Formation of Specials

Grant notes that the formation of the USC gave the nascent Northern Ireland government “the ability to legitimize the UVF as an arm of the state, thereby controlling its unruly nature, while harnessing its power”. 

Parkinson says that “financial considerations involving the shortage of troops and regular police in Ireland as a whole, but especially in the north, was the chief reason why this auxiliary force was raised.”   The formation of the Special Constabulary was opposed by General Sir Nevil Macready.  Also, Sir John Anderson, joint Under Secretary in Dublin Castle wrote to Bonar Law on the 2nd September saying "... 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".  On the 15th September, the Daily Mail suggested that the proposal to arm “well-disposed citizens” raised “serious questions of the sanity of Government”.

Joe Devlin tells Greenwood in the House of Commons that the creation of the Special Constabulary would place the lives of Catholics "at the mercy of opponents, armed by the British government".  On the 25th October, Devlin tells Greenwood in the House of Commons that “The Chief Secretary is going to arm pogromists to murder the Catholics … Their pogrom is to be made less difficult.  Instead of paving stones and sticks they are to be given rifles.” McCluskey makes the interesting point that “In the summer of 1920 loyalist violence predominated where the balance of forces favoured the UVF, such as Belfast, Lisburn and Banbridge or Cookstown in Tyrone.  The creation of the USC facilitated the westward spread of unionist violence.”

Reviewing their activities, Parkinson notes that “Though the majority of Specials were not involved in controversial incidents, it is likely that some police officers were guilty either of direct involvement in the murder of Catholics, or else of collusion with loyalist terrorists.  Certainly the Specials became pariah figures for many Catholics” (Parkinson (2004), pg 309).  McDermott asks the question if the British government would have countenanced an anti-Catholic pogrom in Belfast or Derry City and answers his own question as follows: “Not deliberately perhaps, although in real terms they were to approve what was in essence the arming of the majority against a minority.” (McDermott (2001), pg 33)