Partisan, paramilitary force that acted as auxilliaries to the police in Northern Ireland in the period 1920-1970. They were exclusively Protestant and were effective in stamping out IRA activity in the early years of the Northern Ireland statelet.

The origin of the B Specials can be traced to early 1920 when Basil Brooke, a Fermanagh landowner, formed Fermanagh Vigilance in response to IRA attacks in the area [1]. The partition of Ireland had resulted in a "carnival of reaction" as predicted by James Connolly. The Unionist ruling council, feeling its ascendency threatened by Catholic nationalism within the six counties and in the nascent Irish Free State, decided to create an Ulster Special Constabulary. This was, in effect, a revival of the pre-war Ulster Volunteer Force.

Ernest Clark, an under-secretary of state, used powers under the Specials Constable Act to create three special forces-

  • A Specials: These were paid and worked full time within the police force (RUC). They numbered some 3500.
  • B Specials: A part-time an unpaid force apart from a small clothing allowance, their arms were to be determined by the police county commander. Each member might work one evening a week. There were 16,000 recruited initially.
  • C Specials: A reserve force used only in cases of emergency.
The IRA campaign was ordered to a halt by Michael Collins in August 1922. The A and C Specials were disbanded but the B Specials, considered crucial to that victory, continued to operate.

To Protestants in Northern Ireland, the B Specials were a reassuring sight; respectable pillars of the community maintaining law and order. To Catholics they were instruments of an oppressive regime, ruthlesssly supressing all dissent. The fact that they used the local Orange Lodge as their training grounds was an affirmation of the sectarian nature of the B Specials.

General Ricardo [2]of the UVF has said of the B Specials (thanks dunne)

"The B Special head constable...goes to the leading local nationalist...He tells him that they have arms and mean to patrol at nights...the nationalist is shown a list with his name at the top and is told that if any B man is touched the list will be attended to from the top...this is not an uncommon arrangement."

During World War II, the B Specials became part of a Home Guard against any possible resurgence in IRA activity (not much happened). The border campaign was launched by the IRA in the period 1956-62. The RUC and B Specials sustained some casualties as did the IRA.

In the sixties, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association made demanded that five key reforms be enacted. One of these was the disbandment of the B Specials who had been involved, along with the RUC, in atrocities such as the burning the homes of Catholics in Derry and Belfast.

Lord Cameron was commissioned to write a report on the whole situation in Northern Ireland. He reported, rather diplomatically that the RUC and B Specials had been guilty of indiscipline. His criticism was couched in qualifications but it lead to the renaming of the B Specials as the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1970.

Paragraph 177 of the Cameron report

We have to record with regret that our investigations have led us to the unhesitating conclusion that on the night of 4th/ 5th January a number of policemen were guilty of misconduct which involved assault and battery, malicious damage to property in streets in the predominantly Catholic Bogside area giving reasonable cause for apprehension of personal injury among other innocent inhabitants, and the use of provocative sectarian and political slogans. While we fully realize that the police had been working without adequate relief or rest for long hours, and were under great stress, we are afraid that not only do we find these allegations of misconduct are substantiated, but that for such conduct among members of a disciplined and well - led force there can be no acceptable justification or excuse. We have also considered the full and careful Report of County Inspector Baillie which has been made available to us (and whose evidence we heard) and we note, with some satisfaction, though with regret, that his independent investigation has led him to reach the same conclusions as to the gravity and nature of the misconduct as those at which we have arrived in our consideration of the evidence before us. Although this unfortunate and temporary breakdown of discipline was limited in extent, its effect in rousing passions and inspiring hostility towards the police was regrettably great, and obscure the restraint, under conditions of severe strain, then displayed by the large majority of the police concerned.

[2] 'Michael Collins',ch.11, p.363, by Tim Pat Coogan

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