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The UVF 

The UVF.

Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald. Poolbeg, Dublin: 1997; revised edition 2000; ISBN 1-85371-687-1. £9.99.Cover image of second edition of The UVF

Apart from Roy Garland’s pamphlet, which is also reviewed on this website, this has been the first book to look at the UVF in depth since David Boulton’s The UVF 1966-73 which was first published nearly a quarter of a century ago. Boulton wrote for the leftist weekly, Tribune. His view was that ‘Carson’s UVF was the armed mobilisation of a section of the working class behind the Belfast commercial and business elite whose economic and political dominance was threatened by a democratic solution (sic) to the Irish problem. It was Europe’s first distinctively fascist movement: Mussolini was to organise a similarly motivated armed mobilisation of the lumpen proletariat in Italy and Hitler in Germany.’ Thanks for that, David!  Boulton defined ‘fascism’ in Trotsky’s flawed analysis, ‘It is the ideology by which a threatened ruling class mobilises and arms a backward, lumpen element of the working class against that section of workers which, by its pursuit of democracy, threatens bourgeois ascendancy’. Boulton in 1973 saw the UVF as going down one of two paths. In his malign scenario, the UDA and UVF would allow themselves to be used to impose ‘once again’ a form of fascism on Northern Ireland. In his benign scenario, they would finally discredit and defeat ‘Orange fascism’ and set conditions for the ending of ‘Ireland’s British problem’.

Cusack and McDonald, journalists on the Irish Times and Sunday Times respectively, show that since 1973 the UVF have at times moved in different directions. In politics they have at times been very conciliatory, yet when it came to waging war they could be utterly ruthless and indiscriminate. As this book shows, UVF volunteers were responsible for a series of heinous crimes against ordinary people, some of whom were just unfortunate enough to be in ‘the wrong place at the wrong time’. This has been recognised by Gusty Spence himself who expressed ‘abject and true remorse’ on the day that the Combined Loyalist Military Command declared their cease-fire in October 1994.

This book is useful in that it helps to discredit the pan-Irish national-chauvinist ( and British leftist ) myth that the loyalists are mere puppets of imperialism and big-business or ‘British-controlled death squads’. It demonstrates that paramilitary resistance to Irish republican aggression is indigenous to Ulster. Today, Boulton’s ‘Belfast commercial and business elite’ - far from commanding Ulster’s resistance to pan-Irish national-chauvinist demands - are plugged into the ‘global economy’ and don’t give a damn about which flag flies over the City Hall in Belfast. All they want to do is carry on making obscene profits at our expense. They prefer to accept crumbs from the tables of the NIO, the Dublin government or the US White House and lecture the rest of us on our responsibilities than to take a stand against Fenian aggression. The Ulster business elite are the merchants of sell-out and surrender.

This book chronicles the rise of the UVF from its re-formation in the early sixties to the Spring of 1997. A chapter on ‘friends across the sea’ makes a number of interesting points about links with the so-called ‘extreme right’ in Britain and Europe. In the mid-seventies the UVF were accused of being communists by Tara, the UDA and Rev Martin Smyth. The authors claim that a climate of paranoia within the UVF about these false allegations ‘opened the door to fascists within the UVF’. So much so, that Combat magazine in 1974 welcomed the opening of a National Front office in Belfast. This claim is utter nonsense. As a founding member of the UVF quoted earlier in the chapter states, the organisation was a broad alliance who were only united on two things - defending their communities and the Union. Magazines like Combat reflected this lack of a consistent ideological line as it carried a variety of often contradictory and confusing articles.

The authors’ claim that links between what it calls ‘neo-fascist groups’ and the UVF were always at the former’s initiative and produced nothing but embarrassment for the UVF. This reviewer was a member of the National Front’s Ulster Executive from 1986-90. I can categorically state that no approaches were made from the NF to the UVF during that time. However, the NF’s Newtownabbey branch was approached by the Rushpark Progressive Unionist Party branch for a meeting. A pleasant meeting took place in a local pub and documents were later exchanged. There w as not a lot of common ground and the participants from each party agreed to differ and parted on friendly terms.

There are one or two other items in this chapter that deserve comment. The demise of the NF was not hastened by ‘the growing hostility of the UVF’ - which only amounted to unfavourable articles in Combat said to be written by Gusty Spence. It was because of its own internal disintegration. There were splits in 1986 and again in 1989. The UDA did not, as stated, order the NF to shut down its Templemore Avenue offices in 1989 although there was some hostility from a number of UDA personnel who were in contact with an NF splinter group. In fact, the lease on the premises had expired. The NF continued to operate from an East Belfast P O Box until early in 1990 when it ceased to operate throughout the United Kingdom.

I agree with the authors that my total of 27 votes in a bye-election showed little electoral support for the NF in 1987. However, I can see no good reason for the gratuitous swipe at an Ulster Unionist friend of mine who had no political links with me at all. The authors know this, yet still inserted this despicable piece of shit-stirring smear by association. Is it any wonder that journalists are so unpopular among grassroots loyalists? The authors know this too. They even complain about it, recalling ugly scenes in Ainsworth Avenue after a Red Hand Commando volunteer was fatally injured by his own hand grenade. Several news crews and reporters had to flee from the Shankill in fear of their lives that afternoon. I know that this is true. I was there that day and had to have my bag searched by a burly UVF man who suspected that it contained a camera. It didn’t, thank God!

I agree that we should be nice to journalists and I am impressed by the efforts made in recent years by David Irvine, Billy Hutchinson and Gusty Spence of the PUP. Ulster-nationalists should follow suit. However, the likes of Henry McDonald could do their bit by resisting the temptation to put in the boot.

The authors seem to have taken much of their political analysis from Roy Garland's recent pamphlet. However, they improve on Garland through their later chapters. In particular, ‘The Other Peace Process’ which explains how the UVF first with peace campaigner Chris Hudson in 1993, kept up contact with him and opened a line of communication with the Dublin government. In their coded messages, the UVF was the ‘cricket team’, the CLMC was the ‘full cricket team’ and the then Tanaiste, Dick Spring, was the ‘grocer’. It seems likely that someone close to the leadership of the UVF has been speaking to the authors regarding their peace strategy. This makes the last two chapters the valuable to readers who might wonder what position the PUP is likely to take in the ongoing ‘multi-party talks’ on Ulster’s future.


A second edition of this book was issued in 2000.  A new chapter examines the emergence of the Loyalist Volunteer Force in mid-Ulster, the assassination of that group's leader in Long Kesh prison and the questions for the authorities that arise from this.  The other violent splinter groups that oppose the mainstream loyalist paramilitary ceasefires are also described in detail as are the activities of a Protestant fundamentalist pastor who is said to be their ideological guru. The authors also explain the bitterness between the UVF and the Lower Shankill UFF that led to an outbreak of bloody internecine warfare in August 2000.  

The authors conclude that the UVF is still, to use one of its own slogans, 'Preparing for Peace. Ready for War'. The general sense of retreat and regression within the Protestant/unionist community means that more and more loyalists will become alienated from the 'peace process' unless pan-Irish national-chauvinists rein in their own triumphalist tendencies.  "Nationalists have often accused unionists of having a 'siege mentality'.  The panacea for unionist alienation, and the threat that this will mutate into a new phase of violence that will engulf the whole island, is for nationalists to lift the siege."  Events in North Belfast during the summer of 2001 bear out the truth of this analysis.

David Kerr

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