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How loyalists peddled death, from McGurk’s to Greysteel

As the UVF and UDA make moves to decommission their weapons Deborah McAleese looks back at some of their worst atrocities

The main loyalist paramilitary groups, borne out of violent opposition to a united Ireland, are the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The organisations originated in the 1960s and 1970s as vigilante groups in Protestant areas but swiftly developed into terrorist organisations.

The UDA remained a legal organisation until 1992 when the then Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew proscribed it as it became increasingly clear to security forces that its members were carrying out killings but using the name of Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) as a cover.

The UFF's campaign of violence began in the early 1970s, under the leadership of the UDA's first commander Andy Tyrie, and continued throughout the Troubles. The peak of the UFF's armed campaign took place in the early 1990s under Johnny Adair's ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C Company.

One of the most high profile UDA attacks came in October 1993, when two UFF men attacked the Rising Sun restaurant in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, County Londonderry, where 200 people were celebrating Halloween. The killers entered the restaurant, shouted “Trick or treat!” and opened fire.

Eight people, including two Protestants, were killed and 19 wounded in what became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA/UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA's Shankill Road bombing which killed nine people, a week earlier.

The group was part of the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire announced in 1994. The ceasefire was breached in 1998 when the UFF carried out three killings following the murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright in the Maze prison.

The killings shook the peace process and resulted in the historic meeting between then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and UFF/UDA leaders in prison.

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the UVF murdered more than 500 people.

Its campaign also claimed the lives of 33 people in bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974.

The UVF was formed in 1966 to combat what it saw as a rise in Irish nationalism centred on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

As the violence in Northern Ireland began to escalate in the early 1970s the UVF's attacks became more random and lethal. In December 1971 15 Catholic civilians were murdered during the bombing of McGurk’s Bar in the New Lodge area of Belfast. This was the UVF’s first major atrocity.

The attack was initially blamed on republican paramilitaries but the UVF later admitted responsibility.

In 1974 the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was the worst loyalist attack in the Republic, claiming 33 lives.

The bombs were detonated at the height of the evening rush hour; a bus drivers strike meant there were more pedestrians than usual on the streets.

The organisation carried out further attacks throughout the 1970s.

These included the “Miami Showband killings” of July 31, 1975, when three members of a showband from the Republic of Ireland were killed having been stopped at a fake British Army checkpoint on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Two members of the group survived the attack and later testified against those responsible. Two UVF members were accidentally killed by their own bomb while carrying out this attack. Two of those later convicted were also members of the UDR.

From late 1975 to mid 1977, a subset of the UVF dubbed the Shankill Butchers carried out a string of brutal sectarian murders of Catholic civilians.

The Shankill Butchers were a Belfast UVF gang so called because they tortured and killed some of their victims with weapons such as knives, cleavers and axes.

They were led by Lenny Murphy who was described as a psychopath and a sadist. His gang was involved in up to 30 killings but earned greatest notoriety for the murders of seven Catholics who were abducted at random, mainly in north Belfast, before being subjected to savage and prolonged attacks.

In one killing an attempt was made to decapitate a man while in another the victim had almost all his teeth ripped out with pliers.

Several members of the gang were jailed in 1979 after one of their victims survived and identified them to the police.

Murphy was murdered by the IRA in 1982.

In the 1980s, the UVF’s capacity for murder was greatly reduced by a series of police informers.

The organisation joined the Combined Loyalist Military Command and indicated its acceptance of moves towards peace. However, the year leading up to the loyalist ceasefire, which took place shortly after the Provisional IRA ceasefire, saw some of the worst sectarian killings carried out by loyalists during the Troubles.

The UVF's last major atrocity on June 18, 1994, was similar to its first — an indiscriminate attack on a pub. UVF gunmen walked into a small pub in the Co Down village of Loughinisland where local residents were watching the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup.

They opened fire killing six Catholic men. Among them was 87-year-old Barney Green, one of the oldest victims of the Troubles.

Witnesses said the gunmen ran laughing to their getaway car.

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