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17. LAND OF THE RED HAND COMMANDO

In East, and across the river in West Belfast, along the Shankhill Road you will see murals to the Red Hand Commando. This smaller paramilitary group is purported to contain a number of bomb making specialists and has been responsible for a number of assassinations.

The group were formed in 1972 but stimulated by the violence of 27th June 1970 when Republican attacks on Orange parades left five Loyalists dead and many wounded. The group originally were (presented as) young men who were deciding what they were going to do in the future to protect their community. They were able to obtain hand guns and other weapons and began to organise. They also made contact with other paramilitary groups. They were committed to NI remaining British and to defending their community from Republican violence.

They were politically linked to the Progressive Unionist Party.

The UVF and Red Hand Commando supported the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and has been reported as maintaining the ceasefire over this period until the present. But as always in NI there seems to be a contradiction of information as this short piece from Wikipedia indicates:

“The group has carried out numerous pipe bombings and arson attacks against "soft" civilian targets such as homes, churches and private businesses in what are interpreted as attempts to provoke retaliation from the Provisional IRA . The group has claimed responsibility for the car bomb murder on 15 March, 1999 of Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Catholic lawyer and human rights campaigner in Northern Ireland.

The government of the United States believes that the Red Hand Commandos have members amongst whom some have considerable experience in guerrilla tactics such as bomb-making.”

Along with the UVF/UFF the RHC have been accused of being ‘deeply involved’ in drug dealing a claim by the Independent Monitoring Commission which they absolutely refute. In their terms they take a “zero tolerance’ approach to drug dealing. Later in my trip I was taken somewhere to be given a graphic account of what this might mean.

In the same report the RHC were described as a "ruthless organisation engaged in major crime and punishment attacks". No denial of this description was made.

As a final footnote – we have heard for decades about IRA activity in mainland Britain but Loyalist activity has been played down. There are strong links between Scotland and NI and these are strongly kept alive through the Protestant marching bands. But it’s not all music - the RHC are believed to have cells operating in Scotland which has included armed robbery to send money ‘across the water’ to their comrades in the Province.

I’m just scratching the surface here – it all seems so unbelievably complicated! This was taken in semi darkness in the early morning light and one of my rare concessions to using flash!

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Additional Photos by Kev Ryan (KevRyan) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1798 W: 194 N: 5130] (22952)
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