The following is the transcript of an interview with UDA Chairman Andy Tyrie carried out by Fiona Campbell which first appeared in the UDA’s Ulster magazine in October 1987, just five months before he was ousted from the post which he had held since the early 70s. It is reproduced here, without comment, for the first time since then as it provides an interesting snapshot of the times.
Q: Did your upbringing, or the environment in which you lived have any effect on your present politics?
A: I was born on the lower Shankill and most people who lived there found life very difficult. Quite a few of them were involved in making patchwork quilts and linen goods and others in kitchen industries. The people who ran the stalls were generally Roman Catholics, so what happened was the Protestants produced the commodities and they gave them to the expert traders who were generally Roman Catholic. So there was a close working relationship between the two communities.
My early life was spent between the Falls and the Shankill and with most people I grew up with there was no such thing as ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’. We all knew what we were but at that age everything was an adventure and I never really had a problem.
Q: When did you first become involved in the Province’s politics?
A: Even when the ‘Troubles’ began the difference between the communities was not overbearing in any way. But around 1970-71, when the population movement started to take place, differences of opinion began to arise, based on fear and mistrust. I was living in Moyard at this time and was part of a group of people who formed to try and allocate houses fairly to those who had lost their homes in Protestant and Catholic areas. What I found behind the scenes was that everything was being done to block Protestants from getting houses in the areas. Protestants were being encouraged to leave the district and I became suspicious of people involved in house allocation. At one time I actually set up road-blocks on my own and refused to let outsiders into the area (I got all sorts of threats!). Things got really tough in my area and it soon became a focal point for attacks on Protestant homes. We formed a defence group for the Protestants of the area. I still believed that there was no reason why the two communities couldn’t live together – but there were people who were not playing fair.
Some of the Roman Catholics seem to think that suffering is only limited to them. They portray themselves as ‘downtrodden’ people. When you look at my background you can see that I wasn’t privileged in any way. Perhaps it was easier for Nationalists to complain because they didn’t want the country to succeed. I have never felt bitter, but I do feel that there is an enemy that must be tackled head-on.
Q: Do you think that a military wing in the UDA is necessary to combat the Republican terrorists?
A: The organisation was forced into involvement in defensive operations because the security forces were not giving adequate protection to the community. I do believe that Loyalists need to be very vigilant, the ways things are going, and it is necessary to have defence organisations within the communities because the IRA are not going to stop attacking them. There is another organisation which I would look at seriously as having a place in the community. This is the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and they have a good track record of engaging in combat with the PIRA and INLA. The UFF has a separate identity from the UDA but they clearly support the aims of the UDA regarding politics and the welfare of the community. We also give them our moral support and in their strategic and non-sectarian campaign against Republican terrorists.
Q: Do you see the organisation moving in a more political direction in the future?
A: On several occasions we have put forward political documents and ideas which have been well received. The most recent document – Common Sense – was accepted by a substantial number of people as the only way forward, that has been seen to have come from the grassroots Unionist community. I think the UDA is now in a position to do one of two things. The first option is to allow, promote and support an independent political party which would be separate from the UDA but based on the principles of Common Sense. The nucleus of this party would probably be young people who have a genuine interest in politics – an interest in progress for Ulster people. Alternatively, individual UDA members could join existing political parties with their brief being Common Sense and promote it within the political parties. That is something I will have to discuss with the organisation.
Q: There have been accusations that the UDA consists of thugs and that they engage in ‘protection rackets’. To what extent do you think these accusations can be justified?
A: Well, if you’re dealing with an organisation of some 15,000 people, and you compare it to any other organisation with the same numbers, we all have similar problems with wayward individuals. Anyone involved in racketeering would be going against UDA policy. We take accusations of wrongdoing seriously. Every time someone highlights these things we investigate very thoroughly. If necessary, we curb the situation as quickly as possible. We do make changes.
Q: In what way can you counter the propaganda campaign which is designed to tarnish the image of the UDA?
A: One of the most important things about the image is the people who lead the organisation. I’m always speaking to the officers in charge, telling them to be very careful about their whole social behaviour. None of us are perfect but we are ‘public property’ and we should be mindful of that. We also have to contend with black propaganda emanating from Dublin. Since the start of the Troubles, the Eire government has spent thousands of pounds to send people all over the world promoting the Nationalist cause. The Republic actually (has) more foreign diplomats per head of population than any other country in the world. Since the introduction of Direct Rule to the Province there has been no equivalent Ulster Office to counter such propaganda. We do try to inform people overseas of the true situation but our resources are relatively limited.
Q: Does the UDA have any kind of discussion or dealings with Republican paramilitaries?
A: NO. No-one has ever been able to say to me what we would talk to the IRA about. The IRA have clearly stated that they want a United Ireland. They have said there can be no compromise. So there is no talking-point. If they change, and no longer have a desire to kill people; if they no longer support a United Ireland and they feel that Ulster could be made into a workable community with all the people involved, only then would I say there is room for Provisional Sinn Fein. But while they’re murdering and maiming people there’s no place for them anywhere!
Q: What is the UDA view on the murder of innocent Roman Catholics?
A: Well I am – and the UDA also is – totally against sectarian attacks of any description. We always make that very, very clear. At the height of the Troubles, when people were working purely through emotions because they felt their country was in danger, both communities engaged almost in a civil war. People were shot – not for what they had done, but for where they lived. I couldn’t accept this so I’ve always preached that if anyone believes they are soldiers in a conflict then they should behave like soldiers and have proper intelligence. If they believe they are fighting the IRA they should fight the IRA because each time an ordinary Roman Catholic is shot, his family is going to be very bitter and this merely perpetuates the divisions in our society. I find, at the end of the day, it is tragic that anyone should be killed because of their religious beliefs.
Q: If things were different and you hadn’t become Chairperson of the UDA, would you have ever left Ulster?
A: NO. I’ve been out of Ulster on quite a few occasions and I generally felt very lonely because I couldn’t feel the warmth that exists here. We do have our problems regarding the Troubles but within some of the countries I have been people are charging about so much they don’t have time to talk to others. We have everything here, you know. Go five miles up any road and you could arrive at a reasonably-sized town or city. Go five miles in the opposite direction and you’re sure to find the sea. We have some of the most beautiful scenery for such a small area. There’s only a million-and-a-half people living here and there’s hardly a place to visit without meeting someone who knows someone you know. I find that when I visit Ulster people in any other part of the world they don’t want to talk about anything else only Ulster. Sometimes they assimilate into the community in which they are living, but I think deep-down they never really forget who they are. There’s the warmth here that you can take with you to other countries. But I can’t pick up that warmth in any other country and bring it back here. It’s just not there!