We owe it to ex-sol­diers to stand by them now

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - Andy Allen Andy Allen is an Ul­ster Union­ist MLA for East Belfast and a for­mer Royal Ir­ish sol­dier

The Ul­ster Union­ist Party has con­sis­tently stated that no­body should be above the law re­gard­less of who they are and that it must ap­ply equally to all.

In terms of legacy, we are al­ready in a po­si­tion of im­bal­ance. Ter­ror­ists have been able to avail of early re­lease from prison; 16 re­ceived Royal Pre­rog­a­tives of Mercy or Royal Par­dons for pre­med­i­tated crime in­clud­ing mur­der be­tween 1998 and 2002, and over 200 peo­ple were also given so-called ‘let­ters of com­fort’ by the Blair Govern­ment, and these were suf­fi­cient to ei­ther halt court ac­tion against, or pre­vent the ar­rest of, a num­ber of high-pro­file IRA sus­pects.

There is a cer­tain irony in the fact that un­der Tony Blair, the Labour Govern­ment handed out al­most 200 let­ters to pro­vide repub­li­can ter­ror sus­pects with a vir­tual amnesty, yet the Min­istry of De­fence has is­sued al­most 1,400 let­ters to for­mer sol­diers in re­la­tion to in­quests, on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­quiries and in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

What kind of coun­try is it, which tries to par­don the ter­ror­ists who tried to mur­der its sol­diers, yet at the same time tries to drag its vet­er­ans through the courts?

Given the out­raged re­ac­tion from Sinn Fein to the ar­rest of John Downey, and their much pub­li­cised com­mit­ment to equal­ity, one would ex­pect them to be equally op­posed to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of sol­diers re­gard­ing his­toric of­fences.

The re­al­ity is that when it comes to any in­ves­ti­ga­tion that in­volves the ar­rest of a sus­pect with con­nec­tions to the IRA or Sinn Fein, repub­li­cans re­act with dis­be­lief and in­dig­na­tion bor­der­ing on fury.

With re­gard to the re­cent ar­rest of John Downey we heard the re­frain — ‘he is a friend of the peace process.’

Gerry Kelly (far left) — Sinn Fein’s polic­ing spokesman — ac­cused the po­lice, the Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice and the govern­ment of be­ing ‘vin­dic­tive’ and act­ing in ‘bad faith’ and Done­gal TD Pearse Do­herty said Downey’s ar­rest was ‘out of or­der’.

Strangely enough, Sinn Fein have no such mis­giv­ings when for­mer sol­diers such as Den­nis Hutch­ings (left) are ar­rested.

Repub­li­cans de­mand truth, jus­tice and in­quiries ga­lore when it comes to the ac­tions of the po­lice and Army, but are strangely ret­i­cent when it comes to the litany of de­lib­er­ate crimes of the IRA.

For three decades the po­lice and Army stood bravely be­tween ter­ror­ists and the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, and paid a very high price. Some 503 of their num­ber lost their lives and many thou­sands more still bear the phys­i­cal and men­tal scars. Many of those de­ployed here are now well into their 70s.

They served as part of the law­ful forces of the State in con­trast to the il­le­gal ter­ror gangs they faced. We must never for­get that ev­ery sin­gle ter­ror­ist act — repub­li­can or loy­al­ist — was un­law­ful, whereas the State and its ac­tors does have the right to use le­git­i­mate force.

It is hypocrisy for Sinn Fein to de­mand the ar­rest of any sol­diers sus­pected of wrong do­ing, yet re­fus­ing to coun­te­nance the ar­rest of those they re­gard as friends.

The Ul­ster Union­ist Party is clear. The law must be ap­plied fairly and equally.

We owe it to those who once de­fended us — and to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions — to stand by them now, and not to ac­qui­esce in an im­bal­anced process that will re­write the his­tory of the Trou­bles and min­imise or ig­nore the crimes of the ter­ror­ists re­spon­si­ble, no mat­ter what Sinn Fein may say.

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