1980-1989 | Backing terror operations | Ireland | Northern Ireland

MI6 warns of UDA terror but the UK refuses to proscribe the organisation

UFF mural in East Belfast in 2007 –
Superbfc – CC License – via Wikimedia Commons.

12 February 1981

On 12 February 1981, David Wyatt of MI6 warned the Northern Ireland permanent secretary that ‘UDA/UFF (loyalist) gunmen, with the full blessing of Tyrie (head of the Ulster Defence Association), are going to continue murdering identified Republicans.’ His statement was yet further confirmation of the already overwhelming evidence the government possessed that the UDA had long been involved in acts of terrorism against Northern Ireland’s Catholic community. Although prominent Republicans were often targeted, most of the killings were totally indiscriminate, including attacks against taxi drivers, pubs, shops and Catholic civilians walking across ‘no go areas’, so that no one felt safe. The government was also aware that the UDA had long been using the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) as a flag of convenience, under which it could claim responsibility for its sectarian attacks in order to avoid any open acknowledgement of its own guilt.

Only a month after Wyatt’s memo highlighting the UDA’s commitment to the use of violence, civil servant Mike Hopkins, wrote to a Home Office official making it clear that, despite these warnings, Humphrey Atkins, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, did not support any ban on the organisation. He insisted that ‘a good deal hangs on the fact that the UDA do not claim responsibility for terrorist attacks and, as long as that remains the position, the political arguments are also balanced against proscription.’  This followed an earlier statement by Atkins on 6 February that the UDA would not be outlawed but that their legal status would remain under review.1 The loyalist paramilitary group was only finally proscribed in August 1992, by which time it is estimated that it had been responsible for the murder of over 250 people.


  1. Margaret Urwin, A State in Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries, Mercier Press, Cork, 2012, p. 215.

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