UVF and IRA used priest as back channel

Fr Alec Reid
Connla Young

The UVF had a back channel to the IRA four years before the 1994 ceasefires, it has been claimed.

The contacts between the two paramilitary groups came at a time when the UVF’s sectarian campaign was at its height and resulted in dozens of Catholics being killed across the north.

Both paramilitary organisations were also engaged in targeting each other at the time.

In his book UVF: Behind the Mask, Aaron Edwards reveals that the UVF’s ‘Chief of Staff’ supported “an exploratory back-channel process” in 1989-90.

Mr Edwards said that several well known loyalists, including Gusty Spence, David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson were all engaged in cross community work after their release from prison.

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“Recognising that these men had a positive contribution to make, the UVF leadership endorsed their attempts and the attempts of others, including Christian community worker Jackie Redpath, to put feelers to the nationalist community to explore the grounds for dialogue aimed at bringing the conflict to an end,” he writes.

“The UVF’s long-serving chief of staff believed that 1989-90 was a crucial time for the organisation’s brigade staff, in that they had now chosen to sanction an exploratory back channel process.”

He also says that west-Belfast Catholic priest, Fr Alec Reid, played an important part in the contacts.

“Father Alec Reid, Redemptorist priest at Clonard Monastery, in the Falls Road area of Belfast became a vital conduit in this initiative.

“At the centre of a parallel process with the Provisional IRA he had in turn, met with Protestant clergy, who made contact with community representatives in loyalist areas.

“In doing so, he facilitated a form of shuttle diplomacy in which several ‘what if’ scenarios were exploded, initially by the Provisional IRA leadership, in which they floated the idea of ‘what if we stopped killing you, would you stop killing us’.”

“The UVF rejected this out of hand.”

“They saw it as an unacceptable trade off.”

“Having long regarded itself as a ‘counter-terrorist outfit’ the UVF always believed that it was simply responding to IRA attack on Protestant civilians and members of the security forces.

“In the eyes of the UVF leadership, an attack on one was an attack on all, and they had a duty to ‘respond in kind’”.

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