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12 June 2003 Edition

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Disband the RIR


This week, under pressure from the Ulster Unionist Party, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon dismissed 'speculation' about the future of the RIR and claimed that no decision had been made to disband the regiment's home battalions.

Hoon refuted speculation that the British Army intended to disband RIR units once demilitarisation proposals in the British and Irish government's Joint Declaration were implemented.

"That decision will not arise until the security threat has receded to the point when the police no longer routinely need operational support from the army," said Hoon.

But Sinn Féin and the SDLP have already indicated that it was their understanding that the RIR battalions would be stood down and have accused the British government of bowing to unionist rejectionism.

Once again, the peace process appears to have been stalled or perhaps even abandoned to save David Trimble from facing down anti-Agreement unionists from within his own party ranks.

Last week, Jeffery Donaldson, a former part time member of the UDR, defied his party leader and called a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council at which he plans to scupper the Joint Declaration by claiming that a vote in favour is a vote for the destruction of the RIR.

Trimble immediately capitulated and demanded reassurances from the British government. If the 'Home Service' were disbanded, he said, "it would be worse than Patten." And the UUP leader then declared that he would not "lift a finger" in support of the Joint Declaration unless the British government gave assurances on the RIR's three battalions.

Commenting after UUP leader David Trimble's meeting with the British minister, Sinn Fein's spokesperson on policing and justice, Gerry Kelly described the RIR as "first and foremost a unionist militia."

"Sinn Fein's position has been both clear and consistent. We want the removal of all British forces, including the RIR. This conflict resolution process must involve the removal of the RIR," said Kelly.

"The RIR/UDR are part of the problem. Many nationalists, victims of the UDR and RIR, regard David Trimble's demand as a cynical disregard of their suffering. It is totally unacceptable to nationalists," he said.

The murder regiment


As locally recruited pro-British rule militias, the RUC, B Specials, UDR and RIR had at least five things in common. They were over 90% Protestant and 100% unionist in terms of personnel. They ensured continuation of the status quo by force of arms, violence and repression.

They were feared, hated and resented by northern nationalists, almost exclusively the targets for violence and repression. They often acted as training camps for loyalist death squads with whom they continued to collude. And finally, they enjoyed uncritical British support despite their brutality, sectarianism and the many associated atrocities.

In this, they are not alone. The British state has a long history (India, Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean) of recruiting local militias to do their dirty work for them.

In 1970, Churchill's B Specials were disbanded but only to rejoin en masse the newly former UDR, sometimes entire battalions simply changed their name. In 1992, the UDR was renamed the RIR and amalgamated with another smaller regiment of that name.

Here are just some of the reasons the regiment, in whatever guise, is unacceptable to nationaists:

James and Gertrude Devlin were driving with their 17-year-old daughter from Coalisland to their home in Edendork, County Tyrone. In the laneway leading up to their house a UDR soldier, accompanied by loyalist paramilitaries, waved the Devlins' car down before opening fire. Riddled with bullets, James and Gertrude died at the scene. Their daughter, despite serious injures, escaped and survived.
The Miami Showband, at the time one of Ireland's best known groups, had just played at a Banbridge dance and were on their way home when the minibus they were travelling in was stopped by a UDR roadblock. The musicians were made to get out of the vehicle and stand in line beside a ditch. When a bomb being planted on the minibus by a member of the gang exploded prematurely, the gang opened fire killing three band members and left another for dead. A fifth, who had been blown into a bush by the explosion, managed to hide and escape.
Colm McCartney and John Farmer were returning from an All-Ireland semi final GAA match in Croke Park when the vehicle they were travelling in was ordered to stop by a UDR/RIR patrol. The two friends were later found dead with gunshot wounds to the back of their heads.
Adrian Carroll, the brother of a Sinn Féin councillor, was walking home from work when he was confronted by a gunman in an alleyway near Abbey Street in Armagh City. Adrian was shot three times and died a short time later. Four members of the UDR were later charged and convicted of the murder. Civilian eyewitness placed the UDR patrol at the scene of the killing and the prosecution claimed that one of the UDR soldiers had dressed in civilian clothing to carry out the shooting. After a lengthy political campaign by prominent unionist politicians, the court of appeal released three.
John Davey, a Sinn Féin councillor, was driving home along Quarry Road after attending Magherafelt District Council when he was shot dead. The car in which the dead man had been travelling was stationary with the engine switched off at the time of the killing. The Davey family believe John, who was aware that his life was under threat from unionist paramilitaries, would have only stopped his car at a UDR checkpoint.
Loughlin Maginn was at home with his family when two gunmen burst into his County Down house and shot his dead. His wife and four children were in the house at the time of the killing. Before his death, Maginn had received a number of death threats from the UDR/RIR. After British Intelligence documents were posted on a wall by the UDA identifying Maginn as a target, two UDR/RIR soldiers were convicted with another man of the killing.

But for every killing directly involving the UDR/RIR, there have been dozens more involving UDR/RIR collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Despite the fact that thousands of documents containing the personal details of republicans and nationalists have been passed by the UDR/RIR to loyalist death squads, there have been few convictions. An exception to the rule was Joanne Garvin, a UDR soldier convicted of passing photographs and information to the UVF.

UDR/RIR involvement in murder has not always been restricted to passing information. On numerous occasions the weapons used by loyalist gunmen have originated with the UDR/RIR. In such cases the official euphemism is to regard the weapon as 'stolen'.

A weapon used in the killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane came from the RIR/UDR. A soldier was later convicted in relation to the 'theft' from Palace Barracks but only after the Gardaí apprehended him with weaponry across the border.

The RIR/UDR has one of the worse records for criminal behaviour throughout the entire British Army. Hundreds of its soldiers have been forced to resign or have been discharged following criminal behaviour, including assault, sexual assault and rape, the use of illicit drugs and theft.

In the most recent incident, RIR Colonel Tim Collins faced allegations by a US Army officer that he abused civilians while in Iraq. Such allegations came as no surprise to northern nationalists; members of the RIR/UDR have routinely abused civilians in the North for years.

But even more fundamentally than the sectarian and brutal history of this regiment, as Brian Feeney pointed out in Wednesday's Irish News, is that "the RIR's existence means the British administration endorses the unionist community's definition of itself as the official community, literally an arm of the British state, while the nationalist community is a deviant community with a secondary status in society".


Adams calls for Joint Declaration action

Rejectionists cannot veto change

"The internal politics of unionism cannot disguise the deep crisis in the political process. Neither should it distract attention from the failure of the two governments to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement." This was the message from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on Tuesday, as he formally opened the new Sinn Féin office in Omagh.

"Many of the issues which have to be dealt with are issues of rights and entitlements. They are summarised in the Joint Declaration. It is clear that unionism is opposed to the Joint Declaration, It is also clear, over a month after the publication of the Joint Declaration, that the governments have done little about implementing it.

"They have to move beyond the rhetoric. Repeated pledges to bring in Irish language rights, a Bill of Rights, to fulfil the equality and human rights agenda, and much more, are no substitute for action.

"The indefinite cancellation by the British government of the elections has exacerbated an already totally unsatisfactory situation. It has encouraged the rejectionists within unionism to believe they can exercise a veto over change. They cannot."

The event was also attended by MPs Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew, Assembly member Barry McElduff and many of the 15 Sinn Féin Councillors elected to Omagh and Strabane Councils.


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