Operation Banner – fifty years on

This opinion piece was sent in by a reader:

On August 14th 1969, at the request of the Unionist government, British troops were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland in an attempt to control the escalating riots in the province. This operation, entitled Operation Banner, involved the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, MI5 and the British Special Branch.

The Ulster Defence Regiment, (UDR), a locally recruited and mainly volunteer unit, whose members lived and worked among the Catholic and Protestant communities they were trying to protect, along with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, (RUC), were also on the front line and all organisations involved took horrendous casualties.

 

The GSM (1962) with Northern Ireland clasp.

Between 14th August 1969 and 31st July 1997, 1441 British military personnel were killed and countless others continue to suffer from the physical and mental scars of Operation Banner. It was in all reality, a vicious civil war but history refers to this period as ‘The Troubles.’

During ‘The Troubles’ approximately 3,600 people would lose their lives, many of them Irish Catholics murdered by the republicans themselves, until a peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement was signed by Tony Blair on April 10th 1998. This one-sided agreement gave all convicted terrorists an amnesty and many convicted of the most terrible murders were released from jails across N Ireland and the UK mainland, safe in the knowledge they would never return to jail for their crimes. Sadly, the same was not applied to British military personnel.  Veterans of this conflict who were acting under orders, are now being persecuted in a politically motivated witch-hunt some forty or more years later. These Veterans have already been cleared of any crime in investigations by both the military and civil police, and also by the Saville inquiry. Veterans groups recently held many protests and rallies with coverage in social media resulting in much public sympathy. More protests are planned.

Little interest in Veterans protests has been shown by the UK government and no coverage of Veterans protest events has ever been aired by the BBC, although Mr Boris Johnson declared to end prosecutions of N Ireland Veterans. The trial of the first Veteran, known as ‘Soldier F,’ is due to commence in Londonderry next month in what is essentially a ‘diplock court’, with a pro-Republican judge and no jury. The Northern Ireland Office abolished diplock courts in 2007. This trial is still scheduled to go ahead, despite the recent comments of our Prime Minister.

N Ireland lives in relative peace at the moment, with representatives of the Irish Republicans and the Ulster Unionists using political means at national and European levels to achieve their aims. Although both sides have renounced violence, it is an extremely fragile peace.

Hard-line paramilitary groups still exist on both sides in N Ireland and terrorist incidents, such as the shooting of journalist Lyra McKee, are sadly on the increase. The paramilitary groups have been mainly operating in areas of organised crime since the Good Friday Agreement, such as drugs, weapon smuggling, prostitution and protection etc. It would appear the threat of a ‘hard border’ in the Brexit negotiations could kick the violence off again. Personally, I hope this never happens as far too many lives have been lost in the Province already. I don’t think the people of N Ireland will stand for it again.

I served in N Ireland several times between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s and lost some good friends. This morning at 11.00, I stood at Bude war memorial to honour my fallen comrades.

Lest we forget…

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