Statistics about killings during the Troubles suggest that 87% of killings were perpetrated by paramilitary groupings, with the figure falling to 85% if evidence to date about collusion is taken into account. However, classifications of responsibility will continue to change as further evidence comes to light.
In their 2019 Westminster election manifesto, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) claimed the following in section 11, entitled “Resisting Attempts to Rewrite the Past”: “Ninety percent of those who died during the Troubles were killed by paramilitaries yet the balance of investigations is disproportionately against former police officers and soldiers.” This article investigates the primary claim of the percentages of those who died during the Troubles, using the available data from 14 July 1969 to 31 December 2001.
This echoes a previous claim made by the current MP for Belfast South, Emma Little-Pengelly, in the House of Commons on 6 March 2019:
“Well over 90% of the murders and injuries caused during the troubles in Northern Ireland were caused by acts of terrorism. Very few prosecutions and investigations are under way and innocent victims are being left behind, with thousands of unsolved cases. When will the Secretary of State address that issue and put in place a mechanism to investigate the acts of terrorism—over 90%—that caused those murders and injuries?”
The then Secretary, Karen Bradley, responded:
“The hon. Lady sets out the figures very powerfully—over 90% of the killings during the troubles were at the hands of terrorists. Every single one of those was a crime. The under 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes; they were people acting under orders and instructions, fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way. I look forward to working with her more to ensure that we can deliver the much-needed reforms and changes that we all want to see—[Interruption.]”
Deaths during the Troubles
According to the commonly cited Sutton Index of Deaths (last updated in October 2002), there were 3,532 deaths related to the Troubles between 1969 and 2001. The online index is hosted by the Ulster University’s CAIN project. This information focuses on the deaths that resulted from the conflict in the defined time period from 14 July 1969 to 31 December 2001.
The Sutton index presents the following statistics:
|Killings by Military and Paramilitary Groups (1969-2001)|
|Republican Paramilitary Groups|
|Irish Republican Army (IRA) (includes 89 by non-specific Republican group since 1970)||1,822|
|Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) (includes 3 by non-specific Republican group during 1969)||56|
|Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)||123|
|Irish People’s Liberation Organisation (IPLO)||24|
|Saor Eire (SE)||3|
|Real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)||29|
|Loyalist Paramilitary Groups|
|Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) (includes RHC, PAF, and PAG)||483|
|Ulster Defence Association (UDA) (includes UFF and LRDG)||262|
|Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)||18|
|Red Hand Defenders (RHD)||8|
|Non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)||256|
|British Army (BA)||297|
|Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR)||8|
|Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)||55|
|Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) (“B” Specials)||1|
|Royal Air Force (RAF)||1|
|Others (Unable or impossible to identify killing group)|
|Cumulative Total (1969 to 31 December 2001)|
The figures for killings by Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups make up 3,084 of the 3,532 analysed by Sutton: 87.3%. A further 368 deaths were attributed to British and Irish Forces (10.4%), with 80 cases (2.3%) where Sutton was “unable or impossible to identify killing group”.
The Sutton Index above does not take into account cases whereby collusion has been established between paramilitary organisations and British state forces. Responsibility for many of these killings is still disputed.
However, collusion has been identified and confirmed in some cases.
For example, in 1996 the Cassel Report reported the findings from a panel of independent international experts, chaired by Prof. Cassel, of evidence of collusion by agents of the British government in the murders of 74 members of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
The panel examined 25 cases of suspected loyalist paramilitary violence (involving 76 murders and some attempted murders) in Northern Ireland during 1972-77. In 24 of the 25 cases, involving 74 of the 76 murders, evidence suggested collusion by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) or the Ulster Defense Regiment (UDR).
Taking the Cassel Report findings on collusion (76) into account, the number of killings by paramilitary groups decreases by 2.2%, resulting in an overall figure of 3,532 (85.1%) in the period covered by the Sutton Index.
There were a total of 3,532 deaths recorded during the period referred to as the Troubles. The claim that 90% of the killings were perpetrated by paramilitaries is rounded up from 87.2% (using the Sutton Index as a source of classification) and is imprecise as it does not take into consideration those killings by Irish forces, killings which were perpetrated by “unknown” groups, and killings in which collusion has subsequently been identified. A more accurate, rounded figure for paramilitary deaths is 85%; however, this figure may change if further evidence about collusion or misidentification comes to light.
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