John McMichael : biography
John "Big John" McMichael (9 January 1948 – 22 December 1987) was a leading Northern Irish loyalist who rose to become the most prominent and charismatic figure within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) as the Deputy Commander and leader of its South Belfast Brigade. He was also commander of the organisation's cover name, the "Ulster Freedom Fighters" (UFF). The UDA used this name when it wished to claim responsibility for attacks, thus allowing it to remain a legal paramilitary organisation until August 1992 when it was proscribed by the British Government.
McMichael held political office as leader of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) from 1981 until his death. He was killed outside his home by a booby-trap car bomb which was carried out by the Provisional IRA. There were allegations that members within the UDA had colluded with the IRA in his death by passing on vital information about him and his activities, enabling the IRA to target his car.
McMichael came to support the ideas of republican Danny Morrison regarding the Armalite and ballot box strategy and felt that the UDA should also build up a political wing to this end. As a result, following the murder of Robert Bradford, he stood as the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party candidate in the by-election for Bradford's South Belfast seat and ran the most high profile ULDP campaign ever seen, calling for a long term strategy of negotiated independence for Northern Ireland. Despite fears from mainstream unionists that McMichael might split their vote, he ultimately only captured 576 votes. After the failure of his political strategy, McMichael returned to his work with the UDA and, after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, he co-wrote another document Common Sense: Northern Ireland - An Agreed Process, which outlined plans for a future political settlement in Northern Ireland.Taylor, p.198 The paper was viewed positively by some politicians including SDLP leader John Hume and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King."The UDA Plan: Opening For Dialogue Or Sectarian Fix?". Fortnight: An Independent Review For Northern Ireland. Belfast: Fortnight Publications, Ltd. No.249. March 1987. pp.14–15 At this time, he and the UDA's Supreme Commander Andy Tyrie set up an elite group of men carefully selected from within the UDA; this unit, called the 'Ulster Defence Force' (UDF), was formed to make the organisation capable of meeting any "Doomsday" situation (such as a civil war) that might occur as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The group's motto was Sans Peur, and the men received training by former British soldiers.Taylor, p.203 McMichael was also allegedly put in charge of a UDA/UFF bombing campaign that was to be waged against the Republic of Ireland.McDonald & Cusack, p. 134 Ultimately the proposed campaign was unsuccessful. The four incendiary bombs planted in the city centre of Dublin in November 1986 failed to inflict much damage. McMichael himself put the failure down to the lack of bombing expertise in the UDA.McDonald & Cusack, p. 135
McMichael sat on the Ulster Clubs executive and its security committee.Taylor, p.188 In June 1985, he instructed UDA Intelligence chief Brian Nelson to travel to South Africa to investigate the possibility of obtaining weapons by proposing an exchange of arms. Nelson, who was a British military intelligence agent recruited by the Force Research Unit, made the journey. Retrieved 30-03-11 When he returned from the trip he reported his findings to McMichael, who had previously received reports regarding Nelson's unsatisfactory conduct in South Africa.
Four years earlier, McMichael had hoped to draw Catholic support for Beyond the Religious Divide, having made the following statement"We'll just continue what we've been doing during the past year. It will become more and more obvious that the UDA is taking a very steady line, that we're not willing to fall into line behind sectarian politicians. It will take time. What people forget is that we also have to sell the idea to Protestants".Wood, p.73
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