Prosecuting Old Soldiers in Northern Ireland

Why don’t the people of Northern Ireland protest against these attempts to prosecute British Army pensioners?  Apart from the injustice, it risks destabilising a fragile peace?  So here’s why they should:

We’re told the Republican community in Northern Ireland require justice for what they believe to have been crimes committed by British soldiers. These prosecutions appear to ignore the fact that a fundamental part of the Good Friday Agreement (by which peace returned to Northern Ireland) was the drawing of a line under the killings.

This drawing of lines allowed former members of the IRA to become politicians. Significantly, it enabled a lawyer who is said to have represented IRA murderers, to become Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecutor.

Of course the IRA continues to exist – how could it not? Furthermore, it retains a number of old scores it wishes to settle. Members of the Parachute Regiment are pretty high on this list – having been notably successful during their total of 24 years 6 months serving in Northern Ireland.

Such retribution will strengthen what little support the IRA currently receives from the Republican community. The IRA returns as a bringer of social justice – as it claimed to be way back in the Troubles.

No bombs or Armalites are required from the IRA to exact this retribution. This is a straight-forward ballot-box fight between politicians.

And only a few seventy-year old former paratroopers will be affected. It’s therefore not something the British government is likely to bother with.

The British Army was sent originally to Northern Ireland (by the British government in 1969) to protect the Republican communities from extremist Protestant activities. Once this had been achieved, the British Government’s mistake was not to have withdrawn the Army.

In those early days, one of my own commando regiment colleagues was shot in the chest by the IRA while patrolling a Republican area. He was saved from further bullets by local women coming out of their houses to tend to him as the firefight raged.

Two decades later, a Republican told one of my patrols that he’d run when challenged because he thought we were Ulster Defence Regiment – local Protestant part-time soldiers. Members of this UDR unit had allegedly murdered a number of local IRA “players”. This being a very small town, just as the IRA “players” were known, the people in this “hit squad” were known too. It made sense for anyone from the Republican part of town to run from people in military uniforms.

People in that small town remember everything: who the players were, who they killed, tortured and maimed, and where they live today. The players know the locations of the remaining bodies, and their former quartermasters know where the weapons are buried.

They all still live together. This is as they’d always done, in a repressed simmering version of the hatred that has always characterised that small town.

Whereas a couple of elderly former paratroopers (from outside these close knit communities) being investigated – then maybe being put on trial, doesn’t affect any of them. There might be a Bushmill-fuelled fulmination in the Protestant Rugby Club, and the Gaelic Football Club might raise a celebratory glass of Jamesons.

But nobody’s going to riot about it. With no expensive damage to property in the offing, injuries to the police or public, who cares?

But – apparently – prosecuting soldiers for these alleged crimes is necessary to preserve the Peace Agreement… OK… meaning that the spectre of riots and overt terrorist activity could return if these prosecutions do not take place…?

So to be clear, this means that today, forty years on, a handful of elderly British soldiers are being forced out of retirement to – yet again – keep the Northern Irish from hurting each other? Really?

The British government ordered them in. But now it won’t help them. So how about some of the fair-thinking people in Northern Ireland mounting a protest?

That sounds hippyishly fanciful, doesn’t it? (And these days I have reverted back to my hippyish roots.)

But back in the depths of the hatred of those dark days, some Catholic women saved one of our guys from being killed by the IRA. I can only think that this came from their sense of humanity and fair play.

My own experience of the Northern Irish (both Republican and Protestant) is of the most welcoming and generous people you could wish for. But they are a people plagued and haunted by the past, who need time and peace to reconcile themselves to the future.

Re-opening all the files of all the crimes IRA, UVF, UDR, RUC, military etc, could never bring comfort to all who’ve been affected.  And doing that would end the fragile peace,  bringing the current (on-going) so-called Dissident Irish Republican Campaign to the fore. Nobody wants that.

All alleged crimes by soldiers were investigated at the time. Some soldiers were convicted and jailed. The others, including these re-opened cases, were rejected by the prosecutors of the time.  That should have been the end of it.

This is now time for the magnanimity of the fair-minded majority  – who’ve enjoyed the peace since 1998,  to step forward and say “Enough truly is enough…”

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