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The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Irelandmarker. It was formed in September 1971 and undertook an armed campaign of almost twenty-four years during "The Troubles". UDA attacks were carried out under the name of its "military wing", the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). It declared a ceasefire in 1994, although sporadic attacks continued until it officially ended its armed campaign in November 2007. The UDA is outlawed as a proscribed terrorist group in the United Kingdommarker.

The UDA's declared goal was to assassinate members of Irish republican paramilitary groups and those who worked towards a united Ireland. However, the vast majority (over 75%) of its victims were Irish Catholic civilians. Its attacks on Irish Catholics were originally claimed to be revenge for attacks on Protestants.


Origin and development

The Ulster Defence Association emerged in September 1971 as an umbrella organisation, from various vigilante groups commonly referred to as defence associations. Its first leader was Charles Harding Smith, and its most prominent early spokesperson was Tommy Herron. However Andy Tyrie would emerge as leader soon after. At its peak of strength it held around forty thousand members, mostly part-time. It also originally had the motto 'law before violence' and was in fact a legal organisation until it was banned on the 10th of August 1992. During this period of legality, the UDA committed a large number of paramilitary attacks under the covername of the Ulster Freedom Fighters , including the assassination of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) politician Paddy Wilson in 1973. The UDA was involved in the successful Ulster Workers Council Strike in 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement — an agreement which some loyalists and Unionists thought conceded too much to nationalist demands. The UDA enforced this general strike through widespread intimidation across Northern Ireland. The strike was led by Vanguard Assemblyman and UDA member, Glenn Barr.

The UDA/UFF's official political position during the Troubles was that if the Provisional Irish Republican Army called off its campaign of violence, then the UDA would do the same. However, if the British government announced that it was withdrawing from Northern Ireland, then the UDA would act as "the IRA in reverse".

Paramilitary campaign

Throughout the majority of its period of legality, the UDA's paramilitary operations were carried out under the name "Ulster Freedom Fighters" (UFF). The UFF's campaign of violence began in 1972. In May of that year, the UDA's under-pressure leader Tommy Herron decided that responsibility for acts of violence committed by the UDA would be claimed by the UFF. Its first public statements came one month later. Active throughout the Troubles, its armed campaign gained prominence in the early 1990s through Johnny Adair's ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C. Company, which resulted in a greater degree of tactical independence for the UFF. They benefited, along with the Ulster Volunteer Force and a group called Ulster Resistance set up by the Democratic Unionist Party, from a shipment of arms imported from South Africa in 1988. The weapons landed included rocket launchers, 200 rifles, 90 pistols and over 400 grenades. Although almost two–thirds of these weapons were later recovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), they enabled to UDA to launch an assassination campaign against their perceived enemies.
UFF warning mural
UDA member Davy Payne was arrested after his "scout" car had been stopped at a RUC checkpoint and large caches of the weaponry were disovered in the boots of his colleagues' cars. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In 1992 Brian Nelson, a prominent UDA member convicted of sectarian killings, revealed that he was also a British Army agent. This led to allegations that the British Army and RUC were helping the UDA to target Irish republican activists. UDA members have since confirmed that they received intelligence files on republicans from British Army and RUC intelligence sources.

One of the most high profile UDA attacks came in October 1993, when three UFF men attacked a restaurant called the Rising Sun in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteelmarker, County Londonderry, where two hundred people were celebrating Halloween. The two men entered and opened fire. Eight people, including 6 Catholics and 2 Protestants were killed and nineteen wounded in what became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA/UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA's Shankill Road bombing which killed nine, seven days earlier.

UDA mural in Shankill, Belfast
According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster's CAIN project, the UDA/UFF was responsible for 259 killings during the Troubles. 208 of its victims were civilians (predominantly Catholics), 12 were civilian political activists (mainly members of Sinn Fein, 37 were other loyalist paramilitaries (including 30 of its own members), three were members of the security forces and 11 were republican paramilitaries. A number of these attacks were carried out with the assistance or complicity of the British Army and/or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, according to the Stevens Enquiry, although the exact number of people killed as a result of collusion has not been revealed. The preferred modus operandi of the UDA was individual killings of select civilian targets in nationalist areas, rather than large-scale bomb or mortar attacks.

Post-ceasefire activities

Its ceasefire was welcomed by the Northern Irelandmarker Secretary of State, Paul Murphy and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde.

Since the ceaseifre, the UDA has been accused of taking vigilante action against alleged drug dealers, including tarring and feathering a man on the Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast. It has also been involved in several feud with the Ulster Volunteer Force, which led to many killings. The UDA has also been riddled by its own internecine warfare, with self-styled "brigadiers" and former figures of power and influence, such as Johnny Adair and Jim Gray (themselves bitter rivals), falling rapidly in and out of favour with the rest of the leadership. Gray and John Gregg are amongst those to have been killed during the internal strife. On February 22 2003, the UDA announced a "12-month period of military inactivity". It said it will review its ceasefire every three months. It also apologised for the involvement of some of its members in the drugs trade. The UPRG's Frankie Gallagher has since taken a leading role in ending the association between the UDA and drug dealing.

Following an August 2005 Sunday World article that poked fun at the gambling losses of one of its leaders, the UDA banned the sale of the newspaper from shops in areas it controls. Shops that defy the ban have suffered arson attacks, and at least one newsagent was threatened with death. The PSNI have recently begun accompanying the paper's delivery vans. The UDA was also considered to have played an instrumental role in loyalist riots in Belfast in September 2005.

On 13 November 2005 the UDA announced that it would "consider its future", in the wake of the standing down of the Provisional IRA and Loyalist Volunteer Force.

In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported UDA involvement in organised crime, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion, money laundering and robbery.

On June 20, 2006 the UDA expelled Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab, two of its senior members who were heavily involved in crime. Some see this as a sign that the UDA is slowly coming away from crime. The move did see the south-east Antrim brigade of the UDA, which had been at loggerheads with the leadership for some time, support Shoukri and break away under former UPRG spokesman Tommy Kirkham. Other senior members met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for talks on the 13th of July in the same year.

On 11 November 2007 the UDA announced that the Ulster Freedom Fighters would be stood down from midnight of the same day, with its weapons "being put beyond use" although it stressed that these would not be decommissioned.

Although the group expressed a willingness to move from criminal activity to "community development," the IMC said it saw little evidence of this move because of the views of its members and the lack of coherence in the group's leadership as a result of a loose structure. While the report indicated the leadership intends to follow on its stated goals, factionalism hindered this change. Factionalism was, in fact, said to be the strongest hindrance to progress. The report also said the main non-splintered faction remained active, though it was considerably smaller than the resulting party. Individuals within the group, however, took their own initiative to criminal activity. Although loyalist actions were curtailed, most of the loyalist activity did come from the UDA. The IMC report concluded that the leadership's willingness to change has resulted in community tension and the group would continue to be monitored, although "the mainstream UDA still has some way to go." Furthermore, the IMC warned the group to "recognise that the organisation's time as a paramilitary group has passed and that decommissioning is inevitable." Decommissioning was said to be the "biggest outstanding issue for loyalist leaders, although not the only one."

South East Antrim breakaway group

The breakaway faction continues to use the "UDA" title in its name, although it too expressed willingness to move towards "community development." Though, yet again, serious crime is prevalent among the members, some of whom were arrested for drug peddling and extortion. Although a clear distinction was not available between the faction, as this was the twentieth IMC report was the first to differentiate the two, future reports would tackle the differences. For more information see UDA South East Antrim Brigade.


In the 1970s the group favoured Northern Ireland independence, but they have retreated from this position.

The New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG) was initially the political wing of the UDA, founded in 1978, which then evolved into the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party in 1981 under the leadership of John McMichael, a prominent UDA member killed by the IRA in 1987, amid suspicion that he was set up to be killed by some of his UDA colleagues.

In 1987, the deputy UDA's deputy commander John McMichael (who was then the leader of the UFF) promoted a document titled "Common Sense", which promoted a consensual end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, while maintaining the Union. The document advocated a power sharing assembly, involving both Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed constitution and new Bill of Rights. It is not clear however, whether this programme was adopted by the UDA as their official policy. However the killing of McMichael that same year and the subsequent removal of Tyrie from the leadership and his replacement with an Inner Council saw the UDA concentrate on stockpiling weapons rather than political ideas.

In 1989, the ULDP changed its name to the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and finally dissolved itself in 2001 following very limited electoral success. Gary McMichael, son of John McMichael, was the last leader of the UDP, which supported the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but had poor electoral success and internal difficulties. The Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) was subsequently formed to give political analysis to the UDA and act as community workers in loyalist areas. It is currently represented on the Belfast City Councilmarker.

On 16 January 1994, The Sunday Independent newspaper published a story about an alleged UDA plan to carry out "ethnic cleansing", with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant. The plan involved repartition — handing the vastly Catholic and nationalist areas over to the Republic, and then forcing the remaining Catholics out of Northern Ireland.

The group allegedly developed strong links with Neo-Nazi groups such as Combat 18, although in 2005 the UDA announced that it was severing all ties with Neo-Nazi groups.


The UDA operated a devolved structure of leadership, each with a brigadier representing one of the six brigade areas. Currently, it is not entirely clear whether or not this structure has been maintained in the UDA's post cease-fire state. Some of the notable past brigadiers include:

Jackie McDonald - South Belfast (~1980s-Present)Resident of the Taughmonagh estate in South Belfast. McDonald was a cautious supporter of the UDA's ceasefire and a harsh critic of Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair during his final years of membership of the organisation. McDonald remains the only brigadier who did not have a commonly-used nickname.

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair - West Belfast (1990-2002)An active figure in the UFF, Adair rose to notoriety in the early 1990s when he led the 2nd Battalion, C Company unit of the UFF in West Belfast which was responsible for one of the bloodiest killing sprees of the Troubles.

Jim 'Doris Day' Gray - East Belfast (Unknown-2005) An unlikely figure in Northern Ireland loyalism, the openly bi-sexual Gray was a controversial figure in the organisation until his death on October 4, 2005. Always flamboyantly dressed, Gray was a key figure in the UDA's negotiations with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid. It is widely believed that Gray received his nickname from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch.

Jimbo 'Bacardi Brigadier' Simpson - North Belfast (Unknown-2002) Simpson is believed to have been an alcoholic, hence his nickname. He was leader of the UDA in the volatile North Belfast area, an interface between Catholics and Protestants in the New Lodge and Tiger's Bay neighbourhoods.

Billy 'The Mexican' McFarland - North Antrim & Derry (Unknown-Unknown) He Earned his nickname because of his moustache and swarthy appearance, and had overall command of the UDA's North Antrim and Derry brigade at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. He supported the leadership against Johnny Adair and has been associated with the magazine 'Warrior', which makes the case for Ulster Independence

Andre 'The Egyptian' Shoukri - North Belfast (2002-2005) Initially a close ally of Johnny Adair, Shoukri and his brother Ihab became involved with the UDA in his native North Belfast. The son of an Egyptian father and a Northern Irish mother, he was expelled from the UDA in 2005 following allegations of criminality.

John 'Grug' Gregg - South East Antrim (Unknown - 2003) John 'Grug' Gregg was a man with a fearsome reputation within the loyalist movement, known as a "Hawk" in loyalist circles, and controlled the streets of south east Antrim. On March 14, 1984, he severely wounded Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in an assassination attempt for which he was jailed. When asked by the BBC in prison if he regretted anything about the shooting, his reply was "only that I didn't succeed." He was killed on Belfast's Nelson Street, along with another UDA member (Rab Carson), while travelling in a taxi from the docks in 2003, and the murder was blamed on supporters of Johnny Adair, who had recently been expelled from the UDA in 2002.

Loyalist Volunteer Force & Red Hand Defenders

The Red Hand Defenders is a cover name used by breakaway factions of the UFF and the LVF. The term was originally coined in 1997 when members of the LVF carried out attacks on behalf of Johnny Adair's "UFF 2nd Battalion, 'C' Company (Shankill Road)" and vice-versa. The relationship between the UFF (specifically Adair's unit, not the wider leadership of the UDA) was initially formed after the death of Billy Wright, the previous leader of the LVF, and Adair's personal friendship with Mark 'Swinger' Fulton, the organisations new chief.

The necessity for a cover name resulted from the need to avoid tensions between the UDA and the UVF, the organisation from which the LVF had broken away. It was perceived that any open co-operation between the UDA and the LVF would anger the UVF, something which proved to be the case in following years and resulted in the infamous 'Loyalist Feud'. There has been debate as to whether or not the Red Hand Defenders have become an entity in their own right made up of dissident factions from both the UDA and the LVF (both of which have now declared ceasefires whilst the RHD has not), though much intelligence has been based on the claims of responsibility which, as has been suggested, are frequently misleading.

Deaths as a result of activity

According to the University of Ulster's Sutton database, the UDA and UFF was responsible for 259 killings during "the Troubles", between 1969 and 2001.

Status Deaths Percentage
Civilian 196 76%
Civilian political activist 12 5%
Republican paramilitary 11 4%
Loyalist paramilitary 37 14%
Security forces 3 1%

See also


Further reading

  • Steve Bruce, The Red Hand, 1992, ISBN 0-19-215961-5
  • Colin Crawford, Inside the UDA: Volunteers and Violence, 2003.
  • Ed Moloney, The Secret History of the IRA
  • Brendan O'Brien, The Long war, the IRA and Sinn Féin

External links

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