Ulster Special Constabulary

Ulster Special Constabulary

The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) (commonly called the "B-Specials") was a reserve police force in Ireland. Formed during a period of great unrest following the Easter Rising and during the Irish War of Independence it was intended as a paramilitary defence force to counter attacks upon the unionist-dominated north-east of Ireland which later became Northern Ireland. Effective as an anti-guerilla force, its policing role in the new, but religiously and politically divided, state of Northern Ireland was viewed with great mistrust by Catholic and nationalist members of society who claimed, with some proven justification, that the force was anti-Catholic but welcomed by the Protestant and Unionist community who saw them as the defenders of their society. This, along with ill-judged deployment of the force in inter-communal disturbances in 1969, which led to the deaths of civilians, led to its disbandment in 1970 and replacement by the Ulster Defence Regiment.


In April 1920, Sir Basil Brooke, [ [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm The Royal Ulster Constabulary] ] future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 344] organised "Fermanagh Vigilance", which was basically the pre-First World War Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). In formal terms however the creator of the Ulster Special Constabulary was Sir Ernest Clark, additional Assistant Under-Secretary in the Irish Office. [ [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm The Royal Ulster Constabulary] ]

In July 1920 the Unionist leaders Sir Edward Carson and Sir James Craig commenced the reorganisation of the Ulster Volunteer Force which had ceased functioning after the First World War, though its network remained. The revived UVF was perfectly legal, requiring only the agreement of two Justices of the Peace to authorize drilling and other military preparations in their jurisdiction, provided it was intended to uphold the constitution "as now established" [http://www.ulstersociety.org/resources/newulster/1993/udt-2.html] . In the countryside prominent landowners organised recruitment and Belfast newspapers carried advertisements for the UVF. [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 344-5] Operating a private militia was problematic as it was difficult to supply arms. In addition the men were unpaid and part-time which made it difficult to maintain regular patrols. To resolve these problems, the unionist leaders pressed the government to establish a special constabulary into which the UVF could be immersed. In addition they asked for the appointment of an assistant under-secretary for the six counties, to remove decisions about security from Dublin Castle, where officials were unsympathetic to arming the loyalists. They feared it would lead to increased sectarian violence, undermine efforts for a compromise with Sinn Féin. [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 344-5]

On 1 November 1920 advertisements appeared in the Belfast papers for ‘law abiding citizens’ to apply for enrolment. There would be three levels of special constables: A, B and C, Class A would be full-time, paid, and armed to the same level as the Royal Irish Constabulary. Class B would be part-time, generally serving one night per week and drills who would be unpaid and usually armed. Class C would be available in emergencies only, and would be unpaid, and organised and armed like Class B. [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 346-7] [Richard Bourke, Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas, Pimlico 2003, ISBN 1 8441 3316 8, pg.48] [The Crowned Harp: Policing Northern Ireland, Graham Ellison, Jim Smyth, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 0745313930, pg.25-6]


The USC consisted of 32,000 men divided into four sections, all of which were armed:

* A Specials - full-time and paid, worked alongside regular RIC men, but could not be posted outside their home areas (regular RIC officers could be posted anywhere in the country); usually served at static checkpoints. (originally 5,500 members) [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5]
* B Specials - part-time, usually on duty for one evening per week and serving under their own command structure, and unpaid, although they had a generous system of allowances (which were reduced following the reorganisation of the USC a few years later), served wherever the RIC served and manned Mobile Groups of platoon size. [ [http://www.psni.police.uk/index/pg_police_museum/pg_the_royal_ulster_constabulary/pg_ulster_special_sonstabulary.htm PSNI] ] ); (originally 19,000 members) [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5] and
* C Specials - unpaid, non-uniformed reservists, usually rather elderly and used for static guard duties near their homes. (originally 7,500 members) [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5]
* C1 Specials - non active C class specials who could be called out in emergencies.


The USC was initially financed and equipped by the British government and placed under the control of the RIC. Deployment in 1920-22 provided the Northern Ireland government with its own territorial militia, repelling IRA attacks. It was the USC that was most often responsible for countering IRA attacks in the north. The Nationalist Party, Sinn Féin and the Ancient Order of Hibernians discouraged Catholic recruitment. The IRA targeted for assassination those Catholics who did join. The Unionist government did nothing to reverse these trends as they perceived Catholics to be disloyal to the state. Inevitably the force became almost exclusively Protestant and it was then regarded as a Unionist militia. (Efforts to broaden its membership to include Catholics, during the Craig-Collins Pact of March 1922, failed, due to IRA violence and Unionist opposition). [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p14]

Sir John Anderson, Joint Under-Secretary for Ireland, commented at the time on the Constabulary's recruitment policies, which seemed to draw heavily on members of the Orange Order: "... you cannot in the middle of a faction fight recognise one of the contending parties and expect it to deal with disorder in the spirit of impartiality and fairness essential in those who have to carry out the Orders of the Government." Nothing was done about comments such as this as there was a major distrust of the Catholic dominated RIC in the new Belfast administration and the Unionist Council were determined to raise a force it could trust to defend the emergent state.

In the latter stages before replacement by the Ulster Defence Regiment (whose Catholic members would be subjected to similar harassment by the IRA) the Specials were subjected to a campaign of disinformation and propaganda, however Lord Justice Scarman concluded in his report on the Civil Disturbance in the Province in 1969 that: "Undoubtedly mistakes were made and certain individual officers acted wrongly on occasions. But the general case of a partisan force co-operating with Protestant mobs to attack Catholic people is devoid of substance, and we reject it utterly." [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/scarman.htm#5] Scarman went on to criticise the Command and Control of the RUC for deploying armed specials in areas where their very presence would "heighten tension" as he was in no doubt that they were "Totally distrusted by the Catholics, who saw them as the strong arm of the Protestant ascendancy". [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/scarman.htm#5]

It was a general assumption that the B Specials were Protestant only. According to Michael Farrell (Irish civil rights activist and People's Democracy founder) and others, the specials were entirely Protestant, ["Northern Ireland: The Orange State" (1976) ISBN 0-902818-87-2] but this is disputed by Richard Doherty (A Catholic military historian from Derry) who says that although the force was mostly Protestant there were some Catholic members, even in Londonderry; [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5, p82 ] however in his report Lord Scarman concluded that it would have been very difficult for Catholics to gain membership in 1969, even if they had applied to join.

Training, uniform, weaponry and equipment


The standard of training was varied. In Belfast, the Specials were trained in much the same way as the regular police. This set them apart from their colleagues in (especially) the border counties who were less versed in the law but very adept at adopting and defeating guerilla-style tactics. In all sub-districts the standard of shooting was uniformly high and maintained by a series of shooting competitions which continued throughout the history of the force.


Uniforms were not available at the outset so the men of the B Specials went on duty in their civilian clothes wearing an armband to signify they were Specials. Uniforms did not become available until 1922. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm] Uniforms took the same pattern as RIC/RUC dress with high collared tunics. Badges of rank such as sergeant's chevrons were displayed on the right forearm of the jacket in the unique style of the RIC, a practice which continued until disbandment. There was no ceremonial uniform but those who were part of the Governor's Guard detachment at his private residence at [http://www.barons-court.com/ Baronscourt] Co Tyrone and also at his official home at Hillsborough Castle wore several attachments which were peculiar to this duty i.e. a broad green aiglet, a polished leather nine pouch bandolier and the monogrammed letters "GG" on both shoulder straps. [http://www.psni.police.uk/index/pg_police_museum/pg_the_royal_ulster_constabulary/pg_ulster_special_sonstabulary/pg_governers_guard_uniform.htm]


Most specials were armed with a Webley .38 revolver but in some cases this was augmented by a Lee Enfield .303 rifle or, in the 1960's Sten Guns. In most cases these weapons were retained at home by the constables along with a quantity of ammunition. One of the reasons for this was to enable rapid call out of platoons without the need to issue arms from a central armoury. In the days before each home had a telephone a single call for assistance to the local RUC station or USC commander would result in a runner knocking the door of each special's home in a given area and informing him of the incident. Thus a rapid reaction force could me assembled quite quickly. This practice was retained for many years by some Ulster Defence Regiment units in the border areas.


Special Constables generally deployed on foot but could be supplied with vehicles from the RUC pool.


The primary function of the USC was the defence of the North Eastern counties of Ulster which became Northern Ireland from insurgency by the IRA or other groupings supporting the policy of a United Ireland. As such they were more akin with a paramilitary milita than the conventional role of Special Constables elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Only in Belfast did the force receive any detailed training on policing duties and often acted in place of the RIC and RUC. Elsewhere their patrols concentrated on the prevention of terrorist activities. In the post 1925 period the A & C Specials had been disbanded and the B Specials were "reduced to leave" as the result of a period of calm in Northern Ireland following the end of the campaign against Northern Ireland of the early 1920's. [http://www.psni.police.uk/index/pg_police_museum/pg_the_royal_ulster_constabulary/pg_ulster_special_sonstabulary.htm] The force was pressed into service as a Home Guard unit during World War Two firstly as the "Local Defence Volunteers Section, Ulster Special Constabulary", later renamed as the Ulster Defence Volunteers and was, in effect, the only "armed and disciplined" force left in the entire United Kingdom which was ready to meet any threat of invasion. Some special constables received training in sabotage and guerilla warfare as part of the contingency plans to repel German invasion. [http://www.psni.police.uk/index/pg_police_museum/pg_the_royal_ulster_constabulary/pg_ulster_special_sonstabulary.htm]

Another function of the Ulster Special Constabulary was to provide the Governor's Guard, a detachment responsible for the security of the Governor of Northern Ireland, and stationed at his official residence, Hillsborough Castle, County Down, and his private residence.

=Attitudes and

The "Fermanagh Herald" noted the uneasy of Nationalists: ["Fermanagh Herald", 27 November 1920]

The UVF joined up en masse proving Nationalist fears well-founded.

The Specials swiftly made their sectarian attitudes clear. In Enniskillen in mid-December 1920 a new recruit shot at a Catholic church, and next day others marched round the town singing the Orange ballad ‘Dolly’s Brae’ and shouting ‘To hell with the Pope.’ [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 346-7] In February 1921, Specials burned down Catholic houses in the County Fermanagh village of Roslea, prompting the "Manchester Guardian" to comment: ["Manchester Guardian", 1 March 1921]

By July 1921, more than 3,500 ‘A’ Specials had been enrolled, and almost 16,000 ‘B’ Specials. Virtually all were Protestants: recruitment of Catholics was not encouraged by officialdom and was opposed by Sinn Féin and the IRA, and in any case few Catholics wanted to join. [Liz Curtis, The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229 60, pg. 346-7] ["Northern Ireland: Crisis and Conflict", John Magee, Routledge, 1974, ISBN 071007946X, pg.70]

However historian R.B. McDowell recalls childhood memories of these years; [Crisis and Decline: The Fate of the Southern Unionists, RB McDowell, The Lilliput Press Ltd (1 Jan 1998)ISBN-10: 1874675929 ]

The 1922-23 border war

The truce between the warring factions in the Free State did not end intercommunal violence in Northern Ireland. Despite the ongoing hostilities in the South, Michael Collins, now commanding the Army of the Provisional Government, and Liam Lynch, commander of the anti-Treaty Irregulars, decided that they must combine forces to bring relief to the Catholics of the North whom they believed were being victimised in an organised Protestant pogrom. They selected officers from their own forces who had experience in guerilla-style operations during the Anglo-Irish War and sent them to the North to advise local IRA units. This led to a series of determined attacks by the IRA against the police and Army: across the border at Londonderry and Tyrone, in the Glens of Antrim and the Mourne Mountains. The homes of prominent Unionists were burned down, patrols of RIC and Army ambushed, communication lines cut and barracks attacked. An attack on a Protestant funeral in Belfast led to a gun battle between the Army and the IRA which lasted for two weeks. At one point an IRA force occupied territory in north-west Fermanagh and had to be dislodged by regular Army troops equipped with armoured cars and artillery. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p4]

With the Army withdrawing from Southern Ireland, very under-strength and increasingly reluctant to become involved, the burden fell increasingly upon the RIC (later the RUC) which was also under-strength and in disarray. The job of counter-insurgency therefore fell to the Special Constabulary while the RIC dealt with the civil disturbances. That the new state of Northern Ireland did not fall into a state of civil war was largely down to the efforts of the Specials. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p5] Forty nine of them had been killed during the period of the "Border War". [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p5] The first Special Constable to be killed was Robert Compston, who was shot in an ambush near Crossmaglen, in County Armagh.

The effectiveness of the B Specials was noted by the officer commanding the IRA's 3rd Northern Division who admitted that he had been forced to abandon flying columns in Antrim and Down in the summer of 1922. The IRA's 2nd Northern Division operating in the west of Northern Ireland and 4th Northern Division (Armagh) had similar experiences. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm]

1920s to 1940s

There were occasions when the Special Constabulary needed to turn out for duty. One such example is the 12th July period in Belfast in 1931 when sectarian rioting broke out. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm] The B Men were tasked to relieve the RUC from normal duties to allow them and the army to deal with the disturbances. [Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p5 ] Northern Ireland was otherwise relatively peaceful from the middle of the 1920s to the outbreak of the Second World War and the Specials fell into a routine of a weekly training/drill session. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm]

After the Boundary Commission was abandoned in 1926, the A Specials were incorporated into the new Royal Ulster Constabulary and the C Specials were disbanded, leaving only the B Specials in existence as a part-time reserve force. In border areas, many Protestants from the border counties of the Free State served with the B Specials. They remained in existence, and went on to form the nucleus of the Ulster Defence Volunteers (UDV). The UDV acted as the counterpart to the British Home Guard during World War II, being renamed the Ulster Home Guard in 1942. Unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom the Home Guard came under command of the police rather than the Army, so the men of the Specials effectively continued to perform their original function. The IRA remained relatively inactive during this period and apart from "a gun battle in the Lower Falls on 5 April 1942" there was little to cause concern. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm]

1950s and 1960s

After the end of the UDV, the Specials resumed their former role and were mobilised again in 1955 until the early 1960s, playing a decisive part, in dealing with the IRA's Border Campaign of 1956 to 1962. In November 1956, Saor Uladh, (Irish - "Free Ulster") a short-lived republican grouping, attacked six customs posts on the border. On 12 December ten attacks took place by the IRA. This was the beginning of a campaign, largely confine to border areas, which continued until February 1962. The B Specials were mobilised. Their intimate knowledge of the territory hampered the IRA's ability to mount effective attacks. In this period eight IRA men were killed, two members of Saor Uladh, one IRA sympathiser and six RUC men. Damage to property was £l million and the overall cost of the campaign was £10 million to the UK exchequer. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm] Tim Pat Coogan, the Irish historian, said at the time of the USC, "The B Specials were the rock on which any mass movement by the IRA in the North has inevitably floundered." [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm]

On New Year's Day in 1969, in an increasingly difficult political atmosphere, a civil rights march organised by the People's Democracy movement at Queen's University, Belfast was set upon by a hostile crowd at Burntollet Bridge near Derry. Many people were injured and, as a result, an inquiry was held and two serving and forty-seven ex-members of the B Specials were identified as having been amongst the attackers of the march. Shortly afterwards the new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Major James Chichester-Clark decided to press ahead with reforms suggested by his predecessor Captain Terence O'Neill. As a result, an amnesty was declared for anyone who had been involved in public order offences. In July of the same year, another march, this time by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry went ahead in Londonderry city. A confrontation ensued at Waterloo Place and they were set upon by a hostile crowd. The RUC attempted to control what later became known as the Battle of the Bogside but was not strong enough in numbers to quell the violence. The General Officer Commanding of the military in Northern Ireland refused to allow the Army to become involved until the Belfast administration has used "all the forces at its disposal". This meant that the B Specials had to be deployed. The B Men were not trained or equipped to undertake this type of public disorder. As the rioting spread the number of Specials deployed grew. In Dungannon, they opened fire on demonstrators and three civilians were wounded. In Coalisland, in a similar set of circumstances other rioters were wounded by B Men firing upon them. In Tynan, near Armagh, a rioter was killed by a shot fired by a B Special. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p10] Lord Scarman blamed this apparent indiscriminate use of firearms by the Specials as the result of "panic" by the B Men and a "lack of police leadership." In reality, the majority of the 8,500 B specials who were available at the time were mostly deployed on guard duties of installations around Northern Ireland, although the significant number of 3,000 was deployed to assist the RUC. [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm]

In Belfast the story was a different one. Coming between the two factions it was noted later by Lord Scarman that the presence of Specials had a calming effect on the Protestant mob (whilst having the opposite effect on Catholic crowds) on most occasions but in several incidents Protestant rioters broke through USC cordons to attack opposing Catholics leaving the poorly-trained B Men unable to control them and, in the confusion, it looked as if the B Specials were aiding the Protestant mob, something which was later discounted by Lord Scarman. [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/scarman.htm#2]

After the Army had been brought in to restore order, the Specials were tasked to patrol only Protestant areas, which brought them into conflict with that community as part of their specific tasking was to guard the homes and businesses of Catholics. On one occasion, the Comber Platoon was petrol-bombed by a hostile crowd at Inglis's bakery as it tried to protect Catholics who were going to work. In other areas, such as Enniskillen and Newry, the use of the Specials to restore order under competent supervision by the police and equipped with proper riot gear proved to be a success. When Jack Lynch the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland decided he must take action and moved troops up to the border between the two countries, platoons of Specials were deployed to guard border police stations. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p10]

After a meeting with the GOCNI, the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the B Specials would be "phased out of their current role". This caused political and public uproar in Northern Ireland but the Specials continued to carry out duties as before. When civil disturbance was orchestrated by NICRA in Newry, 250 Specials under Major Desmond Woods were drafted in and issued with riot batons and shields and merged with regular police patrols. In what has been described by Woods as "one of the most successful operations the Specials had ever carried out" restored order with only "relatively minor trouble". [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p11]


Reprisals taken by Protestants for IRA attacks were often wrongly credited to the B Specials, and although the official British government policy of reprisals by police irregulars and auxiliaries was never extended to Ulster and "discipline held in most cases", [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p14] it has been alleged that some members took the law into their own hands.

*Following the death of a special constable near Newry on 8th June 1921, it was alleged that other specials raided a house and killed two catholic men named Magill and beat up their 78 year old father. ["Northern Ireland: The Orange State" (1976) ISBN 0-902818-87-2] In Belfast following the [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_War_of_Independence#Truce.2C_July_1921_-_December_1921 truce] which began on the 9th July 1921 [ [http://au.encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761575144/irish_republican_army.html encarta] ]
*Another allegation was that Specials and an armed mob were involved in the burning of 161 catholic homes and the death of 10 Catholics. The violence continued for a week and in the end 23 civilians had been killed 16 Catholic and 10 Protestant and a total of 216 Catholic homes destroyed. One of the dead was a 13 year old catholic school girl shot by the specials and at her inquest the coroners jury said "We think that in the interests of peace the Special Constabulary should not be allowed into any locality occupied by people of an opposite denomination." ["Northern Ireland: The Orange State" (1976) ISBN 0-902818-87-2]
*24th March 1922, Following the killing of two constables the previous day, Specials entered the home of a Belfast Catholic publican (Owen McMahon), they took him, his 5 sons and a barman lined them against a wall in the living room and shot them, 2 sons survived. [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p18] ["Northern Ireland: The Orange State" (1976) ISBN 0-902818-87-2]
*March 1922, Following the the destruction of a bridge by the IRA in South Derry the Specials from No.14 Platoon Magherafelt, rounded up 20 Catholics and forced them to act as labourers. [Wallace Clark, "Guns In Ulster",(RUC) Constabulary Gazette, Belfast 1967, p.58] It has been speculated that incidents of this nature could have been avoided if there had been enough Catholic recruits to form "Catholic only units" they could have been used to patrol Catholic areas but numbers were never high enough. [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p14] However a bill presented to the House of Commons in Westminster on the basis of a report commissioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Belfast did have a clause removed which recommended that the RUC itself should have a minimum of 30% Catholics. It was objected to and removed before the bill was passed. [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p18] The Craig-Collins pact engineered by Winston Churchill also tried to address this issue but as a result of sanctions on goods produced in Northern Ireland which led to the "burning or destruction" of them in the new Free State the pact came to nothing. In his book, "The Thin Green Line" Richard Doherty theorises that such a pact would not have worked in any case because of the over-riding suspicion between both countries and communities which prevented the development of a "necessary mutual trust". [The Thin Green Line - The History of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5 p19]

Reports on the 1969 Deployments

Following serious intercommunal disturbances and sectarian violence as a result of protest marches by Civil Rights groups and traditional Protestant parades such as Orange Order marches the British Government set up several enquiries to examine the causes and effects of civil disorder and in an attempt to find solutions to the problems which beset Northern Ireland.

The Cameron Report

Sir John Cameron [http://thepeerage.com/p19947.htm] was requested to submit a report on the disturbances in Northern Ireland. [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cameron.htm#warrant]

Cameron noted that some events in Northern Ireland during the 1969 disturbances had been "highlighted intentionally or by chance" in the media which had distorted the accuracy of the reports. In a long and comprehensive report he commented on many aspects of the disturbances, their causes and the involvement of a number of civilian groups, like NICRA of the UPV in addition to the forces of the state e.g the police and special constabulary. Although he found little evidence of cross membership of the USC in Protestant organisations (the RUC being banned from such association but not the USC), he was concerned to note that in Major Ronald Bunting's Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) there was definite evidence of dual membership by special constables. Which "we consider highly undesirable and not in the public interest" [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cameron2.htm#chap12 item 220] He also remarked that although "recruitment is open to both Protestant and Roman Catholic: in practice we are in no doubt that it is almost if not wholly impossible for a Roman Catholic recruit to be accepted." [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cameron2.htm#chap14 item 183]

Cameron indicated that if the purposes of the USC were properly made known in recruitment and training that:

"This very practical evidence of the distinction drawn in the public mind - among all sections - between the R.U.C. and the U.S.C. prompts the reflection that there is a certain implicit duality of function and purpose in the U.S.C. - that in part it is a reserve force available to deal with such emergencies as incursions and insurrectionary activities by the I.R.A. and its sympathisers or supporters, and in part is designed to provide a reserve or reinforcement for the R.U.C. in discharge of its ordinary duties in the maintenance of law and order and the detection and repression of crime. Were this duality overtly recognised in recruitment, training and use of police reserves, then there would seem no reason why in practice recruitment to the U.S.C. in its capacity as a civil reserve or to that section of it, should not offer the same attraction to Roman Catholic recruits as the regular R.U.C. - and so to this extent help to erase the boundaries of sectarian division." [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cameron2.htm#chap14 item 184]

Lord Cameron's conclusions included condemnation of several parties including NICRA and the RUC but recognised that the root cause of the civil disturbance was a genuine sense of grievance felt by Catholics, young Catholics in particular Including: [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/cameron2.htm#chap16]
*1) A rising sense of continuing injustice and grievance among large sections of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, in particular in Londonderry and Dungannon, in respect of (i) inadequacy of housing provision by certain local authorities (ii) unfair methods of allocation of houses built and let by such authorities, in particular; refusals and omissions to adopt a 'points' system in determining priorities and making allocations (iii) misuse in certain cases of discretionary powers of allocation of houses in order to perpetuate Unionist control of the local authority.
*5) Resentment, particularly among Catholics, as to the existence of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the 'B' Specials) as a partisan and paramilitary force recruited exclusively from Protestants.
*(7) Fears and apprehensions among Protestants of a threat to Unionist domination and control of Government by increase of Catholic population and powers, inflamed in particular by the activities of the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, provoked strong hostile reaction to civil rights claims as asserted by the Civil Rights Association and later by the People's Democracy which was readily translated into physical violence against Civil Rights demonstrators.
*(12) What was originally a Belfast students' protest against police action in Londonderry on 5th October and support for the Civil Right movement was transformed into the People's Democracy - itself an unnecessary adjunct to the already existing and operative Civil Rights Association. People's Democracy provided a means by which politically extreme and militant elements could and did invite and incite civil disorder, with the consequence of polarising and hardening opposition to Civil Rights claims.
*(13) On the other side the deliberate and organised interventions by followers of Major Bunting and the Rev. Dr. Paisley, especially in Armagh, Burntollet and Londonderry, substantially increased the risk of violent disorder on occasions when Civil Rights demonstrations or marches were to take place, were a material contributory cause of the outbreaks ( violence which occurred after 5th October, and seriously hampered the police in their task of maintaining law and order, and of protecting members of the public in the exercise of their undoubted legal rights and upon their lawful occasions.
*(14) The police handling of the demonstration in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 was in certain material respects ill co-ordinated and inept. There was use of unnecessary and ill controlled force in the dispersal of the demonstrators, only a minority of whom acted in a disorderly and violent manner. The wide publicity given by press, radio and television to particular episodes inflamed and exacerbated feelings of resentment against the police which had been already aroused by their enforcement of the ministerial ban.
*(15) Available police forces did not provide adequate protection to People's Democracy marchers at Burntollet Bridge and in or near Irish Street, Derry on 4th January 1969. There were instances of police indiscipline and violence towards persons not associated with rioting or disorder on 4th/ 5th January in Derry and these provoked serious hostility to the police, particularly among the Catholic population of Derry, and an increasing disbelief in their impartiality towards non-Unionists.
*(16) Numerical insufficiency of available police force especially in Armagh on 30th November 1968 and in Derry on 4th/ 5th January 1969 and later on l9th/20th April prevented early and complete control and, where necessary, arrest of disorderly and riotous elements.

The Scarman Report

The Hon Justice Scarman theorised in his report about how and why various disturbances occurred and the reaction of the police force to them. He was critical of the RUC's senior officers and of the way the B Specials were deployed into areas of civil disturbance which they had no training to deal with, which in some occasions led to a worsening of the situation. He also pointed out that the B Specials were the only reserve available to the RUC and that he could see no other way of quickly reinforcing the under strength RUC in the circumstances. He did give praise to the Specials where he felt it was due. [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/scarman.htm#2] Some salient points from the report are:
*3.7 There were, in our judgement, six occasions in the course of these disturbances when the police, by act or omission, were seriously at fault.They were:- (points 1, 4, 5 & 6 omitted as they only pertain to the RUC)
*2) The decision by the County Inspector to put USC on riot control duty in the streets of Dungannon on 13 August without disarming them and without ensuring that there was an experienced police officer present and in command.
*(3) The similar decision of the County Inspector in Armagh on 14 August

Some other points concerning the USC were:
*3.14 The effect of the difficulties and the instructions set out above was that the USC were largely held in reserve in July and only hesitantly committed in August. They were not used at all during the July disturbances in Londonderry but did appear on the streets of Dungiven on 13 July when a party of USC without provocation fired over the heads of a crowd emerging from the Castle ballroom.
*3.15 When in early August the Shankill riots exposed the weakness of the police when threatened by Protestant as well as Catholic rioting, the decision was taken to use the USC for patrol duties in the Shankill. They were successful in this predominantly Protestant area at a time when the RUC were not welcome -because of their firm action against the Protestant mobs at the beginning of the month. The USC performed their patrol duties unarmed.
*3.16 Until 14 August USC were also used in Belfast to protect licensed premises which, being largely Catholic owned and managed, were at risk from Protestant hooligans when communal tension was high. Again, they did the job well-as is evidenced by the destruction of so many public houses as soon as they were withdrawn.
*3.18 In Londonderry they appeared in some numbers at Waterloo Place and Bishop Street. They did not carry firearms. Their arrival in Waterloo Place caused consternation among the Catholics: but, in fact, they did little or nothing. In Bishop Street they were used to restrain a Protestant crowd in the Fountain. There is some evidence of special constables misbehaving themselves in this area by participating in an exchange of petrol bombs and missiles with a Catholic crowd. There is however nothing to justify any general criticism of the USC in the few hours that it performed riot duty on the streets of Londonderry.
*3.19 On 13 August USC, who had arrived to assist the hard-pressed police in Coalisland, fired without orders into a riotous crowd but were immediately ordered to stop, which they did. On the 14th in Dungannon and Armagh armed parties of USC opened fire on Catholic crowds, causing casualties, including one death at Armagh.
*3.20 In Coalisland there were extenuating circumstances, in as much as the police party was under severe pressure from a riotous mob which heavily out-numbered them. In Armagh, deprived of police leadership, USC personnel panicked, but there was no justification for firing into the crowd. In Dungannon, the Tribunal has been at a loss to find any explanation for the shooting, which it is satisfied was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do. As in Armagh, so also in Dungannon there was an absence of police leadership at the critical time.
*3.21 Their employment in Belfast on 14th revealed their helplessness in a communal disturbance. Instructed to hold back Protestants who attempted to penetrate down such streets as Dover and Percy streets into the Falls/Divis district, they failed. Confronted with a small Catholic mob moving up the Catholic end of Dover Street, they fought it back. The scale of the fighting increased, and became a sectarian riot, in which the USC had only an incidental part. In Percy Street some members of the USC and some Protestant civilians co-operated in trying to drive a Catholic crowd back to Divis Street. When eventually Protestants erupted into Divis Street they stood about helplessly while their presence convinced the Catholics that "the Bs" were spearheading the assault.
*3.22 There is no evidence that the USC, who were used to hold back Protestants in the Disraeli Street area, participated in the rioting inside the Ardoyne.
*3.23 In reviewing the conduct of the USC it is necessary to distinguish between Belfast and the rest of the Province. When USC were used for riot control duty outside Belfast they showed on several occasions a lack of proper discipline, particularly in the use of firearms. But in Belfast on 14 August their presence in Dover Street and Percy Street, while evoking the hostility of the Catholics, was unable to restrain the aggression of the Protestants.
*3.24 A little-publicised but important contribution made by the USC to the events under review was by way of the mobilisation of some 300 of them into the RUC. About 80 of them had been mobilized for duty as members of the Reserve Force several months earlier. The Reserve Force led the "Rossville Street incursion" into the Bogside on 12 August and provided the armed Shorlands which were used in the Belfast riots. But there are no grounds for singling out mobilised USC as being guilty of misconduct. The incursion into the Bogside and the use of Browning machine-guns in Belfast were RUC, not USC, responsibilities.

The Hunt Report

Despite the Scarman Report the B Specials continued to be regarded with suspicion by Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, and their abolition was a central demand of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. On 30 April 1970, they were finally stood down, as a result of the Hunt Committee Report.Hunt concluded that the perceived partisanship of the Special Constabulary, whether true or not, had to be addressed. One of his other major concerns was the use of the police force for carrying out military style operations. His recommendations included: [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/hunt.htm]

(1) The R.U.C. should be relieved of all duties of a military nature as soon as possible and its contribution to the security of Northern Ireland from subversion should be limited to the gathering of intelligence, the protection of important persons and the enforcement of the relevant laws (paragraph 82).

(17) Certain weapons should be no longer part of the equipment of the R.U.C. (paragraph 102).

(47) A locally recruited part-time force, under the control of the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, should be raised as soon as possible for such duties as may be laid upon it. The force, together with the police volunteer reserve, should replace the Ulster Special Constabulary (paragraph 171).


Following the announcement by Harold Wilson and the recommendations of Lord Hunt many Specials became disillusioned. There were mass resignations in protest from platoons in sub districts all over the province. However appeals from the Belfast government and senior officers persuaded most of them to return to duty and assist the RUC in keeping order in the Province until the Ulster Defence Regiment and Police Reserve were ready for duty. A few did not.


"In their final years the B Specials failed". [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p17] This failure was not entirely of their own doing. They were a force born of a different age and were still trained and equipped for that era. The Northern Ireland government had made no attempt to modernise their equipment, weaponry, training or approach to the job. A parsimony which appears to have been applied to the RUC and USC over decades (For decades the RUC worked longer hours for less pay than all of their UK counterparts on other forces). Discipline, whilst good, was based on goodwill between commanders and the rank and file. Administration was poor. They had no transport or radio equipment. They had however been an efficient and cost effective counter-insurgency force, despite the criticisms made against them. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p17]

On the disbandment of the USC many members subsequently joined the newly-established Ulster Defence Regiment, the part-time security force which replaced the B Specials, but under British military control; others joined the new Part Time Reserve of the RUC. The USC continued to do duties for a month after the formation of the UDR and RUC Reserve to give both of the new forces time to consolidate.

In the final handover to the Ulster Defence Regiment the B Specials had to surrender their weapons and uniforms. All were handed in without exception. [A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992, Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194 p16]

Since disbandment the USC has assumed a place of "almost mythic proportions" [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm] within Unionist folklore, whereas in the Nationalist community they are still reviled as the Protestant only, armed wing of the Unionist government "associated with the worst examples of unfair treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the police force". [http://encyclopedia.farlex.com/B-Specials] An Orange Lodge was formed to commemorate the disbandment of the force called "Ulster Special Constabulary LOL No 1970" [Orange Parades: The Politics of Ritual, Tradition and Control by Dominic Bryan, Pluto Press (2000) ISBN-10: 0745314139 page 94]

ee also

*Auxiliary constable
*Auxiliary police
*Alexander Robinson
*Special constable
*Special constabulary
*Special police



* "The B-Specials: A History of the Ulster Special Constabulary" (1972) Sir Arthur Hazlett (0854682724)
* "Arming the Protestants" (1983) Michael Farrell. ISBN 0-86104-705-2
* "The Thin Green Line" The History of the Royal Ulster Constabularly GC, Richard Doherty, published by Pen & Sword Books - ISBN 1-84415058-5
*"The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition", Liz Curtis, Beyond the Pale Publications 1995, Belfast, ISBN 0 9514229
*"Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas", Richard Bourke, Pimlico 2003, ISBN 1 8441 3316 8
*"A Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992", Major John Furniss Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528194
*"Northern Ireland: The Orange State", Michael Farrell (1976), ISBN 0-902818-87-2
*"Orange Parades: The Politics of Ritual, Tradition and Control", Dominic Bryan, Pluto Press (2000), ISBN-10: 0745314139
*"The Crowned Harp: Policing Northern Ireland", Graham Ellison, Jim Smyth, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 0745313930

External links

* [http://www.royalulsterconstabulary.org/history3.htm RUC police federation B-Specials page] ("note: despite the domain name, this is" not "the official website of the RUC or its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)")
* [http://www.policememorial.org.uk/Forces/IRELAND/USC_Roll.htm Ulster Special Constabulary Roll of Honour]

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