Ulster Volunteer Force
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The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is a terrorist organization in Northern Ireland. The UVF was the main unionist paramilitary during The Troubles, where it fought the Provisional and Official IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army. In the spirit of Irish terrorism, the UVF borrows its name from an earlier paramilitary group for propaganda reasons - in this case, the 1910s Ulster Volunteers.
The Ulster Volunteer Force claims that their core ideology is preserving Northern Ireland's union with the United Kingdom; more accurately, their ideology can be summed up as British/Protestant supremacism. With many of its core supporters having had Orange Order ties, the UVF has a heavy Protestant focus, and historically considered virtually all Catholics to be sympathisers or members of various nationalist terror groups. Due to this and their fears of interference from the Republic of Ireland, the UVF is commonly associated with the Democratic Unionist Party, who were virulently opposed to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Outside of terrorism, the UVF is known for its association with drug dealing as a means of financing operations, having not had the IRA's luxury of Irish-American donations and ties with foreign groups such as the Red Army Faction or arms supplies by Libya.
The UVF predates both its historic enemy (the Provisional IRA) and the Troubles itself. It was founded in 1966 in the year ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. Expecting massive upheaval in Northern Ireland, the UVF began a campaign of terror to prevent this taking place. Over the next three years members would commit drive-by shootings and firebombings against random Catholic-owned or rented houses (including some Protestant homes due to shoddy workmanship). The UVF refused to accept however that the IRA was a spent force at this point in time, having lost most of its men and equipment during the 1950s Border Campaign. Their meaningless attacks therefore had the effect of strengthening IRA recruitment in 1969 after civil rights activists calling for fair elections became the target of further attacks.
“”At the time, the attitude was that if you couldn't get an IRA man you should shoot a Taig, he's your last resort.
|—UVF leader Gusty Spence, laying the general rule on UVF operations ("Taig" is a slur for Catholics in the area).|
The UVF's role in the early years of the Troubles consisted of two main objectives. While their main objective was obviously to destroy the IRA (though with their definition of IRA membership being "Catholic and having Irish names", they could have been destroying anything), their other objective was to ensure direct rule by bringing down Northern Ireland's government. While Northern Ireland's Parliament was always Unionist-controlled, Prime Minister Terrence O'Neill's support for the civil rights movement (a campaign to replace the "one house one vote" system with "one man one vote", due to the old system purposely giving extra votes to predominantly-Protestant and Unionist landlords and none for predominantly-Catholic and nationalist tenants, along with ending systemic discrimination against them) and diplomacy with the Republic of Ireland (at the time any diplomacy was seen by Unionists as being support for Unification) were anathema for them. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, its members' family histories heavily tied with Protestant Unionist militias, reacted harshly to the civil rights movement through widespread police brutality supported by the UVF. O'Neill was unable to prevent police brutality from spiraling Northern Ireland into chaos, and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson threatened O'Neill with direct rule if he could not regain control. The UVF responded by disrupting Northern Ireland's water and electricity supply through bombs, and blamed it on the IRA and the civil rights movement. This finally led to O'Neill's government collapsing, with British soldiers brought in later the same year to tackle the increasing sectarian violence the UVF and RUC was encouraging.
Over the course of the Troubles, the UVF failed to catch up with the Provisional IRA in combat. Rather than rely on carefully planned hits, the UVF focused more on the random killing of civilians to cause panic than actually engaging with the IRA. The most infamous of these random killings were done by the Shankill Butchers, an autonomous UVF group who killed dozens of people between 1972 and 1985. The killings that gave the group their name were a series of kidnappings of random streetwalkers who were brutally hacked to death with butcher knives or hatchets, abducted not as targets but for looking a little too Papist. How random were they? At least two Protestants were also killed for looking Catholic. Other killings included the shooting of people at work, drive-by shootings, purges of other UVF cells, killings of soldiers, and the murders of a disabled man just because and another man for wanting full payment of a car he sold to the group. Ultimately this unit was disbanded after its psychopathic leader, Lenny Murphy, was shot by the Provisional IRA after apparently being urged to by other Loyalists.
Following the Good Friday Agreement, the UVF quickly began to fall apart, having only held on into the '90s by hatred of the IRA alone. Its main focus became drug dealing, and the emerging factions started a civil war, with former members as late as 2017 being executed.
- Lenny Murphy (1952–1982) - Leader of the Shankill Butchers. Suspected psychopath.
- Gusty Spence (1933–2011) - A founding member and the public face of the group in its early days.
- Billy Wright (1960–1997) - UVF "Mid-Ulster Brigade" leader; later kicked out and formed the splinter Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Shot dead in jail by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) inmates.