Below please find information on the main elements of the British and Northern Irish security forces which operated in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The British Army was deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969 in order to protect Nationalist areas from Loyalist Attack. For this reason the British Army was warmly welcomed in nationalist areas. However the army appeared reluctant to take on loyalist mobs and often allowed them to enter and burn nationalist areas at will. Many in the nationalist community came to see the British Army as an occupational army which was sent in to prop up the failing sectarian government. Following it's shooting dead of 14 unarmed civilians in Derry in 1972, the army was rounded on by the majority of the nationalist population, many of whom went on to join groups like the IRA.
In 1979 the British Army suffered it's worst loss of life in a single attack since World War II when 18 soldiers were killed in a Provisional IRA ambush in Warrenpoint, County Down. The British Army had limited success against the IRA, less than 120 IRA Volunteers were killed in combat, compared to almost 800 members of the British Army.
The British Army found it particularly difficult to operate in rural areas of Northern Ireland such as south Armagh, where it was inable to carry out mobile-patrols due to the frequency of ambushes in the area.
At it's height the British Army had almost 35,000 troops stationed in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Defence Regiment was a locally recruited regiment of the British Army. Almost all of the recruits came from the Protestant population. UDR members were frequently assassinated while off-duty by the Provisional IRA and INLA. It also emerged that the UDR was actively colluding with loyalist death squads in the murders of individuals perceived as sympathetic to republicans. In an interview for a document entitled "Subversion in the UDR", a commander in the regiment admitted that about 15% of his men were also members of Loyalist death squads.
Such collusion became obvious following the Miami Showband Massacre. On the 31 July 1975 a popular Irish band were stopped by a fake British Army patrol and forced out of their van.The patrol was actually UVF members in UDR uniform. While being questioned, another group of UVF men attempted to place a bomb in the band's van but it exploded prematurely killing the two men who were carrying it. The rest of the UVF men then shot the band members, killing three of them, and fled. The next day it emerged that the two dead UVF men were in fact a Major and a Lietenant in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The UDR was eventually disbanded and replaced by the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was the police force of Northern Ireland from 1922 until 2001. The force was overwhelmingly Protestant and almost entirely unionist. It was accussed by many people of being little more than a sectarian militia although this was rejected by the British and Stormont governments. The RUC lost over 300 members during the Troubles with a further 9,000 injured. The majority of casualties were inflicted by the Provisional IRA. In 1983 the RUC was classified as the most dangerous police force in the world in which to be a member.In 1969 the RUC, along with the USC, helped to increase tension by attacking civil rights marchersin Derry, they were also accussed of standing back and allowing loyalists to attacks a civil rights march at Burntollet Bridge.
The RUC was heavily criticized by international human rights groups over it's involvement in the killing of a number of civilians, many of whom were shot with plastic bullets. It was also accussed of torturing and assaulting suspects during questioning. The RUC suffered heavy casualties during the Troubles, many of it's officers were shot or blown up by the IRA or INLA. It's heaviest loss came in 1985 when nine RUC officers were killed when the Provisional IRA carried out a mortar attack on an RUC barracks in Newry.
The RUC, along with the British Army, was also involved in the shooting dead of a number of unarmed members, or suspected members, of the IRA and INLA. These murders led to claims that the RUC was involved in a Shoot to Kill policy against suspected republicans. In April 2003 the Stevens report found that elements within the RUC had sanctioned the murders of suspected republicans and republican sympathizers.
The force was replaced in 2001 by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The Ulster Special Constabulary, also knwon as the B-Specials, was a reserve police force which operated in Northern Ireland from 920 until it was disbanded in 1970. The USC was almost completely composed of Protestant unionists. The recruitment of Catholics or nationalists into the force was discouraged by the Stormont government. The group was heavily criticized by most Irish nationalists and also the British military who regarded them as undisciplined and openly sectarian. On a number of occassions the USC fired into crowds of rioters and protesters, killing many civilians. Due to it's openly sectarian nature and their involvement in the shooting dead of civilians, the British government eventually disbanded the force in mid-1970.
The Special Air Service is a unit of the British Army tasked with counter-insurgency and hostage situations. The regiment was deployed in northern Ireland in the early 70's and tasked with taking on the Provisional IRA. The SAS was involved in the shooting dead of a number of IRA volunteers, most notably the Loughgall Ambush in which eight IRA Volunteers were killed, it's heaviest loss in the conflict. The SAS was accussed of a Shoot-to-Kill policy against suspected republicans, and to a lesser extent, loyalists. The Stalker Inquiry into a number of the killings found that the SAS had indeed carried out Shoot-to-Kill operations against armed and unarmed republicans. In Court the British government was found guilty of breaching Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The SAS lost a number of soldiers in Northern Ireland. The highest ranking member to be killed was Captain Herbert Westmascott who was killed in a gun battle with the IRA in 1980 after being shot in the head with an M60 Heavy Machine Gun.
14th Intelligence Company is an element of British Intelligence which operated in Northern Ireland from 1970 onwards. The group has been accused by former members of the British Intelligence services, of involvement in a number of terrorist attacks, including the Dublin & Monaghan bombings of 1974 which killed 33 civilians.
The group was particularly active in Belfast and Armagh. In 1992 three of it's agents who had infiltrated the Provisional IRA carried out the murder and secret burial of a young woman who had discovered that they were intelligence agents. The three agents were subsequently kidnapped by the Provisional IRA and confessed on tape to being Intelligence operatives. Their bodies were later found at three seperate locations in south Armagh. The group has also been accussed of involvement in the Miami Showband massacre during which 3 civilians were shot dead and two members of the UDR were killed by their own bomb in a botched attack on a popular Irish showband. Captain Robert Nairac, an SAS member and member of 14th Intelligence has been accused by nationalists, ex-intelligence officers and one of the survivors of the attack of commanding the unit on the day. Nairac was subsequently kidnappedny the IRA. His body has never been found although a former IRA member has stated that his body was placed in a meat grinder and fed to pigs.
The unit is believed to have been active throughout the conflict and it's main task was the infiltration of paramilitary groups. It seesm to have been far more succesful at infiltrating loyalist groups and as such exerted a controlling influence on these organisations, particularly the UDA. It has also had high placed informers in the IRA although many of it's agents were exposed or executed.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was formed in 2001 to replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). As part of the Peace Process, republicans had demanded that the RUC be replaced or disbanded due to it's perception as a Protestant militia among the nationalist population. Policing powers are currently controlled by the Stormont Assembly which includes both Republican and Unionist political parties. The PSNI also has a mandatory 50/50 recruitment policy to ensure that both Catholic and Protestants are equally represented in the force. It is hoped this will help boost community conifidence in the Police Service and make it acceptable to all sections of the Northern Ireland community. Currently around 65% of the PSNI comes from Protestant backgrounds and 27% from Catholic backgrounds. Catholics account for 44% of the population of Northern Ireland. In comparison, only around 7% of RUC members were Catholics.
Until 2007 Sinn Féin did not support the PSNI but this changed in 2007 after it was informed that Policing and Justice powers would be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The PSNI suffered it's first casualty in 2009 when one of it's members was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon.
The Special Patrol Group was a Police unit in the RUC tasked with counter-terrorism. The group has been accussed and found guilty of involvement with loyalist murder squads and terrorist activities.
Members of the SPG based in Armagh are quoted as saying that they considered loyalist gangs to be allies, and as such, aided them in carrying out the sectarian murders of Catholics. In 2006, a report into the unit based in Armagh found that between 1975 and 1976 it had been responsible for the murders of 11 Catholic civilians, including the deaths of the Reavey and O'Dowd brothers. The following day, in response to the killings, the South Armagh Republican Action Force machine gunned ten protestant workmen to death and seriously wounded another.
In 1980 two members of the Special Patrol Group were arrested and charged with a number of murders. Following this, the SPG was stood down and disbanded by the RUC.In Belfast, a number of members of the SPG were killed in Provisional IRA ambushes in west Belfast.