The editorial of today’s Belfast Telegraph, a British Unionist newspaper, issues a cri de coeur in defence of the British Forces in Ireland during the forty odd years of the conflict in the north-east of the country, and in particular the infamous Parachute Regiment. On the 30th of January 1972 soldiers of that British Army unit attacked a civil rights march in the Irish city of Derry murdering 14 civilians, men and teenage boys, some of whom were finished off with gunshots at close range as they lay helpless on the ground.
Now the editorial team of the largest Unionist paper in the country wishes it to be known that:
“A significant factor in Sinn Fein’s acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement was the release from prison of Irish Republican terrorists.
Today, with shameless ease, Sinn Fein calls those who were released, not criminals but ‘soldiers’.
Yet we now have a situation of real soldiers potentially being prosecuted for murder. Bloody Sunday was, without contradiction, a dark day for Her Majesty’s armed forces. David Cameron personally apologised to the nation.
The Irish Republican so-called soldiers were given release on licence from prison as part of the Good Friday Agreement. In the same vein, are not these men from the Parachute Regiment entitled to have promises made to them about no prosecution honoured?
In the Paras’ defence, it has been said that Saville produced no clear evidence of murder but, instead, there was evidence of badly-led soldiers ‘panicking and losing control’. It has also been said that senior army officers in command should face charges.
Can you ever imagine the day when the Provo commanders are brought to trial on evidence of directing terrorism and issuing orders to go out and terrorise and brutalise innocent people? Well, they did, didn’t they, and they haven’t gone away.”
So in defending the actions of the members of the British Army on Bloody Sunday the argument is made that they were badly led and that the stress of operations caused them to panic and lose control? Therefore no blame can be laid at their door for any resulting deaths or injuries incurred by the civilian population?
Perhaps we should apply that same criteria to other operations by other military forces in the northern war? Perhaps in defending the civilian casualties sometimes inflicted by the Irish Republican Army we can argue that its members were sometimes poorly led and that during the stress of operations they too panicked and lost control?
As for imagining the day when “Provo commanders” are brought to trial? Er, I think the good folk at the BelTel might find that they were brought to trial, and often served lengthy periods of captivity as a consequence of that. Along with some 20,000 others.
Now, how many British soldiers or paramilitary police officers have served time in prison for murder in Ireland since the conflict erupted in 1966? Four? Five? Yet over 51% of all those killed by the British Forces between 1966 and 2005 were non-combatant civilians. That is innocent (Irish) men, (Irish) women and (Irish) children.
What was that? A hierarchy of victims, you say?