Orange Volunteers (OV)

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Orange Volunteers (OV)

LEADER: Bob Marno



The Orange Volunteers are a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. They support Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, with their goal being to keep the Protestant-majority province known as Ulster under British rule, while preventing the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from becoming unified. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Fein seek the unification of Ireland, putting them in opposition to the Orange Volunteers.

The Orange Volunteers began acts of violence in Northern Ireland during the peace process, with their actions intended to destabilize the peace process, encourage acts of retaliation by groups such as the IRA and Sinn Fein, and prevent the unification of Ireland.


In 1993, the Northern Ireland peace process began, with the process an attempt to create a unified Ireland. On December 15, 1993, the Joint Declaration on Peace was released on behalf of the British and Irish governments. The statement included that the British government would allow the people of Northern Ireland to decide between remaining part of the United Kingdom or becoming part of a unified Ireland, while the Irish government showed their intention of forming a unified Ireland. This led to a series of negotiations that continued until 1998.

On Good Friday, April 10, 1998, the Irish government, the British government, and the political parties of Northern Ireland reached agreement. The Good Friday Agreement, or Belfast Agreement, stated that the future of Northern Ireland would be decided by a referendum. The Good Friday Agreement also included that all paramilitary prisoners who belonged to organizations observing a ceasefire would be released from prison within two years and that paramilitary groups would decommission their weapons.

One of the groups involved in the peace process was the Ulster Freedom Fighters, also known as the Ulster Defense Association. The group is a loyalist group in Northern Ireland that has been operating since 1971. It is against the unification of Ireland and has been involved in various attacks on Catholic civilians. During the peace process negotiations, the group announced ceasefires in 1993 and 1998. The Loyalist Volunteer Force was another loyalist group in Northern Ireland that was against unification and was involved in the negotiations. In 1998, the Loyalist Volunteer Force issued a ceasefire and later handed back weapons for destruction. However, the Loyalist Volunteer Force remained against unification and urged the people of Northern Ireland to vote no in the referendum.

The Orange Volunteers is thought to be made of up former members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Loyalist Volunteer Force, with these members against the ceasefires. The Council on Foreign Relations also states that authorities suspect that the Orange Volunteers may be a cover name used by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Loyalist Volunteer Force. This view takes into account that acts of violence by the Ulster Freedom Fighters or the Loyalist Volunteer Force would prevent imprisoned members from being released, since the terms of the Good Friday Agreement states that only members of paramilitary groups observing ceasefires will be guaranteed prison release.

On May 22, 1998, the referendum was held. The Good Friday Agreement was passed, with a 71% yes vote in Northern Ireland and a 94% yes vote in the Republic of Ireland. The passing of the Good Friday Agreement was followed by the beginning stages of its implementation. According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, the Orange Volunteers formed in 1998 in direct response to the successful peace process in Northern Ireland, with their intent being to destabilize the peace process.



Bob Marno was the leader of the Orange Volunteers. Marno was a soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment and a senior member of the Orange Order in the county of Antrim.

In November 1999, the Royal Ulster Constabulary discovered around 300 military intelligence files in an Orange Hall in the county of Antrim. The files were leaked from the British Army and contained details of republicans in the Belfast and Armagh areas and were considered as being used to identify Catholics to target in bomb attacks. Marno was a key-holder of the Orange Hall where the documents were found, suggesting that the documents were for the use of the Orange Volunteers.

In November 1999, Marno was arrested near his home. He escaped custody but gave himself up to police ten days later. After being questioned by police, he was released without charge.

The Orange Volunteers first emerged in the news in 1998 as they threatened to launch a campaign of violence against the IRA, Sinn Fein, and other enemies of Ulster. These threats emerged as part of conflicts over the Drumcree marches, a known flashpoint within Northern Ireland occurring because the Protestant group known as the Orangemen march down nationalist streets. In June 1998, the Parade Commission banned the Protestant Orangemen from marching down Garvaghy Road in Portadown, a Nationalist Road that had been the site of violence and standoffs in previous years. The Orangemen responded by stating that they would march their traditional route and would stand their ground if prevented from doing so.

On July 5, 1998, the Orangemen attempted to march down Garvaghy Road but were prevented from doing so by security forces. Thousands of loyalists joined the group and violent sieges followed and continued for several nights. The Guardian reported that members of the Orange Volunteers were present at the protest.

In November 1998, members of the Orange Volunteers kidnapped a television journalist and his crew and took him to an unknown location. The journalist was present at a meeting of the Orange Volunteers, where they revealed that they would launch attacks on republicans and IRA members who were being released from prison as part of the Good Friday Agreement. A prepared statement by the Orange Volunteers also described their belief that the IRA ceasefire was a ploy to get the British troops and the British people out of Ulster, with the Orange Volunteers stating that they would not allow the IRA to succeed in this mission. The statement also expressed their dissatisfaction with the peace process.

During late 1998 and 1999, the Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for attacks on various Catholic businesses. In February 2001, the Orange Volunteers released a statement describing their mission as being to protect their people, their faith, and their country.


The Orange Volunteers emerged during the Northern Ireland peace process, with bombings beginning after the Good Friday Agreement was made and continuing as the Good Friday Agreement was implemented. Their actions were considered to be part of their plans to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and prevent Northern Ireland from becoming part of a unified Ireland.


The Irish government, the British government, and the political parties of Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement described how a referendum would be used to determine the future of Northern Ireland.
The referendum was held; the Good Friday Agreement was passed by a majority yes vote in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Orange Volunteers emerged as part of conflict over the Orangemen's march in Drumcree.
Members of the Orange Volunteers kidnapped a television journalist as a means of communicating their message to the public. The Orange Volunteers described how they plan to attack IRA members being released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Orange Volunteers issued a back to war statement, warning that they may soon end their ceasefire and take action again to protect their people, their faith, and their country.

On December 17, 1998, the Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion in a bar in the county of Armagh, Northern Ireland. The group claimed that the target of the attack was a senior IRA commander. Another loyalist group named the Red Hand Defenders also claimed responsibility for the bombing, increasing speculation that both groups might be cover names used by members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force or the Ulster Defense Association. There was also speculation that the two groups could have some of the same members. The Red Hand Defenders are a loyalist group that appeared around the same time as the Orange Volunteers. They claimed responsibility for various bomb attacks. These included a bomb blast in Portadown, Northern Ireland, that killed a policeman, the murder of a Catholic man in Belfast, and the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in a car bomb attack. Both the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders share the same purpose, though the Red Hand Defenders are known for more violent attacks than the Orange Volunteers.

On January 6, 1999, the Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion in the Gaelic Sports Club in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland. The Orange Volunteers warned in a statement that nationalists had everything to fear and stated that they would continue defending the Protestant people.

On January 19, 1999, the Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion in the home of a Catholic family in Loughinisland, Northern Ireland. The explosion caused minor injuries to the homeowner.

On February 8, 1999, the Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on a pub in Castledawson, Northern Ireland. The incident had no casualties. The pub was owned by Sinn Fein lawyer Francis McNally, with the Orange Volunteers warning that there would be more attacks on individuals they considered as enemies of Ulster. RUC Chief constable Ronnie Flanagan told BBC News that the attack was aimed at provoking retaliation from Republicans and stated that the loyalists were targeting the Good Friday Agreement and trying to undermine the peace process.

The ongoing attacks on Catholic business targets, IRA individuals, and Sinn Fein individuals had two purposes. One was to undermine and destabilize the peace process in Northern Ireland. This included that the attacks were completed for the purpose of provoking the IRA to retaliate. Any act of retaliation would then anger the Protestant population of Northern Ireland, potentially influencing people to reject the peace process. At the same time, any act of retaliation would raise questions about the IRA's commitment to the ceasefire. In turn, this would support the Orange Volunteer's wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, rather than to become unified with the Republic of Ireland.

Another purpose of the ongoing attack was to make it difficult for IRA and Sinn Fein members to decommission weapons, as was required as part of the Good Friday Agreement. With IRA members and Sinn Fein members the target of attacks, a need was created for the groups to maintain weapons to defend themselves. This put a strain on the process of decommissioning weapons. The decommissioning of weapons remained a public issue throughout 1999, with the process still not complete by the end of 1999. In the Christmas message given by Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson, he stressed the importance of decommissioning all weapons, called it an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement. The actions of the Orange Volunteers were considered to be part of the reason that the IRA had not decommissioned their weapons earlier. This was considered to be the intention of the Orange Volunteers, with the IRA's failure to decommission weapons creating concerns about the legitimacy of the Good Friday Agreement and the willingness of groups such as the IRA and Sinn Fein to abide by the terms of the agreement.

In June 1999, the Orange Order was again banned from marching down Garvaghy Road in Portadown. The Guardian reported that the Orange Volunteers and another Northern Ireland loyalist group known as the Red Hand Defenders, issued a joint statement describing how they would put all service units on standby, warning that the politicians and the religious leaders would suffer the consequences of selling out Northern Ireland. The Orange Volunteers referred to the need for the culture and history of the Protestants to be protected.

In September 2000, the Orange Volunteers issued a ceasefire. They have not since claimed responsibility for any attacks. In 2001, they issued what they called a "back to war" statement, where they claimed that the ceasefire was under review and stated that they may return to war soon. In this statement, they described Sinn Fein and the IRA as winning at the moment, stating that terrorism was being rewarded. They also stated that they did not want to use violence but would do so in defense of democracy. They warned that if they returned to war, their targets would be the tourist industry of Southern Ireland. This included mentioning the possibility of planting a dozen bombs in bins in Dublin. Despite this claim of possibly returning to war, there were no known incidents involving the group between 2001 until 2005.


In his book titled Loyalists: War and Peace in Northern Ireland, Peter Taylor offers an inside look at the loyalist groups of Northern Ireland. The book shows that the loyalists believe that they are protecting their country of Ulster. With this perspective, the loyalists consider themselves acting as part of a war against what they consider terrorists groups of the Republic of Ireland, including the IRA, Sinn Fein, and the Provisional IRA. This shows that the loyalists consider their actions as justified political actions, rather than criminal actions. Statements made by the Orange Volunteers where they refer to protecting their country support that this is their perspective. In Peter Taylor's book, the history of Northern Ireland is presented, which shows a long history of conflict between Northern Ireland and groups within the Republic of Ireland. This provides background to the current conflict and helps to explain the perspectives of members of the Orange Volunteers.

Other sources refer to the Orange Volunteers as a threat to peace in Northern Ireland. In an article titled "Loyalist Splinter Threat," BBC News described paramilitary groups, including the Orange Volunteers, as a major threat to lasting peace in Northern Ireland. The article also describes the groups as a threat to loyalist groups maintaining ceasefires and quotes Progressive Unionist Party spokesperson David Ervine stating his concerns that the major aim of the active loyalist groups is to force the Provisional IRA to end their ceasefire. This could lead to loyalist groups within Northern Ireland being forced off their own ceasefires, potentially returning Northern Ireland to a state of violence. This concern is shared by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, chief constable of the RUC. In a BBC News article titled "Loyalists 'Aim to Create Peace Crisis,'" Flanagan described the Orange Volunteers as acting specifically to provoke reactions from other groups as a means of destabilizing the peace process.


While the actions of the Orange Volunteers strained the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement has continued to be implemented. In October 2001, the IRA began decommissioning their weapons, suggesting that the peace process is moving forward.

The Orange Volunteers have not been known to be active since the spate of incidents in 1998 and 1999. The 2001 statement warning of future attacks was not followed by any known incidents. However, the Orange Volunteers remain on the lists of illegal terrorist organization for the United Kingdom and the United States of America.



Taylor, Peter. Loyalists: War and Peace in Northern Ireland. New York: TV Books, 2004.

Tonge, Jonathan. Northern Ireland: Conflict & Change. New York: Longman, 2002.

Web sites

BBC News. "Loyalist Splinter Threat." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

BBC News. "Loyalists 'Aim to Create Peace Crisis.'" 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

Council on Foreign Relations. "Irish Loyalist Paramilitary Groups." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

The Guardian. "Ulster Braced for Week of Orange Unrest." 〈,,339130,00.html〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Terrorist Group Profile: Orange Volunteers (OV)." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).


Irish Republican Army

Provisional IRA

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