25 November 1999 Edition

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Murphy blasts ``sick joke''

Sinn Féin's Newry and Armagh Assembly member, Conor Murphy, has branded the presentation of a peace prize to the Royal Irish Regiment (formerly known as the Ulster Defence Regiment) as a ``sick joke''.

The 8th (County Armagh and County Tyrone) Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, which was renamed after the merger of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Rangers, is to be presented with ``The Wilkinson Sword of Peace'' in the Armagh Council Offices on Friday 26 November 1999. The Wilkinson Sword company regularly awards the prize to a branch of the British military.

That the RIR are to receive a peace prize will be a particularly bitter pill for nationalists to swallow, given that regiment's role in terrorising the nationalist community.

The track record of the UDR/RIR does not make for pretty reading. They have been involved in drunken brawls, sectarian murders, sexual assaults and robberies.

That the 8th Battalion, based in Drumadd Barracks in Armagh City has been chosen to receive a peace award is even more distressing, given that this battalion has housed some of the worst that the regiment has to offer.

In 1974, two UDR members were charged with bombing incidents which were connected to the UVF. In 1975, another two were jailed for bombing a Catholic bar in Dungannon. In 1976, UDR member Derek Kennedy was jailed for burning a Catholic school.

Probably the most infamous incident involving members of the 8th Battalion was the murder of 24-year-old Adrian Carroll in November 1983. Carroll was shot dead by a lone gunman with his murder being claimed by the ``Protestant Action Force''. At the time of the murder, Carroll's brother, Noel, said: ``The Protestant Action Force consists of off-duty members of the crown forces.''

It was not long before he was proved right but with one exception; his brother's killers were not off duty.

Neil Latimer, Noel Bell, James Hagen and Alfred Allen were all UDR members when they were convicted of killing Adrian Carroll. Three were subsequently acquitted, but Latimer's conviction stands.

Sinn Féin member Peter Corrigan, also from Armagh City, was shot dead by the PAF in 1982, a killing many believe was the work of UDR men and in the same year, Anthony Harker was shot dead by a UDR patrol. His killing came after years of harassment, which he had dared to speak out against, at the hands of the UDR.

Conor Murphy was particularly scathing of the SDLP, whose Mayor of Armagh, Councillor Tom Canavan, sent out the invitations.

``This affair also raises questions for the SDLP. I'd like to ask the SDLP what their position is towards the RIR? Do they believe they deserve a peace award?'' asked Murphy.

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