Why I wrote UVF: Behind The Mask…Part 1–Aaron Edwards

Aaron Edwards explaining motivations and purpose for writing his eagerly awaited book.




Next week my book UVF: Behind the Mask will be published by Merrion Press.

The book has taken me three years to write but has a much longer gestation, stretching back nearly twenty years.

I first began researching the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 2000, prior to the outbreak of the bloody feud between the UVF and their rivals in the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters.

My focus then was to interrogate the critique by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that the UVF’s political associates in the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) were merely ‘mouthpieces for gunmen and bombers’.

I discovered that the PUP’s politics were a lot more complex than what these critiques were suggesting.

Indeed, many of the critiques were disingenuous, especially given the close ties between individual members of the UUP and DUP and loyalist paramilitaries since the mid-1960s.

Digging deeper I found that the PUP was actually trying to offer a political alternative to mainstream unionist parties like the UUP and DUP.

Read more »


When did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester?

This article by Eilis O’Hanlon first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.

So, Michelle O’Neill, just when did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester?

Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, speaks to the media after signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall which was opened up for the victims of the bomb attack in Manchester5050

Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, speaks to the media after signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall which was opened up for the victims of the bomb attack in Manchester



Sinn Fein’s northern leader is delusional if she thinks people don’t see through her ‘that was then, this is now” whataboutery, writes Eilis O’Hanlon.

The late Cardinal Cahal Daly called it “the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today”. He was referring to whataboutery, the familiar practice of deflecting criticism of acts of violence by groups with which one agrees by immediately pointing to acts of violence by those with whom one disagrees, and loudly demanding: “What about this? What about that?”

Like all good definitions, though, it’s become misused, to the point where anyone who exposes the hypocrisy of certain speakers when they condemn violence, despite having enthusiastically supported it in the past, is also accused of engaging in whataboutery, when all they’re actually doing is struggling to reconcile two entirely contradictory points of view.

That tendency has emerged again following the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena on Monday night, which killed 22 people. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams called it a “shocking and horrendous attack on children and young people”. The party’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill signed the book of condolence at Belfast City Hall, calling the attack “unthinkable”, and saying she’d watched events unfold with “shock and horror”.

“I condemn it,” she added, with none of the ifs and buts that generally accompany such statements.

O’Neill did all this only weeks after attending yet another commemoration for Provisional IRA members killed on so-called active service. Defending that decision, the Co Tyrone woman described those who died at Loughgall as “Irish patriots”.

The terrorists that Michelle O’Neill proudly celebrates murdered children too, and far more than were killed in Manchester. The “patriots” whose memory she venerates indiscriminately slaughtered people quietly going about their business in public places.

Just because the men she celebrates did it for a united Ireland, and the Manchester bomber most likely for a worldwide Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

The only difference is there was no 24-hour news back then, and certainly no social media. Atrocities did not unfurl in real time; people at home didn’t see the full horror for themselves. If they had, the IRA may have been shamed into stopping sooner.

Irish republicans would have us believe that their terrorism was different. That their bombs were nicer. They look at the suicide bombers and insist: “We’re not like Themmuns.” Are they sure about that?

Isis may carry out more of what the IRA used to call “spectaculars”. Even so, homegrown jihadists would have to significantly intensify their operations to come anywhere near to matching the more than 2,000 killed by republicans and more than 1,000 by loyalists.

How do Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams have the gall to express sympathy for a city which the republican movement itself devastated with the largest bomb in Britain since the Second World War, showering people more than half a mile away with glass and debris?

That a warning was given that day in 1996, and the area evacuated in time, is no excuse. It was pure luck that no one died. Only a sick mind expects credit for luck.

“Martin McGuinness was not a terrorist,” declared Adams during a graveside oration for the former Deputy First Minister. But what was the proxy bomb that murdered civilian chef Patsy Gillespie and five soldiers if not an act of terrorism? What were Claudy, Enniskillen, Bloody Friday, Harrods, Brighton, Warrington?

Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams should feel disgraced that the republican movement whose memory they paint in rosy colours was an early adopter of the nail bomb, as witnessed to barbaric effect in Hyde Park, years before Monday’s bomber, who used the same type of device to kill and maim, was probably even born.

The dead are no less dead because the cause in whose name they were murdered is one that Sinn Fein shares. They may delude themselves that the IRA didn’t target civilians, but its volunteers were prepared for civilians to die, and were reckless with innocent life.

Only last year, former hunger striker Pat Sheehan – who was jailed as a teenager for trying to bomb a cash and carry store, of all things – said that moving on from the past “may mean an apology” for the 1996 attack in Manchester, but he added that the British government would need to accept its responsibility for conflict in Northern Ireland in return.

That’s not how repentance works. You’re either sorry or you’re not. Turning an apology into a negotiation is politics, not ethics, and that’s what is once again on display this week from Sinn Fein.

Politicians who supported terrorist violence in the past, and condemn it when it happens now, just expect us to be too polite and diplomatic to point out their hypocrisy.

At the very least, they should answer why the violence which they backed is any less reprehensible, because you can’t take the credit for moving away from violence without also accepting it was wrong in the first place.

Why keep bringing this up? That’s what some people will say, frustrated that those who suffered at the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland won’t conveniently shut up and let those who supported it then, and continue to justify it in retrospect, reap the electoral benefits of joining the chorus of condemnation.

It’s because of a suspicion that they’re not being honest, and not saying what they really think.

The same goes for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who cosied up to Sinn Fein for decades, and now fervidly rewrites history to make it seem as if he was a behind-the-scenes negotiator for peace.

It also goes for Dianne Abbott, who’s lined up to take charge of tackling terrorism as Home Secretary in any Labour government after June 8, who once hailed the fight for Irish unity as “our struggle”, saying “every defeat for the British state is a victory for us all.”

Like Adams and O’Neill, they cry foul when their past words are thrown back at them, as if it’s unfair to expect them to either withdraw or stand over them.

What really goads them is that they can’t. It’s their own words that are the problem, not the fact others refuse to forget.

“When you’re in a war situation, I’m not saying ethics are put on hold, but I think you have a different template.” That’s what Pat Sheehan once said.

Those who bombed Manchester this week, 21 years after the IRA set the same example, would totally agree.

Republicans were far closer to Themmuns than they like to believe.




Donal Billings: A Memory by Ronnie McCullough

Last week “Extreme” Republican Donal Billings was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for a plot in which he intended to kill either the Queen or another member of the Royal family in 2011.
Former Loyalist prisoner Ronnie-Flint-McCullough remembers meeting Billings for the first time 44 years ago in Long Kesh prison camp.




Donal Billings



One lazy sunny afternoon in 1972, after returning from our remand appearance, to compound  7, we stood motionless to see one of the most curious republican remand prisoners (Donal Billings) standing in the middle of our compound.  


Under normal circumstances, republicans would not be deliberately placed in a loyalist cage.  It seemed more than unusual.


As he stood, alone and in a defiant posture, fists gripped tight together, with a black plastic bag at his feet, we wondered.


It soon emerged that the republican had defied the screws and had suffered physical assault from them. He was bloodied and bruised yet defiant, as he stood motionless, glaring towards us.


Some loyalists proposed that we should attack him because he was an alleged member of the Saor Eire movement, which was a hard-line southern-based republican group.

He was a known republican extremist whose distinct ginger hair and beard was well known amongst us. Whilst on remand in Compound 8 he was inclined to walk around the perimeter of the cage on his own.  It seemed that he did not mix readily with the other republicans in the compound.


We discussed the situation and found that a visit from an external humanitarian group similar to Amnesty International were due to visit the camp and inquire on conditions. It became clear that the screws were hoping that, should we attack him, we would be the perceived as the perpetrators of the assault, which caused him earlier injury.


In so doing the screws could state that his visible injuries were received at the hands of loyalists thereby clearing them of their involvement.


I approached him and told him he had nothing to fear from loyalists given the circumstances.

He seemed perplexed, yet tense and prepared to defend himself.  We walked away.


Once the screws realised that we would not attack him they waited for a while before removing him to his proper compound.


Later that evening he beckoned me to the wire from compound 8 and stated, “That’s one favour I owe you boys!”


Sure enough, less than a month later, a lone loyalist was being driven back from the visiting area in the back of a van containing no less than eight republicans including the notorious Ballymurphy provisional leader, Jim Bryson.  At that time there was no policy of non-aggression between the loyalists and republicans.


It was a tense moment when several of the republicans moved towards the loyalist. Suddenly a ginger-haired republican stood between them and made it clear, “I owe these fella’s a favour, so stand back!” Donal Billings honoured his earlier promise.






The above account is an extract from the memoires of Ronnie McCullough whilst serving ten years in Long Kesh.






Regressive Policing: Jamie Bryson

The below piece by Jamie Bryson first appeared in the Irish News on 25 November 2016:


 On 16 November the Secretary of State announced a consultation on the potential to further extend the use of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland. This legislative mechanism came to fruition in 2007.

 The April 2003 joint-declaration clearly gave commitments to repeal the Northern Ireland- specific parts contained within Section VII of the Terrorism Act 2000.

  And, in 2006, the Government announced they were to phase out the use of Diplock courts.   There are two issues that arise from the provisions the Secretary of State is now reviewing. The first is whether- in the context of a ‘Fresh Start’- that such emergency provisions are still required to deal with terrorist-related offences, or whether this draconian practice actually strengthens dissident republican terrorism by bestowing upon them a ‘political’ status, rather than simply dealing with them as criminals.

The second issue is how this provision has been used in cases in which no terrorist related charges have been brought, and a certificate has been issued simply on the basis of ‘soft intelligence’, which given Section 7 of the Act cannot be challenged by or within a court.


There is also an argument around at which stage Article 6 of the Human Rights Act becomes engaged and whether the mode of trial falls under the protections of Article 6, namely “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

 Given that the prosecution alone make the decision to issue a certificate, removing one of the basic tenets of British justice- to be tried by a jury of your peers- how can this be described as an ‘independent and impartial tribunal’? 

 I believe the answer to both the aforementioned issues, which are generally related but distinct points of debate, is that there is a clear and compelling case for an end to non-jury trials per se.


 If there was any jury tampering then the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has provisions to allow for the suspension of a jury trial. This should be sufficient.

 In the case of terrorism related charges I believe that that bestowing conflict-related provisions upon dissident republican terrorism is actually bolstering their propaganda efforts to present their actions as being politically motivated, rather than simply criminal.  

 Most seriously, however, is what I believe is prosecutorial overreach in terms of issuing non-jury certificates, on the basis of uncorroborated ‘soft intelligence’ that wouldn’t reach either a civil or criminal evidential threshold, for charges totally unrelated to terrorism.

 A political fresh start cannot go hand in glove with a regressive policing and justice strategy.


 Jamie Bryson


Fresh Start-The Past Cannot Be Allowed To Police The Present: Jamie Bryson

Fresh Start- The past cannot be allowed to police the present. 



The Fresh Start agreement provides a unique opportunity for genuine transformation initiatives. The opportunity is there for loyalism to create positive pathways in order to bring previously disengaged communities or organisations into the realm

of purely democratic activism, undertaken in the spirit of lawfulness. 


It is a chance for current loyalism to leave future loyalism on a sound footing; equipped to fight effectively on a lawful community, civic and political battlefield. It is also a chance to provide care and help for those suffering from mental health or other issues as a result of the conflict. 


This positive work should not, as has often been the case, be viewed by loyalism as simply an opportunity to access money. Endless funding streams may benefit a select few gatekeepers, but it does nothing to build the capacity of the grassroots.  

Read more »


Rent Regulation System for NI: William Ennis

This was a motion presented by William to the PUP conference on Saturday 15th October 2016.




Good morning conference.

I propose that we, the Progressive Unionist Party, should enshrine in policy a principled demand for a system of Rent regulation in Northern Ireland. 

The reasons I believe Northern Ireland should follow other regions such as New York, Paris, Singapore and Berlin in implementing such a measure I shall now lay out before you, after which I shall go into a bit more detail as to how I believe this proposal could be implemented. 

Not enough social housing stock exists, that’s the reality.  Communitiesni.gov.uk reports that “the total number of applicants on the waiting list (with no existing NIHE/Housing association tenancy) on the 31st March 2015 was… 

Anyone want to guess? 

“…  39,338”.

Read more »


Changing times?

On my recent trip to France with the Green and White Army to support Northern Ireland one topic kept raising its head: the national anthem.

For all of my life the singing of God Save The Queen (plus the wee No Surrender bit) at Northern Ireland matches was sacrosanct; not anymore. More and more GAWA are arguing for a neutral anthem and I am one of them. The sight of the team lining up before a game with the prods mumbling away and the micks looking nervously at the ground is not a unifying or inspiring time for the players. Sure the Scots have Flower of Scotland and Wales have Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, while the Irish rugby team have the unifying Ireland’s Call so surely the time has come to get our own anthem. And while we’re at it why not get a new flag? There is no great desire, north or south, for a united Ireland so why not get on with making our wee country less hostile to the non-British that live here. I don’t need flags or anthems to remind me of my nationality. The NHS and the pound in my pocket do a better job of that. A neutral anthem and flag is a no-brainer for me. The IFA will be discussing it soon so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Read more »


The Annual Bonfire Debate: Jamie Bryson


Today, with only 6 days until the 11 July bonfires, once again debate raged around the yearly cultural events. 


There has been a long term agenda to bring all bonfires under the umbrella of a statutory enforcement scheme, which would have eventually sought to neutralise and finally eradicate bonfires.


I have written extensively about this in the past as well as successfully  raising legal points challenging the validity of statutory led schemes. This led to a reversal in North Down and Ards- some articles can be found here; 






During today’s debate we consistently heard the Alliance party’s Paula Bradshaw mention the need for regulation. This was echoed by commentator Chris Donnelly. Mr Donnelly’s call for regulation stems from his desire to eradicate bonfires per se. Looking at the success Nationalists have achieved using the Parades Commission to wage war on Unionist culture, they see the benefit in statutory regulation and therefore are continually attempting to bring flags and bonfires under such a remit. 


Such statutory regulation, which again would be designed to limit and police the cultural expressions of primarily one community, must be strongly resisted by Unionism. 


Any form of racism is absolutely disgraceful and should not be tolerated. You, quite simply, cannot be a loyalist and a racist. Therefore, it is in this context that I say the racist slogan on an East Belfast bonfire is not  reflective of loyalism. 


Given the widespread agenda to demonise bonfires and to find some mechanism of opening the door to statutory enforcement, I am not wholly convinced that the racist slogan wasn’t placed there by an agent provoctetour in order to give an excuse for statutory intervention and thus opening the door for a precedent being set for the PSNI to remove items from bonfires. 


The East Belfast Act initiative deserve credit and praise. As soon as it became apparent the slogan was on the bonfire, East Belfast Act representatives had it removed and, I understand, will continue in discussions with local residents and bonfire builders about a range of issues pertaining to that particular bonfire. 


I believe such positive leadership within loyalism should be showcased and promoted. Often the positive deeds within loyalism go unnoticed, perhaps due to a reluctance to engage positively with the media 


Chastising the media for covering stories about bonfires and flags will only serve to deepen the alienation and isolation of loyalism. Instead loyalism must engage and challenge the negative narratives, whilst promoting the positive work being undertaken. 




The Battle Of The Somme And ‘An Englishman’s Betrayal’….

As most readers of this blog will know, tomorrow, July 1st, is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, perhaps the bloodiest and most pointless occasion of slaughter during the First World War.

For the North’s Loyalist community, this date is on a par with the Nationalist celebration of the Easter Rising, to be celebrated with pride and militaristic manifestations. July 1st, known in Belfast as ‘the Wee Twelfth’, regularly witnesses some of the most rumbustious Orange parades of the marching season.

Read more »


Remembering and learning at the same time

I found it by accident.

My great aunt didn’t speak in much detail of her two brothers who were both dead except to say that they were soldiers who had died during World War One.

In fact this was not quite right. One brother, Thomas, a sergeant in the Inniskilling Fusiliers died in action on the 1st July 1916. Sergeant Thomas Bailey it says on the card that bears his name and photograph. It has a black border and a small black ribbon on the front and it was this that I discovered in a box of items kept in a drawer. I wasn’t looking for it.

Read more »