanna and Jackson have both been implicated by journalist Joe Tiernan, and RUC Special Patrol Group (SPG) officer John Weir as having led one of the units that bombed Dublin.[43] Jackson was allegedly the hitman who shot Hanna dead outside his home in Lurgan, and subsequently took over his command.[44]

The brigade formed part of the Glenanne gang, a loose alliance of loyalist assassins which the Pat Finucane Centre has linked to 87 killings in the 1970s. The gang comprised, in addition to the UVF, rogue elements of the UDR, RUC, SPG, and the regular Army, all acting allegedly under the direction of British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch.[45]

Mid to late-1970s

UVF mural in the Shankill Road, where the Brigade Staff is based

In 1974, hardliners staged a coup and took over the Brigade Staff.[46] This resulted in a lethal upsweep of sectarian killings and internecine feuding with both the UDA and within the UVF itself.[46] Some of the new Brigade Staff members bore nicknames such as "Big Dog" and "Smudger".[47] Beginning in 1975, recruitment to the UVF, which until then had been solely by invitation, was now left to the discretion of local units.[48]

The UVF's Mid-Ulster Brigade carried out further attacks during this same period. These included the Miami Showband killings of 31 July 1975 – when three members of the popular showband from the Republic of Ireland were killed having been stopped at a fake British Army checkpoint outside of Newry in County Down. Two members of the group survived the attack and later testified against those responsible. Two UVF members, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, were accidentally killed by their own bomb while carrying out this attack. Two of those later convicted (James McDowell and Thomas Crozier) were also serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a part-time, locally recruited regiment of the British Army.


UVF Soilders on patrol in Belfast

From late 1975 to mid-1977, 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. This gang was led by Lenny Murphy. He was shot dead by the IRA in November 1982, four months after his release from the Maze Prison.

The group had been proscribed in July 1966, but this ban was lifted on 4 April 1974 by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in an effort to bring the UVF into the democratic process.[49] A political wing was formed in June 1974, the Volunteer Political Party led by UVF Chief of Staff Ken Gibson, 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.[50] 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.[51][52]

In October 1975, after staging a counter-coup, the Brigade Staff acquired a new leadership of moderates with Tommy West serving as the Chief of Staff.[53] These men had overthrown the "hawkish" officers, who had called for a "big push", which meant an increase in violent attacks, earlier in the same month.[54] In fact, the UVF was behind the deaths of seven civilians in a series of attacks on 2 October.[55] The hawks had been ousted by those in the UVF who were unhappy with their political and military strategy. The new Brigade Staff's aim was to carry out attacks against known republicans rather than Catholic civilians.[54] This had been thoroughly endorsed by Gusty Spence who issued a statement asking all UVF volunteers to support the new regime.[56] The UVF's activities in the last years of the decade were increasingly being curtailed by the number of UVF members who were sent to prison.[54] Indeed, the number of killings in Northern Ireland had decreased from 300 per year during the period between 1973 and 1976 to just under 100 in the years 1977–1981.[57] In 1976, Tommy West was replaced with "Mr. F" who is alleged to be John "Bunter" Graham and remains the incumbent Chief of Staff as of 2012.[58][59] West died in 1980.

On 17 February 1979, the UVF carried out its only major attack in Scotland, when its members bombed two pubs in Glasgow frequented by Catholics. Both pubs were wrecked and a number of people were wounded. It claimed the pubs were used for republican fundraising. In June, nine UVF members were convicted of the attacks.[60]

The early to mid-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 after he had exposed the paramilitary activities of Mid-Ulster brigadier Robin Jackson. 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.[61]

The UVF received large numbers of Sa vz. 58 assault rifles in the 1980s

The arms are thought to have consisted of:

  • 200 Czech Sa vz. 58 assault rifles,
  • 90 Browning pistols,
  • 500 RGD-5 fragmentation 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. This era also saw a more widespread targeting on the UVF's part of IRA and Sinn Féin members, beginning with the killing of senior IRA member Larry Marley[62] and a failed attempt on the life of a leading republican which left three Catholic civilians dead.[63]

The late 1980s and early 1990s

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.[64] Republicans had responded to the attacks by assassinating UVF leaders, including John Bingham, William "Frenchie" Marchant, Trevor King[65] and, allegedly, Leslie Dallas.[66] The UVF also killed republicans James Burns, Liam Ryan and Larry Marley.[67] 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.[68]

According to journalist and author Ed Moloney the UVF campaign in Mid Ulster in this period "indisputably shattered Republican morale", and put the leadership of the republican movement under intense pressure to "do something".[69]

1994 ceasefire

A UVF mural referencing the ceasefire

In 1990 the UVF joined the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) 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 18 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 in Belfast had stood down Wright and the Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade, on 2 August 1996, for the killing of a Catholic taxi driver near Lurgan during Drumcree disturbances.[70]

A UVF mural in Carrickfergus

There followed years of violence between the two organisations. In January 2000 UVF Mid-Ulster brigadier Richard Jameson was shot dead by a LVF gunman which led to an escalation of the UVF/LVF feud. The UVF was 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, Raymond Jr., 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.[71]

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.[72]

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.[73]

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.[74]

On 3 May 2007, following recent negotiations between the Progressive Unionist Party (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.[75] 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.[76][77][78]

In January 2008, the UVF was accused of involvement in vigilante action against alleged criminals in Belfast.[79]

In 2008, a loyalist splinter group calling itself the "Real UVF" emerged briefly to make threats against Sinn Féin in Co. Fermanagh.[80]

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.[81]

In June 2009 the UVF formally decommissioned their weapons in front of independent witnesses as a formal statement of decommissioning was read by Dawn Purvis and Billy Hutchinson.[82] 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.[83] On 30 May 2010, however, the UVF was believed to have carried out the shotgun killing of RHC member Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road in broad daylight. The shooting raised questions over the future of the PUP.

On 25–26 October 2010, the UVF was involved in rioting and disturbances in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey with UVF gunmen seen on the streets at the time.[84][85]

On 28 May 2010, the UVF was severely criticised over the murder of Moffett. The Independent Monitoring Commission was highly critical of the leadership for having condoned and even sanctioned the attack, in contrast to praise bestowed on the Brigade Staff for a moderating influence during the marching season. The Progressive Unionist Party's condemnation, and Dawn Purvis and other leaders' resignations as a response to the Moffett shooting, were also noted. Eleven months later, a 40-year old man was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of the UVF's alleged second-in-command Harry Stockman, described by the media as a "senior Loyalist figure". Fifty-year old Stockman was stabbed more than 15 times in a supermarket in the Greater Shankill area; the attack was believed to have been linked to the Moffett killing. However, public opinion suggests that the stabbing was a personal vendetta and any connection being made to the Moffett case was simply a fictitious tale of revenge.[86]

On the night of 20 June 2011, riots involving 500 people erupted in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. They were blamed by the PSNI on members of the UVF, who also said UVF guns had been used to try to kill police officers.[87] The UVF leader in East Belfast, who is popularly known as the "Beast of the East" and "Ugly Doris" also known as by real name Stephen Matthews, ordered the attack on Catholic homes and a church in the Catholic enclave of the Short Strand. This was in retaliation for attacks on Loyalist homes the previous weekend and after a young girl was hit in the face with a brick by Republicans.[87][88] A dissident Republican was arrested for "the attempted murder of police officers in east Belfast" after shots were fired upon the police.[89]

In July 2011 a UVF flag flying in Limavady was deemed legal by the PSNI after the police had received complaints about the flag from nationalist politicians.[90]

During the Belfast City Hall flag protests of 2012 – 2013, senior UVF members were confirmed to have actively been involved in orchestrating violence and rioting against the PSNI and the Alliance Party throughout Northern Ireland during the weeks of disorder.[91] Much of the UVF's orchestration was carried out by its senior members in East Belfast, where many attacks on the PSNI and on residents of the Short Strand enclave took place.[92] There were also reports that UVF members fired shots at police lines during a protest.[93] The high levels of orchestration by the leadership of the East Belfast UVF, and the alleged ignored orders from the main leaders of the UVF to stop the violence has led to fears that the East Belfast UVF has now become a separate loyalist paramilitary grouping which doesn't abide by the UVF ceasefire or the Northern Ireland Peace Process.[94][95]

In October 2013, the policing board announced that the UVF was still heavily involved in gangsterism despite its ceasefire. Assistant chief constable Drew Harris in a statement said "The UVF are subject to an organized crime investigation as an organized crime group. The UVF very clearly have involvement in drug dealing, all forms of gangsterism, serious assaults, intimidation of the community." [96]


Brigade Staff

File:Ulster Volunteer force.jpg

Masked UVF Brigade Staff members at a press conference in October 1974. They are wearing part of the UVF uniform which earned them their nickname "Blacknecks"

The UVF's leadership is based in Belfast and known as the Brigade Staff. It comprises high-ranking officers under a Chief of Staff or Brigadier-General. With a few exceptions, such as Mid-Ulster brigadier Billy Hanna (a native of Lurgan), the Brigade Staff members have been from the Shankill Road or the neighbouring Woodvale area to the west.[97] The Brigade Staff's former headquarters were situated in rooms above "The Eagle" chip shop located on the Shankill Road at its junction with Spier's Place. The chip shop has since been closed down.

In 1972, the UVF's imprisoned leader Gusty Spence was at liberty for four months following a staged kidnapping by UVF volunteers. During this time he restructured the organisation into brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and sections.[40] These were all subordinate to the Brigade Staff. The incumbent Chief of Staff, is alleged to be John "Bunter" Graham, referred to by Martin Dillon as "Mr. F".[58][59][98] Graham has held the position since he assumed office in 1976.[58]

The UVF's nickname is "Blacknecks", derived from their uniform of black polo neck jumper, black trousers, black leather jacket, black forage cap, along with the UVF badge and belt.[99][100] This uniform, based on those of the original UVF, was introduced in the early 1970s.[101]

Chiefs of Staff

  • Gusty Spence (1966–1966). Whilst remaining de jure UVF leader after he was jailed for murder, he no longer acted as the Chief of Staff
  • Sam "Bo" McClelland (1966–1973)[28] Described as a "tough disciplinarian", he was personally appointed by Spence to succeed him as Chief of Staff, due to his having served in the Korean War with Spence's former regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles. He was interned in late 1973, although by that stage the de facto Chief of Staff was his successor, Jim Hanna.[28][102]
  • Jim Hanna (1973 – April 1974)[102] Hanna was allegedly shot dead by the UVF as a suspected informer.[102]
  • Ken Gibson (1974)[103] Gibson was the Chief of Staff during the Ulster Workers' Council Strike in May 1974.[103]
  • Unnamed Chief of Staff (1974 – October 1975). Leader of the Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV), the youth wing of the UVF. Assumed command after a coup by hardliners in 1974. He, along with the other hawkish Brigade Staff members were overthrown by Tommy West and a new Brigade Staff of "moderates" in a counter-coup supported by Gusty Spence. He left Northern Ireland after his removal from power.[56][104]
  • Tommy West (October 1975 – 1976)[53] A former British Army soldier, West was already the Chief of Staff at the time UVF volunteer Noel "Nogi" Shaw was killed by Lenny Murphy in November 1975 as part of an internal feud.[53]
  • John "Bunter" Graham, also referred to as "Mr. F" (1976–present)[58][59][98]

Strength, finance and support

The strength of the UVF is uncertain. The first Independent Monitoring Commission report in April 2004 described the UVF/RHC as "relatively small" with "a few hundred" active members "based mainly in the Belfast and immediately adjacent areas".[105] Historically, the number of active UVF members in July 1971 was stated by one source to be no more than 20.[106] Later, in September 1972, Gusty Spence said in an interview that the organisation had a strength of 1,500.[107] A British Army report released in 2006 estimated a peak membership of 1,000.[108] Information regarding the role of women in the UVF is limited. One study focusing in part on female members of the UVF and Red Hand Commando noted that it "seem[ed] to have been reasonably unusual" for women to be officially asked to join the UVF.[109] Another estimates that over a 30-year period women accounted for just 2% of UVF membership at most.[110]

Prior to and after the onset of the Troubles the UVF carried out armed robberies.[111][112] This activity has been described as its preferred source of funds in the early 1970s,[113] and it continued into the 2000s with the UVF in Co Londonderry being active.[105] Members were disciplined after they carried out an unsanctioned theft of £8 million of paintings from an estate in Co Wicklow in April 1974.[114] Like the IRA, the UVF also operated black taxi services,[115][116][117] a scheme believed to have generated £100,000 annually for the organisation.[111] The UVF has also been involved in the extortion of legitimate businesses, although to a lesser extent than the UDA,[118] and was described in the fifth IMC report as being involved in organised crime.[119] In 2002 the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee estimated the UVF's annual running costs at £1–2 million per year, against an annual fundraising capability of £1.5 million.[120]

In contrast to the IRA, overseas support for loyalist paramilitaries including the UVF has been limited.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Its main benefactors have been in central Scotland,[121] Liverpool,[122] Preston[122] and the Toronto area of Canada.[123] Supporters in Scotland have helped supply explosives and guns.[124][125] Although Scottish support for loyalist paramilitaries has been hindered by the strong disapproval of the mainstream Orange Order in that country,[126][127] it is estimated that the UVF nevertheless received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations to its Loyalist Prisoners Welfare Association.[128]

Drug dealing

The UVF have been implicated in drug dealing in areas from where they draw their support. 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."[129]

According to Alan McQuillan, the assistant director of the Assets Recovery Agency in 2005, "In the loyalist community, drug dealing is run by the paramilitaries and it is generally run for personal gain by a large number of people." When the Assets Recovery Agency won a High Court order to seize luxury homes belonging to ex-policeman Colin Robert Armstrong and his partner Geraldine Mallon in 2005, Alan McQuillan said "We have further alleged Armstrong has had links with the UVF and then the LVF following the split between those organisations." It was alleged that Colin Armstrong had links to both drugs and loyalist terrorists.[130]

The UVF's satellite organisation, the Red Hand Commando, was described by the IMC in 2004 as "heavily involved" in drug dealing.[105]

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 Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is the political wing of the UVF.[131] In June 2010 their sole member in the Northern Ireland Assembly, their party leader Dawn Purvis, resigned from the PUP over the UVF being accused of involvement in the Moffett murder.
  • 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.[132]

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,[133] 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 412 85%
Civilian Political Activist 11 2%
Republican paramilitary 21 4%
Loyalist paramilitary 42 9%
Security forces 6 1%

See also

  • Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) – Organisation overseeing Decommissioning,
  • Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) – Organisation monitoring activity by paramilitary groups.
  • Larne Gun Running
  • UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade
  • Young Citizen Volunteers


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  • 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
  • David Boulton, UVF 1966–1973: An Anatomy of Loyalist Rebellion, ISBN 978-0717106660
  • Tony Geraghty, The Irish War
  • Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon, Henry Patterson: Northern Ireland, 1921–2001; Political Forces and Social Classes (Serif, London, 2002) ISBN 978-1-897959-38-1 [5]

External links

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