Tributes paid to Glenn Barr, former UDA leader who worked for reconciliation

Loyalist, with other UDA leaders, met leading politicians in Washington in 1979 for talks about independence for Northern Ireland

 Glenn Barr: Involved in loyalist politics and paramilitarism from early in the Troubles. Photograph:  Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

Glenn Barr: Involved in loyalist politics and paramilitarism from early in the Troubles. Photograph: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

 

Tributes have been paid to Glenn Barr, the former Ulster Defence Association leader who helped bring down the 1974 Sunningdale powersharing Executive. He has died aged 75.

Mr Barr, a native of Derry, was chairman of the co-ordinating committee that ran the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) strike that collapsed the Executive in May 1974. He later became involved in community, peace process and reconciliation work.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said today, “Glenn and his team developed an International Peace School programme in which thousands of Irish students and community activists, from both North and South participated.

“His constant plea was to ensure that young people were given ‘the full, true story of our recent history’. He always concluded meetings by stating ‘that his life’ s work was not to change people’s religion or politics, but to create a society where all are equal and are treated equitably’, and that remains his heritage,” Mr Ahern added.

Meanwhile, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said Mr Barr “worked hard at cross-community work, helping to build capacity in working-class unionist areas.

“Glenn was a tireless campaigner and vigorous in defence of his own views. Less than three weeks ago, we shared many reminiscences at a family wedding. He will be very sadly missed by us all,” he added.

A trade unionist, Mr Barr was involved in loyalist politics and paramilitarism from early in the Troubles. In the 1970s he was leader of the UDA in the Derry area and also was a member of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party in the 1970s.

At the time of the UWC strike he said it would have been possible to set up an independent Northern Ireland. In late 1974 he travelled to Libya with a UDA delegation for talks with Col Muammar Gadafy about his potential support for independence for the North.

A Sinn Féin delegation was in Libya at the same time and it was reported there was some contact between them. The UDA said part of the purpose of the visit was to stop Libyan support for the IRA.

Mr Barr, with other UDA leaders, also met leading politicians in Washington in 1979 for talks about independence for Northern Ireland.

While the late Ian Paisley also was a key figure in the 1974 UWC strike, Mr Barr was antagonistic to the DUP leader. Mr Barr distanced himself from a generally ineffective loyalist strike in 1977 organised by Dr Paisley’s United Unionist Action Council.

He was elected in Derry to the 1975 Constitutional Convention, where he indicated support for a power-sharing arrangement with the SDLP.

From the early 1980s he became disillusioned with unionist politics and famously said that unionist leaders could “have sent a donkey with a Union Jack tied to its tail up the Shankill Road and we would have voted for it”.

In Derry he worked to create employment and was head of a local training centre for unemployed young people. He was appointed to the North’s Community Relations Council in 1990 while in the early 1990s he worked to dissuade loyalists from joining paramilitary organisations.

He supported the peace process talks from the mid-1990s.

Mr Barr was also heavily involved in reconciliation. With former Fine Gael Minister and Donegal TD Paddy Harte he was behind the creation of Peace Park at Messines in Belgium, the memorial to all Irishmen who fell in the first World War.

Mr Barr was appointed to the North’s Parades Commission in 1997 but stood down the following year due to the “intolerable impact of local pressure”.