Ulster loyalism is a political ideology that supports the preservation of Northern Ireland and opposes a united Ireland. It is rooted in Northern Ireland's Protestant community. Loyalism emerged in the 19th century, as a response to the Irish self-government and Irish independence movements. While most of Ireland was Catholic, in the province of Ulster the population were mostly Protestants – the descendents of colonists from Scotland and England. Loyalism began as a self-determination movement among Ulster Protestants who did not want to become part of an autonomous Ireland. This led to the partition of Ireland in 1921. Most of Ireland became independent, while about two-thirds of Ulster remained within the United Kingdom as a self-governing territory called Northern Ireland. Loyalists often use 'Ulster' as an alternative name for Northern Ireland. Since partition, most loyalists have supported upholding Northern Ireland's status as a part of the United Kingdom (i.e. unionism), although a minority are Ulster nationalists who support independence for Northern Ireland. Today, the term loyalist is often used to describe working-class unionists who are willing to use political violence to defend "the Union" with Great Britain or who tacitly support such violence, either today or in the past. However, others, such as Garret FitzGerald, argue that loyalism is simply "loyalty to Ulster, not to the Union with Britain, and it is mis-described as unionism".
These counties remained a part of the United Kingdom. Academically cited records from 1926 indicate that at that stage 33.5% of the Northern Ireland population was Roman Catholic, with 62.2% belonging to the three major Protestant denominations (Presbyterian 31.3%, Church of Ireland 27%, Methodist 3.0%).
Tensions between Northern Ireland's Irish nationalist/Catholic population (which mostly supports Irish reunification) and its Protestant/unionist population (which mostly supports remaining part of the UK) led to a long-running bloody conflict known as The Troubles (late 1960s to late 1990s).
Political parties 
The following parties are usually described as loyalist:
- Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which is linked to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
- Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)
- Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), which was linked to the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
- Ulster Protestant League (UPL)
- Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP) aka Ulster Vanguard
- Volunteer Political Party (VPP)
In Great Britain, a number of small far-right parties have and still do express support for loyalist paramilitaries, and loyalism in general. This includes the British National Front (who registered to stand in Northern Ireland) and the British People's Party.
Bigger and more moderate right-wing unionist parties like the Ulster Unionists (UUP) or Democratic Unionists (DUP) have actively sought to distance themselves from loyalist paramilitary activity. However, Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party have been involved with Ulster Resistance and worked alongside loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Defence Association in the 1974 Ulster Workers' Council Strikes and the 1977 Loyalist Association of Workers strike.
Paramilitary and vigilante groups 
Loyalist paramilitary and vigilante groups were active during The Troubles and, to a lesser extent, the Irish War of Independence (1919–22). The biggest and most active paramilitaries were the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who also used the covername "Ulster Freedom Fighters" (UFF).
During the Troubles, their goals were to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and defend Protestant loyalist areas from attack. However, most of their victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often chosen at random. Whenever they claimed responsibility for their attacks, loyalists usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or IRA sympathizers. M. L. R. Smith wrote that "From the outset, the loyalist paramilitaries tended to regard all Catholics as potential rebels". Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as "retaliation" for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community. Such retaliation was seen as both collective punishment and an attempt to weaken the IRA's support; it was thought that 'fear of retaliation' among Catholics would cause the republicans among them to stop backing the IRA and to rein them in.
The modus operandi of loyalist paramilitaries involved assassinations, mass shootings, bombings and kidnappings. They used sub machine-guns, assault rifles, pistols, grenades (including homemade grenades), incendiary bombs, booby trap bombs and car bombs. Bomb attacks were usually made without warning. However, most of their operations involved gun attacks rather than bombings. In January 1994, the UDA drew up a 'doomsday plan', to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. It called for ethnic cleansing and re-partition, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.
The UDA and LVF have had links with Neo-Nazi groups in Britain, including Combat 18, the British National Socialist Movement, and the British National Front. Since the 1990s, loyalist paramilitaries have been accused of racist attacks in loyalist areas, leading to accusations of widespread racism within loyalism. It has been speculated that rogue loyalist militants with far right beliefs may be carrying out the attacks.
In the table below, "operational" refers to the period when the group waged its paramilitary/vigilante campaign.
|Ulster Protestant Association||UPA||1920–1922|
|Ulster Protestant Action||UPA||1956–1966|
|Ulster Protestant Volunteers||UPV||1966–1969|
|Ulster Volunteer Force
Red Hand Commando
Young Citizen Volunteers
|Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Freedom Fighters
Ulster Young Militants
Ulster Defence Force
|Down Orange Welfare||DOW||1972–?|
|Loyalist Volunteer Force||LVF||1997–2005|
|Red Hand Defenders||RHD||1998–|
|Real Ulster Freedom Fighters||Real UFF||2007–|
- Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC) – 1966–1969
- Ulster Army Council (UAC) – 1973–1974
- Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee (ULCCC) – 1974–1976
- Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) – 1991–1998
- Protestant Action Force (PAF) – commonly used by the UVF
- Protestant Action Group (PAG) – briefly used by the UVF in the 1970s
- Loyalist Retaliation and Defence Group (LRDG) – briefly used by the UVF in the 1990s
Collusion with the security forces 
During the Troubles, there were incidents of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and members of the state security forces (the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary). Some were members of both paramilitaries and the security forces. As well as taking part in paramilitary attacks, some soldiers and policemen are alleged to have given weapons and intelligence to loyalists, turned a blind eye to their activities, and/or hindered police investigations of them. The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence that loyalists used to target people came from the security forces.
The British Army's locally-recruited regiment, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), was almost 100% Protestant and seen as especially prone to loyalist infiltration. A British government document from 1973 (which was declassified in 2004), named "Subversion in the UDR", states that:
- An estimated 5–15% of UDR soldiers were directly linked to loyalist paramilitaries.
- It was feared that UDR soldiers were loyal to "Ulster" alone rather than to "Her Majesty's Government".
- The UDR was believed to be the "best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons" for loyalist paramilitaries.
- The British Government knew that UDR weapons were being used by loyalist paramilitaries.
In 2011, British Army documents from the 1970s were uncovered, which revealed collusion involving '10' UDR battalion (based at Girdwood Barracks in Belfast). According to the documents:
- About 70 of the battalion's soldiers were thought to be linked to the UVF, but only two were dismissed on security grounds;
- One unit was suspected of siphoning-off £47,000 to the UVF and equipment was regularly stolen from another unit to support the loyalist group;
- UVF members, including a member of the Shankill Butchers, often socialized at the UDR's Girdwood Barracks social club;
- Army chiefs considered secretly test firing UDR soldiers' weapons to check whether they had been used in sectarian murders;
- The Army's collusion investigation was halted after a senior UDR officer claimed it was harming morale; and
- The Army chose to keep the investigation a secret.
During the 1970s, a secret alliance of loyalist militants, British soldiers and RUC officers known as the Glenanne gang carried out a string of sectarian attacks against Catholics. Former members have alleged it was commanded by British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch. The Pat Finucane Centre has attributed 87 killings to the Glenanne gang, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (1974), the killing of John Francis Green, the Miami Showband killings (1975), and the Reavey and O'Dowd killings (1976). A number of these attacks has been affirmed by Glenanne gang member and RUC officer John Weir, who claimed that his superiors knew the collusion was taking place.
The collusion also involved British agents or informers within the loyalist groups. One of them was UDA intelligence chief Brian Nelson, who secretly worked for the Army's Force Research Unit (FRU). FRU provided Nelson (and thus the UDA) with intelligence on republican activists, theoretically so that the UDA would focus on targeting them rather than civilians. A report released by the Police Ombudsman in 2007 revealed that UVF members had committed a string of serious crimes, including murder, while working as informers for RUC Special Branch. It found that Special Branch knew of this but had given the informers "immunity". It ensured that they weren't caught, helped them during police interviews, made false notes and blocked searches for UVF weapons. UVF brigadier Robin 'the Jackal' Jackson has been linked to between 50 and 100 killings in Northern Ireland, although he was never convicted of any and never served any lengthy prison terms. It has been alleged by many people, including members of the security forces, that Jackson was an RUC agent. According to the Irish Government's Barron Report, he was also "reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence".
Aside from the aforesaid, other high-profile attacks and assassinations where collusion has been alleged include the McGurk's Bar bombing (1971), the 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings, the killing of Pat Finucane (1989), the Cappagh killings (1991), the killing of Eddie Fullerton (1991), the Sean Graham bookmakers' shooting (1992), the Loughinisland massacre (1994), the killing of Robert Hamill (1997) and the killing of Rosemary Nelson (1999).
Fraternities and marching bands 
In Northern Ireland there are a number of Protestant fraternities and marching bands who hold yearly parades. They include the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry. These fraternities, often described as the "Loyal Orders", have long been associated with unionism and loyalism. There are also hundreds of Protestant marching bands in Northern Ireland, many of whom hold loyalist views and use loyalist symbols. Yearly events such as the Eleventh Night (11 July) bonfires and The Twelfth (12 July) parades have also been associated with loyalism.
Other groups 
- Third Force
- Loyalist Association of Workers
- Ulster Workers' Council
- Ulster Political Research Group
- Tara (Northern Ireland)
- Glenanne gang
- Shankill Butchers
- Miller, David W.. Queen's Rebels: Ulster loyalism in historical perspective. Gill and Macmillan, 1978. ISBN 0064948293
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- Steve Bruce, The Red Hand: Protestant Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, 1992
- Alan F. Parkinson(1998), Ulster loyalism and the British media, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 1-85182-367-0
- Glossary of terms on the Northern Ireland conflict. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
- Fergal Cochrane, Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 2001
- National Front policies. Official National Front (UK) website.
- "Stand by Loyal Ulster!" - British People's Party leaflet. Official British People's Party website.
- Peter Taylor, Loyalists, 2000
- Doherty, Barry. Northern Ireland since c.1960. Heinemann, 2001. p15
- "A history of the UDA". BBC News. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
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- Kentucky New Era, 14 April 1992
- Smith, M L R. Fighting for Ireland?. Psychology Press, 1997. p.118
- Tonge, Jonathan. Northern Ireland. Polity, 2006. p.157
- Mitchell, Thomas G (2000). "Chapter 7 subsection: The Loyalist terrorists of Ulster, 1969–94". Native vs. Settler. Greenwood Press. pp. 154–165.
- Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp.184–185.
- Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. NYU Press, 2003. p.45.
- McDonald, Henry (2000-07-02). "English fascists to join loyalists at Drumcree". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
- Goodrick-Clarke, pp.40–41.
- Wood, Ian S.Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp.339-40.
- "Racist war of the loyalist street gangs". The Guardian, 10 January 2004. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "Pat Finucane murder: 'Shocking state collusion', says PM". BBC News, 12 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- "Collusion - Subversion in the UDR". Irish News, 3 May 2006.
- "Subversion in the UDR". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
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- The Cassel Report (2006), pp. 8, 14, 21, 25, 51, 56, 58–65.
- [http://www.patfinucanecentre.org/sarmagh/sarmagh.html "Collusion in the South Armagh/Mid Ulster Area in the mid-1970s". Pat Finucane Centre. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
- The Cassel Report (2006), pp. 6, 13
- The Cassel Report (2006), p.63
- "Dark side of the war". BBC News. 31 May 2000.
- "NI police colluded with killers". BBC News, 22 January 2007.
- McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing, 1999. p.724
- "Killing Fields". New Statesman. Stephen Howe. 14 February 2000. Retrieved 2 February 2011
- The Cassel Report (2006), p.68
- Houses of the Oireachtas, Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights (2003). "The Barron Report" (PDF). Oireachtas. p. 135.
- Tonge, Johnathan. Northern Ireland. Polity, 2006. pages 24, 171, 172, 173.
- Mark Simpson (10 July 2009). "Turning hotspot into friendly fire". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- Progressive Unionist Party
- Beyond Conflict - A South-East Antrim organization linked with the Ulster Defence Association
- Loyalist, Unionist and Protestant Resources
- English Loyalists
- Scottish Loyalists
- British Ulster Alliance