Gary McMichael

Gary McMichael (born 1969)[1] is an Ulster community activist, and retired politician. He was the leader of the short-lived Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) during the Northern Ireland peace process, and was instrumental in organizing the Loyalist ceasefire in The Troubles in 1994.

Gary McMichael
Born1969 (age 5051)
Lisburn, Northern Ireland
Years active1987–2005
Known forLoyalist politician
Notable work
An Ulster Voice (1999)
TitleLeader of the Ulster Democratic Party
PredecessorRay Smallwoods
SuccessorPosition abolished
Political partyUlster Democratic Party
Parent(s)John McMichael
Phyllis McMichael

Early years

McMichael is the eldest son of the John McMichael, a former leader of the Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA). He left school in his native Lisburn in 1985, and began working with the civil service, although he subsequently also worked as a youth worker and an insurance salesman.[2]

He became involved in local protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement soon after it was signed.[3] McMichael joined the Lisburn Club, the local branch of the pan-unionist Ulster Clubs movement that his father had helped to establish, and for a while served as chairman of this branch.[4] John McMichael was killed on 22 December 1987 and Gary McMichael was informed by police when his name was read out over the public address system at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, where he was attending a concert.[5]

In 1988 McMichael became involved with the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party (as the UDP was then known).[6] He served as election co-ordinator for the group and helped to ensure the election of Ken Kerr to Derry City Council in 1989.[7] He was the UDP candidate in the 1990 Upper Bann by-election, when he finished eighth with 600 votes in a contest won by David Trimble.[8] Although he regularly gave political advice to the UDA's controlling Inner Council, he was never a member of the paramilitary organisation, concentrating solely on the political wing.[9]

McMichael became a close ally of Ray Smallwoods, serving his political apprenticeship under the UDP chairman.[10] Smallwoods was killed in 1994 and McMichael succeeded him as UDP leader. Although McMichael roundly condemned the killing of Smallwoods he later conceded that the shooting of Smallwoods, as well as that of Joe Bratty and Raymie Elder soon afterwards, convinced him that a Provisional IRA ceasefire was near as all three had been long-standing targets for the republican group.[11]

UDP leader

As leader of the UDP, McMichael became attached to the Combined Loyalist Military Command, and played a leading role in convincing the CLMC to call a ceasefire in October 1994.[12] When the ceasefire was announced from Fernhill House in Glencairn, McMichael was one of the six, along with UDP colleagues John White and David Adams and Progressive Unionist Party leaders Gusty Spence, "Plum" Smith and Jim McDonald, who delivered the statement confirming the cessation.[12] A few days later McMichael, along with Adams, Spence, Joe English, David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson, took part in a tour of the United States where they presented the loyalist case publicly to a number of bodies.[13] McMichael in particular received widespread coverage after he said in a speech to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy that if the Provisional IRA ceasefire proved legitimate then it was imperative for unionist leaders to hold talks with Sinn Féin, something the Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party were refusing to countenance.[14] He was also part of a loyalist delegation to 10 Downing Street in June 1996 aimed at avoiding the possibility of the cancellation of the CLMC ceasefire.[15]

McMichael became a high-profile figure due to his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process and he led the UDP into the Forum in 1996 from which the Belfast Agreement emerged.[1] McMichael became an enthusiastic advocate of the Agreement, although his views were not always shared by the UDA membership as a whole and the party failed to win any seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.[1] McMichael himself stood in Lagan Valley and only failed to capture one of the six seats by a narrow margin.[16]

Following the killing of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in late 1997, McMichael held a personal meeting with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam in which he convinced her that, to avoid a breach of the ceasefire due to the popularity of Wright, they needed to engage with UDA prisoners. Mowlam herself, as well as McMichael, entered HMP Maze to meet with the paramilitary leaders and after extensive negotiations emerged with an undertaking that they would not sanction retaliation.[17] McMichael, whose position was seen as weakened by some more hawkish members due to his own lack of a track record as a paramilitary, was supported in his efforts by Jackie McDonald, a leading figure within the UDA and close ally of John McMichael.[18]

However, the guarantee was ignored by the UDA West Belfast Brigade, with Stephen McKeag carrying out several retaliatory murders in what proved a blow to McMichael's leadership.[19] Sammy Duddy would later admit that UDA activity in the aftermath of Wright's killing was kept from McMichael and McMichael subsequently claimed that when he went to the Inner Council to appeal to them to respect the ceasefire they told him the UDA was not involved in any of the attacks, even though they were actually being carried out by UDA members.[20]

Leaving politics

Although still a local councillor, McMichael's influence began to wane after the failure of 1998 and with the movement of Johnny Adair towards the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the resulting loyalist feud, he became an increasingly peripheral figure along with the UDP as a whole.[21] As elements within the UDA returned to violence in 1999, using the Red Hand Defenders cover name, McMichael was largely in the dark as to whether or not the UDA were involved.[22] He entered virtual political retirement, concentrating instead on writing a column for Ireland on Sunday and publishing his autobiography, An Ulster Voice, in 1999.[23] He did emerge briefly for negotiations with David Ervine aimed at ending the feuds, although these came to nothing.[24] He was appointed to the Civic Forum for Northern Ireland,[25] but McMichael's career in politics was effectively ended by the collapse of the UDP in 2001.[1] McMichael did not take any role in the Ulster Political Research Group, which assumed the UDP's role as political arm of the UDA, albeit without being a political party. He continued to sit on Lisburn City Council as an independent[26] and did not seek re-election in 2005.[27] He is no longer involved in electoral politics.

In 1998 McMichael started a Lisburn-based Community Organisation, ASCERT – Action on Substances through Community Education and Related Training, aimed at addressing the drug and alcohol issues in the local communities. Working with communities across the Eastern Health Board area ASCERT built a strong reputation as a leader in the delivery of drug and alcohol training programmes. On retiring from politics McMichael became the full-time Director of ASCERT and has nurtured the organisation into the forefront of drug and alcohol training, education, support and youth treatment work in Northern Ireland today.[citation needed]


  1. Biography on CAIN website
  2. Gary McMichael, An Ulster Voice: In Search of Common Ground in Northern Ireland, Roberts Rinehart, 1999, pp. 16–17
  3. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 18
  4. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 19-20
  5. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 26-27
  6. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 32
  7. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 34-35
  8. Westminster By-Election (NI) 17 May 1990
  9. Ian S. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004, p. 191
  10. McMichael, An Ulster Voice, p. 40-41
  11. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty, p. 189
  12. Henry McDonald & Jim Cusack, UDA – Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Penguin Ireland, 2004, p. 274
  13. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 275
  14. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 276
  15. Peter Taylor, Loyalists, London: Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 241
  16. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 303
  17. David Lister & Hugh Jordan, Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company, Mainstream, 2004, pp. 252–255
  18. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty, pp. 214–215
  19. Lister & Jordan, Mad Dog, p. 260
  20. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty, pp. 218–219
  21. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 306
  22. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty, p. 235
  23. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 315
  24. McDonald & Cusack, UDA, p. 340
  25. "Order protest over Civic Forum", BBC News
  26. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty, p. 278
  27. Lisburn City Council Elections 1993 – 2011
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ray Smallwoods
Leader of the Ulster Democratic Party
Party disbanded
Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Regional Member
Forum dissolved