Tributes paid to leader of '74 loyalist strike Glenn Barr
Ex-UDA chief Glenn Barr dies in home city aged 75
Glen Barr, a central figure in the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike that paralysed Northern Ireland and brought down the first attempt at political power-sharing in 1974, has died.
He passed away yesterday, aged 75, at Altnagelvin Hospital in his native Londonderry.
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell led tributes to the former loyalist leader, describing him as a “tireless campaigner”.
Mr Campbell added: “Glen Barr, or ‘Glenny’ as he was affectionately known, was moving on from his political involvement as I moved into mine in the late 1970s. “He worked hard at cross-community work, helping to build capacity in working-class unionist areas.
“Glen was a tireless campaigner and vigorous in defence of his own views.”
In the 1970s, Mr Barr held senior positions in the UDA and Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party (VPUP).
He first joined the Loyalist Association of Workers and then the UDA, becoming its leader in the north west.
Despite being elected to Stormont under the VPUP banner in 1973, he soon became a leading opponent of the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974 and was a pivotal figure in organising the UWC strike the same year.
Also in that era he was part of a UDA fundraising delegation that travelled to Libya to meet with Muammar Gaddafi, who was already funding the Provisional IRA by that time.
As chair of the Ulster Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee, he led a group containing UWC representatives that included both paramilitaries and politicians directing the strike.
Mr Barr remained loyal to William Craig after the Vanguard leader suggested he would share power with the SDLP. When the UDA also disavowed Craig’s suggestion, he resigned from the UDA.
When Ian Paisley attempted to foster another general strike in 1977, Mr Barr publicly challenged the DUP leader and distanced himself from what would prove to be a failed attempt to repeat the ‘successful’ UWC strike held three years before.
He went on to share the deputy leadership of Vanguard with David Trimble and when the party dissolved in 1978, he joined the Ulster Unionist Party and resumed his relationship with the UDA at the invitation of the organisation.
The two-week UWC strike in 1974 saw heavy involvement from the UVF and the UDA.
Members of both groups enforced the strike by blocking roads and intimidating workers. A total of 39 people died during the 14-day span of the strike — 33 of them in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
The then Secretary of State, Merlyn Rees, described the strike as “an outbreak of Ulster nationalism”.
In 1973, Barr had described himself as an ‘Ulster nationalist’ and in 1976 the New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG) produced ‘Beyond the Religious Divide’, a document co-authored by him.
And it was he who was selected by the NUPRG to end a self-imposed media blackout by giving an interview to the Dublin-based political magazine ‘Magill’ in 1978.
But, he had long become disillusioned by how he perceived mainstream unionist politics’ treatment of working class loyalists and in turn their blind allegiance to the political parties.
He once said: “They could have sent a donkey with a Union Jack pinned to its tail up the Shankill Road and we would have voted for it.”
Glen Barr left the political arena around 1981. He then set up a scheme from which disadvantaged young people would receive training and employment under the government ACE initiative. It later became the Maydown Youth Training Project Ltd.
In later years Glen Barr concentrated on illustrating how community divisions in Northern Ireland could be dismissed by showing how both Protestant and Catholics fought and died together in the First World War.
He established the International School for Peace Studies and, together with Fine Gael representative Paddy Harte, established the Island of Island Peace park at Messines in 1998.
Belfast UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey was involved in that project from the outset.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: “I didn’t know Glen until the Messines project and I found him to be a good organiser and a good motivator who had some very good ideas, and I got on well with him.
“Like everyone else, I was aware of his involvement with the UDA and he still had links with them. Andy Tyrie was on that first trip to Belgium, but Glen never used those links in anything but a positive way.”
Mr Barr’s funeral service will at Ebrington Presbyterian Church in Londonderry on Friday, at 2pm. Donations in lieu of floral tributes can be made to the Alzheimer’s Society at Scott Lodge, Plymouth, PL2 3DU.