Northern Ireland, 1972: a British army-loyalist paramilitary alliance
“Vigilantes, whether UDA [Ulster Defence Association] or not,” he wrote to Whitelaw, “should be discreetly encouraged in Protestant areas to reduce the load on the Security Forces.” The phrase “to reduce the load on the Security Forces” suggests much more than turning a blind eye to groups like the UDA and UVF (Ulster Volunteer Fighters). It comes close to regarding the loyalist paramilitaries as allies.
There is nothing in Bennett’s paper or research that he has been able to unearth elsewhere to indicate that either Whitelaw or the Heath cabinet vetoed or even objected to this aspect of the Tuzo plan.
The weeks before the preparation of the Tuzo report are replete with evidence of British ambivalence, to say the least, towards the UDA. In June 1972, Whitelaw held three meetings with the UDA, twice with a delegation that arrived at Stormont Castle wearing hoods and sunglasses. His third meeting was with the entire UDA inner council.
Also in June, up to 8,000 masked UDA men, armed with iron bars and cudgels, confronted British troops in the Shankill Road area. The British commander of land forces, Maj Gen Robert Ford, arrived to negotiate with the UDA in the back of a Saracen; the deal they struck saw the UDA and British army conduct joint patrols of the area.
Mau Mau tactics
In several key ways, the UDA and the British army were already acting as allies when the Tuzo plan arrived on Whitelaw’s desk.
“What seems to be the case to me is that in 1972 the military really took charge of the situation,” Bennett says now. “There doesn’t seem to be that much regular cabinet interference in what they are doing.”
Bennett says he found all this reminiscent of the way the British handled the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the 1950s. Under the direction of a rising young British military officer named Frank Kitson, the British created countergangs, recruited from rival Kenyan tribes, to fight the Mau Mau. Between 1970 and 1972, the same Frank Kitson, by then a general, headed the British army’s Belfast brigade and was a key figure in the military hierarchy in Northern Ireland.
“As I was writing this,” says Bennett, “it seemed to me an obvious decision by HQNI [British army headquarters] that from a purely objective point of view you could consider the loyalist paramilitaries to be just as significant a threat to security and ordinary people in Northern Ireland. And if they were going to be completely impartial they should have been conducting counterinsurgency against both loyalists and republicans.”
Final, absolute proof of which direction British military policy took in the wake of Tuzo’s paper will have to await the disclosure of even more confidential material.
There is no doubt, however, that 1972, especially the months following the July IRA ceasefire, was the year of huge growth in loyalist paramilitary activity. If the violence of 1972 and what followed was like a stone thrown into the middle of a lake, then the angry flag-waving protests, rioting and now shooting that Northern Ireland has seen in the past six weeks are the ripples still breaking against the shore.