The late Ian Paisley and other loyalist politicians would privately ‘wind up’ supporters, calling them to arms, while publicly appearing to be defusing the situation, a court has been told.
The claims of Dr Paisley’s role in the early troubles — long before he became First Minister — were heard at the Belfast Crown Court trial of Winston Churchill Rea, allegedly a one-time head of the loyalist Red Hand Commando terror group, who is accused of plotting the murder of innocent Catholics.
The 69-year-old allegedly voiced the claims in the first of seven taped interviews he allegedly gave to Boston College, for the so-called ‘Belfast Project’, where former loyalist and republicans allowed themselves to be interviewed about their terrorist past.
The tapes allegedly made by Mr Rea, supposedly confidential until his death, form the backbone of the prosecution case against him and the total of 19 offences he faces, said to be committed between 1973 and 1996.
Revelations about the former First Minister and others came as ‘Interviewee L’ on the tape, allegedly Mr Rea, talked of his early involvement in terrorism, and the influences on him at the time.
Asked what he thought of the role of unionist politicians, like Mr Paisley, the speaker said often after three days of trouble flaring in loyalist areas they would show up “and seem to quieten things down”.
They did this “in front of the media ... but behind the scenes ... I also know, and I know for a fact, they were winding things up ... I heard it with my own two ears”. And he said that he “believed it”.
“L” also claimed that they were told they were “being sold out” and that “Ulster should fight” and that they should “shoot to kill”.
However, he said that “Paisley wasn’t the only politician ... you had the likes of the Bill Craigs” and that they would “come off with strange words” which appeared to “L” as “a double edged sword”.
However, he took only one meaning from what he was being told: “I always took one edge ... shoot to kill ... that’s what they meant ... that Ulster should fight .. that’s what I took it to be ... that’s what our leaders wanted us to do ... they wanted us to fight”.
The court also heard the speaker say that around that time he started going with a girl called Elizabeth whose father was UVF leader Gusty Spence, regarded as a “folk hero” over his involvement in the Malvern Street murders, and that many thought “what he did was right and good”.
He said at the time young loyalists had three choices open to them — the UDA, regarded then as ‘defenders’ or the UVF and RHC, described as “an attacking force”, but in the end he joined the Red Hand because their members were “the same ages as myself ... a very young organisation”.
It had been formed by then prominent loyalist John McKeague, later assassinated by the INLA. It was he, claimed the speaker, who recruited many young men in the Ulster Defence Regiment, and also ex-service men, to help put others “through their paces”.
Earlier in the taped interviews “L” talked of his childhood and growing up in the now loyalist, but then mixed, Highfield Estate, on Belfast’s West Circular Road.
“L” said he mixed with Catholic neighbours he regarded as friends, and who, according to him, at the start of the Troubles in 1969, “stood shoulder to shoulder with you behind the barricades” to protect their area.
However, this relationship “did not last long”, because ‘outsiders helped by those in the estate’, pointed out those Catholic families living in there and “they were forced out... I have to say were forced out”, although this also happened to Protestant families in nearby estates.
And according to “L”, when his Catholic neighbours, whom he “knew and got on very well with, were put out, I was saddened, very saddened” and realistically lost contact with them after that.
The prosecution in the case contend that “L” is Mr Rea, AKA ‘Winkie Rea’, from the Springwell Road, in Groomsport, Co Down, whom they also claim confessed to many terrorist crimes he is accused of, and denies.
They including aiding and abetting, and conspiring to murder Catholic men John Devine in July 1989 and John O’Hara in April 1991.
The other offences including membership of the Red Hand Commando, aiding, abetting and conspiring to murder Catholics and conspiring to threaten to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in August 1996.
He has also pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other terror-related charges, including conspiring to possess firearms secured from the Ulster Resistance paramilitary group on dates between November 1986 and October 1994.