Northern Ireland

Who are the UVF?

Former UVF leader Gusty Spence is believed to have killed John Scullion, the first victim of the Troubles
Former UVF leader Gusty Spence is believed to have killed John Scullion, the first victim of the Troubles

Who are the Ulster Volunteer Force, the UVF?

THE Ulster Volunteer Force was a loyalist paramilitary organization outlawed after two Catholic men and a Protestant pensioner were killed by the group in 1966.

It was one of several militant Protestant groups that emerged in the mid-1960s, with Shankill loyalist Gusty Spence among its leaders.

Claiming the name of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which had formed in opposition to Home Rule more than half a century earlier, it carried out the first sectarian killing of the modern Troubles, three years before republicans claimed their first victim. 

The group emerged at a time of unionist fears of a growing republican threat and coincided with the rise of Ian Paisley's firebrand style of politics. Although small, the UVF initially had pockets of support and membership outside Belfast. It is understood Gusty Spence was initiated into the group at a house in the Pomeroy area of Co Tyrone.

Who were the first victims of the UVF?

The murders of John Scullion, Peter Ward and Matilda Gould led to then Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O'Neill outlawing the UVF.

John Scullion was shot dead by a Shankill Road UVF gang outside his home in Clonard, off the Falls Road in west Belfast.

John Scullion became the first victim of the Troubles when he was shot by the UVF in 1966
John Scullion became the first victim of the Troubles when he was shot by the UVF in 1966

Peter Ward was shot dead after he and several friends left the Malvern Bar on the Shankill Road in west Belfast on June 26 1966.

Ms Gould (77) died a day later, seven weeks after being badly burned when the UVF fire-bombed her home in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

She lived next door to a Catholic-owned bar and off licence, which the gang had intended to torch.

Read more:UVF has a long history of murder

Peter Ward
Peter Ward

When did the UVF call a ceasefire?

The UVF went on to carry out more than 500 sectarian murders during the Troubles before finally calling a ceasefire in 1994.

Historian and Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said the loyalist paramilitary group was responsible for introducing the gun into Irish politics twice during the last century.

"They brought the gun into politics in '66 and brought explosives into Northern Ireland," he said.

"They also brought the gun into politics in 1913 when they formed and started to import weapons."

Read more: 

  • Tom Kelly - The Troubles did create heroes – but they weren't in the IRA, UDA or UVF (Premium)
  • Victims question Jamie Bryson defence of UVF as 'counter terrorists'
Former UVF leader Gusty Spence (right) announced the loyalist ceasefires in 1994
Former UVF leader Gusty Spence (right) announced the loyalist ceasefires in 1994

Bomb attacks in the Republic of Ireland

The organisation was responsible for a series of cross-border bomb attacks in early 1969, which at the time were blamed on the IRA.

It was only when Thomas McDowell from Kilkeel in Co Down died after being injured in an attack at a power station at Ballyshannon in Co Donegal that it emerged the UVF was behind the attacks.

The dead loyalist was also a member of Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers.

Read more:

  •  UVF banned after murder of Catholic teenager Peter Ward
  • British government rejects speculation over loyalist funds to quell Windsor Framework opposition

Mr Feeney said the UVF existed to resist "any kind of change" both towards Home Rule and Terence O'Neill's reforms in the 1960s.

Commentator Roy Garland, who wrote a book about Gusty Spence, said in the lead-up to the 1966 murders, unionists feared that republicans were planning a fresh rising in Belfast.

“There was actually concern that there was going to be an attempt to redo 1916 in 1966, that was a real fear,” he said.

“Rumours were being spread, I think deliberately, that the IRA was going to take city hall and do what they did in 1916.

“I think people were being influenced, including the UVF.”

Mr Garland said global fears about communism also played their part in loyalist thinking, after the leadership of what was left of the IRA following the border campaign had lurched to the left.

“Anything to do with the Cold War was frightening."

He said both John Scullion and Peter Ward were branded communists in some loyalist circles in a bid to justify their murders. The

“Gusty Spence said that was a lot of nonsense and they were ordinary Catholics in his view."

He believes that British intelligence along with some in the unionist establishment may have had a hand in the creation of the UVF.

"One theory to this day is that someone wanted to stir up tensions between the two communities," he said.

Gusty Spence would later be the man chosen by loyalists to declare their 1994 ceasefires.

He spoke of "abject and true remorse" for the suffering caused during the Troubles.

Mr Garland said he always denied involvement in the 1966 murders.

"He denied anything to do with those killings but did not deny being involved in the situation at that time," he said.

The former British soldier is regarded by some as having been a major influence in nudging the paramilitary group towards ending its sectarian campaign.

Mr Garland said he took "big risks" later in life.

"Some unionists will not recognise that because they say he had blood on his hands," he said.

"Whether he had or not, you have to give credit where it is due."