The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is a loyalist paramilitary criminal organization in Northern Ireland, outlawed as a terrorist group in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, and which claims its aim is to defend the loyalist community from Republican terrorism. Its main objective has been to reject Unification of Ireland seeking to do so through either Ulster independence or maintenance of the Act of Union.
Its military branch has operated under the name Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Its activities, which have included attacks against civilians as well as members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, were originally intended by the UDA as retaliatory acts for Irish Republican violence against Protestants in Northern Ireland. The UDA/UFF has also killed at least three Irish republican paramilitary members.
The UDA officially ended its violent campaign in 2007 when it ordered its militant wing, the UFF, to stand down.
In the 1970s the group favoured Northern Ireland independence, but they have retreated from this position. The UDA was involved in the successful Ulster Workers Council Strike in 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement — an agreement which some loyalists and Unionists thought conceded too much to nationalist demands. The UDA enforced this general strike through widespread intimidation across Northern Ireland. The strike was led by Vanguard Assemblyman and UDA member, Glenn Barr.
The UDA/UFF's official political position during the Troubles was that if the Provisional Irish Republican Army called off its campaign of violence, then the UDA would do the same. However, if the British government announced that it was withdrawing from Northern Ireland, then the UDA would act as "the IRA in reverse".
In 1987, the deputy UDA's deputy commander John McMichael (who was then the leader of the UFF) promoted a document titled "Common Sense", which promoted a consensual end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, while maintaining the Union. The document advocated a power sharing assembly, involving both Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed constitution and new Bill of Rights. It is not clear however, whether this programme was adopted by the UDA as their official policy. However McMichael's murder that same year and the subsequent removal of Tyrie from the leadership and his replacement with an Inner Council saw the UDA concentrate on stockpiling weapons rather than political ideas.
One of the most notorious UDA attacks (carried out by the paramilitary wing, the UFF) came in October 1993, when two UFF men attacked a restaurant called the Rising Sun in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, County Londonderry, where two hundred people were celebrating Halloween.The two men entered, shouted "Trick or treat!" and opened fire.Eight people were killed and nineteen wounded. This is known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA/UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA's Shankill Road bombing which killed nine, seven days earlier.
According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster's CAIN project, the UDA/UFF was responsible for 259 killings during the Troubles. 208 of its victims were civilians (predominantly Catholics), 37 were other loyalist paramilitaries (including 30 of its own members), three were members of the security forces and eleven were republican paramilitaries. Some believe that a number of these attacks were carried out with the assistance or complicity of the British Army and/or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which the Stevens Enquiry appeared to add credence to, although the exact number of people murdered as a result of collusion, if any, has not been revealed. The preferred modus operandi of the UDA was individual killings of select civilian targets in nationalist areas, rather than large-scale bomb or mortar attacks.
The UDA has been accused of taking vigilante action against alleged drug dealers, including tarring and feathering a man on the Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast. The group had also developed strong links with neo-nazi groups in Great Britain such as Combat 18, though in 2005 the UDA announced that it was severing all ties with neo-Nazi organisations..
They have been involved in several feuds with the Ulster Volunteer Force, which led to many murders. The UDA has also been riddled by its own internecine warfare, with self-styled "brigadiers" and former figures of power and influence, such as Johnny Adair and Jim Gray (themselves bitter rivals), falling rapidly in and out of favour with the rest of the leadership. Gray and John Gregg are amongst those to have been killed during the internal strife. On February 22 2003, the UDA announced a "12-month period of military inactivity". It said it will review its ceasefire every three months. It also apologised for the involvement of some of its members in the drugs trade. The UPRG's Frankie Gallagher has since taken a leading role in ending the association between the UDA and drug dealing.
On June 20, 2006 the UDA expelled Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab, two of its senior members who were heavily involved in crime. Some see this as a sign that the UDA is slowly coming away from crime. The move did see the south-east Antrim brigade of the UDA, which had been at loggerheads with the leadership for some time, support Shoukri and break away under former UPRG spokesman Tommy Kirkham. Other senior members met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for talks on the 13th of July in the same year.
Following an August 2005 Sunday World article that poked fun at the gambling losses of one of its leaders, the UDA banned the sale of the newspaper from shops in areas it controls. Shops that defy the ban have suffered arson attacks, and at least one newsagent was threatened with death. The PSNI have recently begun accompanying the paper's delivery vans. The UDA was also considered to have played an instrumental role in loyalist riots in Belfast in September 2005.
In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported UDA involvement in organised crime, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion, money laundering and robbery.
On 11th November 2007 the UDA announced that the Ulster Freedom Fighters would be stood down from midnight of the same day, but they did not and are still here to this day with its weapons "being put beyond use" although it stressed that these would not be decommissioned.