1980-1989 | Backing terror operations | Northern Ireland

The UK refuses to proscribe the UDA after finding a large cache of weapons

A Thomson submachine gun – National Park Service – US Federal Government – via Wikimedia.

26 May 1981

Today in 1981, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) raided the headquarters of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in Belfast, discovering a large cache of lethal weapons, including a Thompson sub-machine gun, six Sten guns, a revolver and 550 rounds of ammunition.  This came just a week after its supreme commander, Andy Tyrie, had attempted to justify assassinations in an American newspaper, the Washington Star, and admitted some responsibility for ‘the small offensive unit called UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters).’1

The British government knew that the UFF served as a false flag under which the UDA was able to claim responsibility for its murders. It had overwhelming evidence accumulated over years of direct UDA involvement in the indiscriminate murder of Catholics and, as we now know from internal memos, it had also long been aware of the group’s responsibility for terror attacks. Nevertheless, it still refused to proscribe the organisation, which it preferred to see as a useful ally in fighting the Irish Republican Army (IRA).  Similarly, the RUC resisted demands  to press charges against anyone in the UDA over the arms find. Had the arms been found at the headquarters of Sinn Fein, which was campaigning for an end to British rule, there can be little doubt that London would not have hesitated to proscribe it, and the RUC would have initiated prosecutions.  The biased approach only alienated the entire Catholic community in Northern Ireland, while exacerbating and prolonging the conflict.


  1. Margaret Urwin, A State in Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries, Mercier Press, Cork, 2012, pp. 217-220 and Margaret Urwin, ‘How the RUC protected the UDA,’ The Irish Times, 19 October 2016 accessed online at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/how-the-ruc-protected-the-uda-1.2835249at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/how-the-ruc-protected-the-uda-1.2835249

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