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.