Britain Moves Towards Amnesty For War Crimes By Its Forces In Ireland

As I predicted back in March, the United Kingdom is slowly moving towards a general amnesty for all members of the British Forces who served with the country’s counterinsurgency campaign in the UK-administered north-east Ireland from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. Despite the catalogue of war crimes carried out by Britain’s military and paramilitary contingents in the disputed region, from civilian massacres to summary executions, the lobbying of former generals, politicians and the right-wing press in London seems to have succeeded in ensuring the likely granting of legal indemnity from prosecution. Henry McDonald in the Guardian newspaper reports that an influential parliamentary committee has recommended that:

“Soldiers and police officers who served during the Troubles in Northern Ireland should not be prosecuted in relation to historical killings and torture…

The House of Commons defence select committee said a de facto amnesty granted to republican and loyalist paramilitaries under the 1998 Good Friday agreement should be extended to army and police veterans involved in killings and other incidents in the Troubles.

It wants the next British government to introduce an amnesty for police and troops who served in the region between 1969 and 1998.

Amnesty International said the findings were a betrayal of victims of state violence.

The MPs want this de facto amnesty to be extended to former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.”

The article fails to point out that the “amnesty” negotiated between the Republican Movement and the United Kingdom in the peace process of the 1990s was contingent on individual activists having served a minimum of two years in detention. However the British government has since reneged on that deal and is now actively pursuing former guerrilla fighters through the courts. In doing so it is risking everything that has been achieved over the last two decades while hoping to assuage the tribal grudges of those at home unable to come to terms with the country’s failure to defeat the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the so-called Troubles.

Of course, it can be pointed out that during the conflict itself more than 10,000 volunteers or citizen-soldiers of the IRA spent years as political prisoners and prisoners-of-war in jails across Ireland and the United Kingdom. In contrast only a handful of British soldiers were ever prosecuted by the UK authorities for criminal activities and even fewer served time in prison. In the infamous 1983 case of Ian Thain, the infantryman convicted of murdering unarmed civilian Thomas Reilly, a well-known road manager for the bands Spandau Ballet, The Jam and Depeche Mode, the private served less than twenty-two months of a “life sentence” in jail before rejoining his regiment. And with his military salary back-payed on top of a promotion. That is what the British called justice in their legacy colony on the island of Ireland.

However, aside from the case mentioned above, what other historical crimes are the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom being granted immunity from? Let us examine this recent report from the Irish News on a series of ongoing police investigations into the activities of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) during the 1980s and ’90s. The UDR was a British Army militia, officially a frontline unit, notorious throughout the conflict for its participation in terrorist attacks against the local Irish civilian population. However it was not until the emergence of the peace process that the rogue regiment was brought to heel by the government in London, being subsumed into another unit in 1992 as part of overtures to the Republican Movement. Connla Young reports that four British soldiers:

…were arrested and questioned in relation to the murder of a Catholic man in Co Tyrone almost 30 years ago…

Tommy Casey (57) was shot dead by the UVF at the home of a friend near Cookstown in October 1990.

An Historical Enquiries Team report recently handed to his family confirms that four members of the UDR were questioned about the killing.

In recent years it has emerged that members of the regiment were also questioned about other murders in the Mid-Ulster area carried out around this time.

The fact that the killers did not bring a getaway car but instead used the victim’s own vehicle to escape has further fuelled suspicion of security force involvement.

It is unusual for people involved in paramilitary activity not to provide their own means of escape.

It was also revealed that between 1991 and 1993 the RUC investigated links between the Portadown UFF, UVF and UDR.

It has also emerged that a local man claimed to see five RUC cars and overheard a conversation on his carphone on the night of the shooting including the remark “There’s fog in Moveagh, the roads are clear, do a good job tonight boys”.

A VZ58 automatic rifle used in the attack has been linked to 17 murders across east Tyrone and north Armagh between 1988 and 1994.

The Czech-made gun, which was part of a batch smuggled into the north with the help of British military intelligence, was recovered after three men were arrested in Loughgall, Co Armagh in May 1993.

The general amnesty recommended by the parliamentary committee in Westminster will ensure that historical murders like the one above will never see a proper investigation. It will double-down on the unacknowledged immunity granted by the UK to its soldiers, police officers and officials in the north of Ireland for the last forty years.

Interestingly, which organisation reduced the murderous activities of pro-UK terror gangs in mid-Ulster, in the 1990s? It was not the British Army, nor the sectarian paramilitary police of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), now disbanded in disgrace. Again, Connla Young reports for the Irish News:

A deadly UVF gang thought to include several members of the UDR called a halt to its campaign following a secret Troubles meeting with republicans.

Sources say the Mid Ulster-based group decided to end its activities after a member was killed by the IRA in the early 1990s.

A relative requested a meeting with republicans through a Protestant clergyman and told them they would stop their killing.

The UVF men are suspected of involvement in the murder of several Catholics in the Mid-Ulster area during the late 1980s and early ’90s.

It is believed the republican representatives gave no assurances or made any deals at the meeting, which was being monitored at a distance by other republicans.

However, informed sources say that after the meeting there was noticeable decrease in the activity of the loyalist gang.

The UVF unit, whose members were based in a rural part of Mid-Ulster, was one of two operating in the area at the time.

Many of the murders carried out by loyalists in Mid-Ulster around this time involved weapons smuggled into the north by British agent Brian Nelson.

It is believed by some that these weapons made their way to the UVF via Ulster Resistance, which received a share of the Nelson weapons haul.

It is understood that while members of the UDR remained active within the UVF they later came under the direction of former commander Billy Wright when he formed the LVF.

Wright, believed by some to have been a British agent, was shot dead by the INLA in the Maze prison in 1998.

These are the facts of the unsuccessful Dirty War waged by the United Kingdom in Ireland from the late 1960s to the early 2000s, a war the vast majority of the people of Britain are completely ignorant of. The proposed amnesty for soldiers and police officers now favoured in London, and hailed by the metropolitan media, is just more of that same deliberate and wilful ignorance.

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14 comments

  1. Thank you Séamus for another excellent article and for bringing attention to yet another utterly despicable – though predicable – episode in Britain’s long and shameful colonial war-mongering in Ireland which has been such an epic failure. Your other recent excellent articles outline in great detail the extent to which the British state forces murdered with complete immunity over a 30-year period in the North – only the most totally blind and bigoted observers could try to deny this.

    Now, the stage is set to ensure that those who carried out those murders – and those that directed the operatives – will never be investigated.

    When David Cameron, the former British PM of Britain and the British-administered North, announced that a public enquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane could never, ever take place under any circumstances, it is clear that the main reason for this is that the chain of command reached the very, very top offices in the British state – as such a public enquiry would reveal this.

    1. Thanks for that. I’ve always supported a general amnesty, tied to some form of truth commission, but unfortunately that is not what is being suggested here. It seems the closer we get to the truth of Britain’s dirty war the more Downing Street and Westminster wish to bury it.

  2. The BBC have shamelessly promoted the cause of those calling for all investigations into British war crimes to be dropped. I was surprised to see even an SNP spokesman (whose name escapes me) on the BBC Daily Politics show support this campaign to completely absolve British military personnel. One of the arguments constantly trotted out is that because some of these alleged crimes took place decades ago, it would be impossible to come to reliable conclusions about them now. The British (and Irish) media also use this canard to condemn police investigations into child abuse allegations against prominent British establishment figures. Funny how they didn’t take this line when Adams’ brother was accused of sexual abuse, or when Catholic priests were accused of crimes from decades ago. Needless to say I’m not seeking to excuse or downplay the crimes of Adams or of guilty priests, but the double standards are quite nauseating. Leading Unionist hacks like Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph and David Aarronovitch of the Times, have hysterically denounced the British police for even daring to investigate allegations against establishment figures, without offering one iota of hard evidence to justify their contention that these investigations are “hysterical withchunts”.

    And what about Jean McConville? The Anglo-Irish media never get tired of bringing that case up – no to mention the utterly farcical inquiry into alleged “collusion” between members of the Garda and the IRA So the message seems clear: memory loss renders all attempts to investigate historical allegations against servants of the Crown null and void, but is never an issue when allegations relate to Irish men and women.

    1. I saw that Plaid Cyrmu have fallen into line on this as well. It seems that there is no political party in Britain willing to have the truth come out about the Dirty War. They are all readying the blinkers to keep the reputation of the UK inviolate.

    1. Unfortunately true. A general amnesty for all combatants with some sort of international fact-finding or truth commission would sort out all this but the UK is running scared from having any historical examination of the period. It wants the Dirty War well and truly buried and all the main parties in Britain are very public in their support of this position.

  3. Is there any indication that the committee was due to report or have the Tories decided to make this an election issue and go after Corbyn on the IRA? Is it because the Stakeknife issue of spooks recruiting, consuming and disposing of informers one after the other. The credibility of the next increased by outing and murdering the previous informant. It seems to be a general practice in the intelligence world to retire assets that decide to retire from the life, not just the modus operandi of the British. If the investigation is getting too close to the intelligence community that might be motivating the government into this public move.
    We were never going to get the truth from the British willingly, they were always going to fight tooth and nail until everyone involved was in the grave. Thing is, they love to keep their records. Sure weren’t literal miles of Kenyan documents discovered a few years back. The wheel always turns, the evidence always leaks out, there will be a future government in Britain that will eventually face up to the truth. In the meantime we KNOW what happened, what crimes were committed and denied down to this day.
    Perhaps I’m too cynical but with Brexit looking more and more like the dystopia Market Forces these moves are needed to ensure the military and intelligence communities do what needs doing in the challenging times ahead for the Tory government. Remember the end of A Very British Coup.

    1. Erm, not sure how the polldaddy link got in there at all, that looks like a site plugin misbehaving in moderator/moderated mode cuz that’s a javascript library being referenced and it’s been a long while since I’ve crafted js.

  4. I am completely opposed to any amnesty for any murders/crimes committed during the “Troubles.” But, of course, most of the killings during the latter period were not committed by the British or local security forces : 57.8% were the responsibility of Republicans, 29.9% were killed by Loyalists, 9.9% by the combined state forces, the remainder were unknown/unattributed. Noises will be made by Sinn Fein re the recent development, but they are as aware of the statistics as everybody else, they won’t push too hard as questions might then be asked about who was responsible for most of the unsolved murders. No doubt Irish people killed by the army are of no great concern to Tories, but the uncomfortable fact remains that the I.R.A. killed far more Irish people than the state agencies, 639 who, by their own criteria they would have regarded as civilians.

    1. But a far greater percentage of casualties by the British Forces were non-combatant civilians. And casualties by the British Forces cannot be disassociated from casualties by the British proxy forces.

      Taking your figure of 639 civilians killed by (P)IRA that works out over 38 years (1969-2005) as 16 civilian deaths per annum. Some 70% of these occurred in the first decade of the conflict.

      The UK Forces were recording at least 50 deaths per annum during their 6 year deployment in Iraq from 2003-2009 (this precludes civilian deaths in the initial invasion, which was certainly in the hundreds).

      Of course, trading statistics on deaths is awful and one death is one too many. A general amnesty by Ireland and the UK with an international fact-finding commission would bring closure for many families and individuals.

      Westminster and the UK press on the other hand is seeking an amnesty for its troops while continuing to advocate that former volunteers are pursued through the courts.

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