Ulster Volunteer Force

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Ulster Volunteer Force A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UVF


The Ulster Volunteer Force was mobilised as a Protestant/Unionist militia in 1912 to oppose Home Rule - the campaign for a separate Irish parliament.

Taking as its motto "For God and Ulster", the organisation was ridiculed at first for parading with dummy weapons. But two years later it became a force to be reckoned with when the Clyde Valley ship landed a cargo of weapons in Northern Ireland.

The threat of Home Rule dissipated with the start of the First World War when thousands of UVF members formed the 36th (Ulster) Division to fight alongside the British Army. In July 1916 the Division was given the fateful order to go over the top at the Somme. In two days, 5,500 soldiers were killed or injured and four Victoria Crosses awarded for valour.

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But the men of the UVF were engaged in a more parochial conflict on their return. In the early 1920s they fought against anti-partitionist nationalists in Londonderry and Belfast as violence marred the formation of the new Northern Ireland state. In one year, 1922, 232 people were killed and about 1,000 injured. It was the worst sectarian conflict for a century.

Order was restored and little was heard of the UVF until more than 40 years later. In May 1966, a statement signed by Captain William Johnston of the Ulster Volunteer Force was issued to the media in Northern Ireland. It threatened war against the IRA.

“From this day, we declare war against the IRA and its splinter groups. Known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation. Less extreme measures will be taken against anyone sheltering or helping them, but if they persist in giving them aid, then more extreme measures will be adopted. We solemnly warn the authorities to make no more speeches of appeasement. We are heavily armed Protestants dedicated to this cause.”

Banning the organisation in 1966, NI Prime Minister Capt Terence O'Neill described the UVF as "this evil thing in our midst" and said it had misappropriated the title of the original organisation.

Although those who resurrected the organisation in the 1960s would argue that they were still defending the union with Britain, successive governments have regarded the UVF as simply an illegal loyalist group.

During the early days of the Troubles it was run on regular Army lines with companies, battalions and 'officers' bearing Army ranks. Its arsenal included Browning, Bren, Sterling and Thompson machine guns.

During the 1980s the UVF was undermined by a series of informers whose evidence led to many members appearing in court. Although the supergrass system eventually failed, the IRA used the arrests to target UVF members, several of whom were shot dead.

In 1974 there was a shortlived attempt to wean the organisation away from violence. The then Secretary of State Merlyn Rees lifted the ban on the UVF to encourage it to engage in politics. The Volunteer Political Party emerged and its chairman contested the West Belfast seat in an election. He polled only 2,690 votes and the party disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Ironically, an end to the UVF's terror campaign was announced in 1994 by the man who began it - Gusty Spence, now released from prison. He read out the statement from the Combined Loyalist Military Command which said that the main loyalist paramilitary groups were calling a ceasefire. Apart from a few breaches, the ceasefire still holds today.


The UVF now has a political voice, the Progressive Unionist Party, which prefers to say that it has "an insight into UVF thinking". The party was one of those engaged in the peace talks between unionists, nationalists, loyalists and republicans at Stormont.

No Surrender