Ian Paisley told the government that Protestants believed the government had “discriminated against” the UDA by banning the terror group.
The comment was made at a private meeting with secretary of state Sir Patrick Mayhew in 1992 during which the DUP leader repeatedly said that he did not want to be seen to be defending a group which throughout the Troubles was responsible for 431 murders, many of which were overtly sectarian.
For more than 20 years, the UDA – which began in the early days of the Troubles as a Protestant vigilante group to defend local areas from attack – had been operating legally, despite the widespread knowledge that its front group, the UFF, was claiming responsibility for murders. On August 10, 1992, Sir Patrick moved to proscribe the group, adding it to the list of banned organisations and meaning that membership of the organisation alone could lead to being jailed.
During a 45-minute meeting on the day following Sir Patrick’s decision, Dr Paisley, who was accompanied by Peter Robinson and William McCrea, expressed considerable concern about what had happened. A note of the 45-minute Stormont Castle meeting by Sir Patrick Mayhew’s private secretary, said that the meeting had begun with Dr Paisley’s “expressions of concern about yesterday’s announcement”.
The note went on: “He and his colleagues had no qualms about banning so-called loyalist terrorists.
“Indeed, at various times in his political career he had been one of their prime targets.
“However, there were two aspects of the announcement which disturbed him.
“First, he recognised that the Secretary of State had taken an executive decision based on intelligence reports. But from his (Dr Paisley’s) point of view, he could see no difference whatsoever between the UDA now and the UDA which had existed six months ago.
“In that case, why had the secretary of state acted?
“Second, he had been alarmed to read a Downing Street source quoted on the front page of this morning’s Times about Sinn Fein activity and to hear the Secretary of State’s own comment yesterday about the amount of electoral support for Sinn Fein in the nationalist community.
“The UDA did not have any electoral support because unionist politicians like himself had the courage of their convictions and had consistently faced them down at the ballot box. It was fundamentally wrong that there should be an electoral test for proscription.”
Dr Paisley went on to question why Sinn Fein remained a legal organisation when the IRA was killing people and said that “the government only seemed to get uptight when Dublin got excited about something”.
He went on to say that “the Protestant community would not rise up and defend the UDA; but there was a clear feeling that they were being discriminated against”.
Mr Robinson said that in his East Belfast constituency “there would not be a great deal of concern about the ban itself. But the decision would have passed off peacefully if it could have been shown to be even-handed”.
However, another note on the day of the announcement said that the secretary of state had spoken to both Dr Paisley and Labour’s shadow secretary of state, Kevin McNamara just prior to issuing his public statement and that “Dr Paisley said simply that he appreciated the call”.
The secretary of state had told both men that he was convinced that the UDA met the criteria for proscription because it was “primarily and actively engaged in the commission of criminal terrorist acts”.
He told Mr McNamara that while Sinn Fein had been “lamentably supportive of the PIRA campaign” that “he regarded that organisation as different in kind to the UDA” but that it would be “kept under review”.