Many books on the Troubles focus on this aspect of the loyalist campaign, and on the alleged affects that it had on the IRA’s 1994 cessation. David Ervine described how “republicans found themselves being hounded for the first time” (Loyalists, BBC TV) post 1985, and many other loyalist paramilitaries credit their campaign against republicans as, at least, a “significant factor” in the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire. An extreme interpretation of loyalist attitude around this could be summarised by this solipsistic claim in the “It’s Still Only Thursday” blog:
“The stated approach of ‘two eyes for an eye’ left the Provos in an impossible situation. Rapidly losing support (especially in some rural areas) because of the ‘collective punishment’ visited upon the nationalist/republican community and fighting an unwinnable war of attrition against an unrestrained enemy, the Provisional IRA and their Sinn Fein mouthpieces were left with little option but to abandon their cherished “armed struggle” and sue for peace.”
Could this be true? To address this point, we are able to look at the same period of time, but reverse the protagonists. Much has been written about how loyalists targeted republicans, but comparatively little on republicans targeting loyalists. We can apply the “found themselves hounded” rationale and look at the period between the Anglo-Irish-Agreement (AIA) of November 1985 and the IRA ceasefire of August 1994.
The AIA shocked, humiliated and traumatised unionism and loyalism. The UVF/UDA received an influx of new recruits, and attempted to reassert dominance through mass rallies, the creation of new organisations, such as Ulster Resistance, and an increase of paramilitary activity in the latter half of the 1980s. Perhaps in response to this threat, republican paramilitaries stepped up their campaign against loyalist paramilitaries.
Senior UVF commander John Bingham was killed in 1986, the highest ranking loyalist to die at republican hands since Lenny Murphy in 1982. Bingham was the first of many, with three senior UVF men killed in 1987, alongside UDA 'Brigadier" John McMichael. 1988 saw more of the same, with four militant loyalists killed, and the final year of the 1980s concluded with a further five loyalist paramilitaries killed by republicans.
Alongside the relentless targeting of loyalist paramilitaries, republicans also launched a fierce campaign against those who provided goods and services to the security forces. Deemed as “collaborators” and overwhelmingly Protestant, this campaign incensed loyalists. And, as ever, republicans targeted and killed RUC and UDR members (serving and former), and the so-called economic bombing campaign continued unabated.
The first two years of the new decade saw the republican onslaught against loyalist targets continue, with 11 loyalist paramilitaries killed, seven of them in a six month period. A number of Protestants were also killed, mistaken for loyalist paramilitaries. Republicans (the IPLO) also carried out some of the first overtly sectarian murders of Protestants by republicans for some time, and more contractors were murdered.
1992 saw something of a lull in successful targeting of loyalist paramilitary targets, with one UDA man killed, another man murdered and alleged to have been UVF, and the UDR son of a Shankill UVF man (and UVF feud victim) shot dead in Belfast. This year, however, saw the Teebane massacre, where the IRA murdered eight men who had been working on an army base. Unlike the Kingsmill attack on Protestant workers, a bomb was used instead of firearms, resulting in six serious injuries alongside the fatalities, and it was clear that the IRA unit involved considered all 14 men on the bus “legitimate targets”.
Two more loyalist paramilitary targets were killed in 1993, but many more attempts were made on the lives of leading loyalists, in Belfast, and Portadown.
1994, however, saw republicans kill seven loyalist paramilitary targets, including a number of senior UVF and UDA figures. There were other Protestant men killed; alleged to be members of loyalist paramilitary organisations, bombs planted in loyalist pubs for the first time since the 1970s, and Protestant contractors murdered.
By the time they had called their ceasefire, republican paramilitaries had killed at least 35 loyalist paramilitaries in the previous seven years, injured many others, and had clearly compiled accurate intelligence on the UVF and UDA. Republicans had shown their willingness to kill large numbers of Protestants, and the capacity to continue their campaign indefinitely. Against this backdrop, the UVF and UDA, as the grandiosely titled “Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) called a ceasefire.
A number of interesting questions arise, and I would welcome discussion and debate on this.
- Should the heavy losses loyalists sustained be conflated with their decision to call a ceasefire?
- Why did republicans attack so many loyalist, unionist and Protestant targets in this period?
- Did republican or loyalist paramilitaries show any sign of fear of each other during this period?
⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.