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Politician's seamless move from UDA to UDR to RUC

(Steven McCaffery, Irish News)

After official files linked loyalists to security forces one man identified by the documents tells how he moved from the loyalist UDA, to the British army and then the RUC

The 'Subversion in the UDR' document paints a picture of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalists but equally revealing is the official reaction to this revelation.

Letters accompanying the document see a senior Ministry of Defence official write: "I wish I could say that its contents come as a surprise but I am afraid they do not."

When The Irish News initially revealed the contents of the 'Subversion' document, one section was withheld for legal reasons.

In it, the report's authors comment on the ease with which unionism, loyalism and the security forces can overlap in Northern Ireland.

"In many areas where officers and men have known each other all their lives through church or social or Orange Order activities, membership of a Protestant para-military group might not be considered at all unusual or worth reporting to higher authority," the report states.

"At least some UDR battalion commanders appear to be concerned at this problem. Some members of the UDR, who also belong to subversive groups, undoubtedly lead 'double lives' and even with the aid of intelligence it is occasionally difficult to persuade a CO that one of his men is a risk.

"Indicative, but not typical, is the case of a member of 1 [one] UDR, apparently a good citizen, the Deputy Chairman of a District Council, who had the following traces:

  1. Subject was OC of Ballymena UDA
  2. Subject had obtained ammunition for the UDA
  3. Subject was suspected of illegal arms dealings, and of acquiring an SLR [semi-automatic rifle] and an SMG [sub-machine gun] in Scotland, and of selling them to the UDA.

"He was however described by his CO as 'a model soldier'."

The Irish News has now established that the politician in question is Clifford Davison.

Born in 1945, he became a well known architect in Ballymena and joined the town's Rural District Council in 1967.

After the reorganisation of local government in 1973, he stood as an independent candidate and became deputy mayor of Ballymena District Council.

More than 20 years ago he left Northern Ireland to run a nursing home in Scotland. A highly respected figure, married with three grown-up children, he has cycled around Britain and Ireland raising money for charity.

But after being identified in the 'subversion' document, he is now revisiting his security force role during the Troubles and addressing allegations that while he was deputy mayor and a UDR soldier, he was also 'Officer Commanding' (OC) of the UDA in Ballymena – supplying them with ammunition and weapons. Two of those statements are completely untrue.

"Never did I import anything from anywhere or was I involved in [dealing arms or ammunition]," he says.

"No, that's not true... I wouldn't even know how to go to Scotland to buy arms, I wouldn't even know who to speak to. It's amazing."

He confirms that in the 1970s he was in the UDA for two years and for approximately half that period was the group's OC in Ballymena.

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was not declared illegal until 1991/92, by which time it was the largest paramilitary group in the north and was responsible for 350 killings. It was established in Belfast in 1971 to oppose the nationalist clamour for political reform and to mobilise loyalists against the IRA.

Official records estimate that within a year it had "up to 6,000 members and 15,000 supporters" and was associated with mass intimidation and violence.

Mr Davison remembers the UDA in Ballymena as a loose organisation involved in low-level activity.

Recalling his decision to join it, he says: "I think at that stage the country was in a problem and perhaps the official bodies might not be able to resolve the situation.

"The country was in crisis so people felt they had to do something and there was nothing I could do that I thought was right, except do this.

"But then when the opportunity came along to serve in a formal situation like the UDR, that might help to resolve the problem, I took that opportunity, realising the direction that the UDA was going was perhaps not the right one.

"When I joined in the early stages it was really an unofficial organisation, there was no formal structure nothing like what it developed into 10 years later. And I was out before that happened."

The Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974 brought down the Sunningdale agreement with the help of the UDA – destroying the principles of power-sharing later revived in the Good Friday Agreement.

In Ballymena, he says of the UDA: "They supported the workers strike. And on two or three occasions we isolated some areas [as a] demonstration against direct rule, as happened all throughout Northern Ireland. We were not involved in anything illegal."

He says the group never carried arms during this period and he explains that he came to lead the grouping as an accident of his standing in the community.

"Well, let's put it this way, if I'm involved in something then I'm involved. I work hard for that organisation and at that time it was not an illegal organisation, we were not involved in anything against the law, apart from creating barricades and sealing parts of the town off."

He adds: "I was in the UDA when I joined the UDR, I was only in the UDR a short period when I had a conversation with the senior officers and I decided the UDA were not for me and the UDR was."

He describes this encounter as an "informal discussion", adding: "They knew at that stage I was a member of the UDA. I mean I think it was pretty obvious because most of the community knew. I don't think it was a secret because it wasn't an illegal organisation."

But he says that when a new UDR commander arrived, "I was asked to a meeting to inform me that my services were no longer required".

"I was really annoyed, because I know I had already been promoted and I was in line for further promotion," he says.

His UDR career was ended without explanation after a year of service but between six and nine months later he joined the RUC.

"I left it for a little while because I was so annoyed, then I made an approach to the RUC and I said would I be accepted to serve as RUC, knowing that I had been dismissed from the UDR. They came back and said not a problem."

He adds: "If there had been any questions of me gun-running from Scotland I certainly would not have been made a member of the RUC."

But were the RUC aware of his UDA connections?

"Of course they were [but] I had no connection at that stage, that was all severed."

He said his UDA-past was dealt with in an "informal discussion" before he "signed on the dotted line" and started a five-year period in the RUC reserve in Ballymena.

He confirms that at no point was he questioned by the UDR or the police about the allegations that military intelligence had made against him.

He says he, therefore, missed the chance to counteract "false information".

But the episode also raises questions of the security forces – why did they suspect one of their men of such a crime yet never question him?

In May 1974 a loyalist gang touring the greater Ballymena area shot dead Catholic brothers Sean and Brendan Byrne at their bar outside the town, which had remained open despite the strike.

Witnesses blamed around 30 drunken and hooded UVF and UDA men who were seen in two minibuses.

Mr Davison had no part in the event but remembers the tragedy.

"My memories of that were it was UVF, nothing to do with UDA Ballymena. It seemed to be a freelance group of UVF people who were touring the countryside.

"These people suddenly appeared. They just seemed to be on a rampage."

He recalls how tragedy touched members of the security forces.

John Lamont was a fellow member of the RUC Reserve in Ballymena when he was shot dead by an IRA gunman as he carried out a midnight patrol in the town.

"Here was a man trying to do his duty to keep law and order, walking down the street and all of a sudden his life was taken."

He had also known constable Robert Millar, who along with constable Samuel Donaldson, was killed in an IRA booby-trap in 1970. They were the first RUC officers to be killed by the IRA.

Throughout the 1970s he says he was motivated by a desire to defend Northern Ireland, adding: "Well I felt the country needed help and indeed I can tell you on the first occasion that the army moved into Derry I actually rang the local police station and asked was there anything I could do to help.

"I just felt that was my duty. My country was in a state of collapse and I just felt that it was my duty. For the same reasons as I joined the RUC."

But what would he say to nationalists who feared such an easy progression from loyalist street politics to the mainstream security forces?

"I would say basically the rule of law had broken down and at that time I was in support of whatever rules of law there were. Now if that happened to be against what the nationalist community saw, well then so be it but that was the rule of law."

But the UDA set out to challenge the state and its reform plans?

"I think the majority of people in Northern Ireland at that time felt that way. Otherwise the Workers Strike wouldn't have succeeded."

Did he think Catholics in Ballymena feared the UDA?

"No more than any Protestant living in a republican area would be in fear."

During 10 years in local government Mr Davison was an independent councillor who served on the governing body of a Catholic school.

He knew DUP leader Ian Paisley through constituency work but says they never discussed politics.

Looking back on the 1970s, Mr Davison says he is "as shocked as anyone" that the charges of arms selling were never put to him but he doubts whether his UDA link should ever have been an issue.

"I would say that the majority of people who may have been UDA supporters, perhaps members as well, saw the only legal way they could contribute was to join the UDR. For what other purpose would they do it?" he asks.

He challenges nationalists who raise UDA concerns: "Very well known republican sympathisers, have actually served in government.

"How does the Protestant side reconcile that? People who, it has been claimed, have actually committed murder – and now they are in government? I mean is that right?"

He adds: "It's very difficult for some people to sit round a table knowing somebody sitting on the other side has been responsible for horrendous crimes. Very difficult."

Mr Davison confirms he is referring to Sinn Féin leaders such as Martin McGuinness, with confirmed IRA links, and says he has concerns over the Good Friday Agreement.

"I would hope that maybe as we get older and a new generation comes forward, that people can be identified who have not been involved in criminal activity and those things can be behind us."

But what of nationalists concerned that it was possible to move from the loyalist UDA, to the UDR and then the police?

"That may be their opinion but we see it in the situation that the current governing body for Northern Ireland is the UK government and that is the legal and constitutional position. Now can I be criticised for supporting the current legal situation?"

Mr Davison has rejected all allegations of criminal activity levelled against him in the 'subversion' document.

But his experience has confirmed that one of the document's central themes – that at the height of the Troubles it was all too easy to move from the ranks of loyalism into the ranks of the army and police.

May 19, 2006

This article appeared first in the May 15, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News