Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Good riddance to a sectarian militia

Daily Ireland:

That the response to the announcement that locally-based units of the RIR are to be disbanded was split perfectly along sectarian lines is perhaps the most telling comment on the regiment.

The RIR, and previously the UDR, was not just perceived by unionists as “their” regiment, it was their regiment in every sense of the word. That one fact on its own would be enough to ensure that it has no place in the changing political and security environment, but there are many more reasons why those of us who want to leave the past behind and move ahead towards a brighter future welcome the fact that the regiment in the North is to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The most charitable view that nationalists held of the UDR/RIR was that it was an out-of-control sectarian rabble; just as likely, however, they were inclined to view it as a murderous militia raised to occupy the shadowy no-man’s-land between the forces of the British state and the loyalist paramilitaries.

The Hunt Report recommended the establishment of the UDR as a locally-recruited military back-up for the RUC after the B-Specials were stood down thanks to their fearsome reputation as an irreformably sectarian band of thugs and bigots. Not only did the UDR take on that dark mantle, they targeted the Catholic population of the North on a regular and systematic basis to the extent that the sight of a revolving red torch on a darkened road at night would strike terror in the heart of any Catholic. It is no exaggeration to say that the UDR was viewed as comrades-in-arms of the UDA and the UVF.

There has been much talk since yesterday’s announcement of the “few bad apples” who tarnished the reputation of the UDR/RIR. In fact, the documented number of cases of regiment members engaged in sectarian violence – those cases processed by the courts – is too high on its own to sustain the “bad apples” theory; and, more importantly, does anyone seriously believe that every UDR man who ever turned a gun or a bomb on innocent Catholics was brought to book for it? The reality is, of course, that for every “bad apple” who ended up in court, there were countless more going about their dread business without let or hindrance. Far from a few maggots drilling holes in the odd apple, the orchard was infested.

Given the current vogue for demands for apologies in the light of an eventful five days, you would think there’s a strong case for the regiment to say sorry for what it’s done. Instead, what we’re hearing is a lot of revisionist guff about 30 years of brave and loyal service. History, of course, will reflect the truth. It will not judge the regiment unfairly, but accurately: that the UDR/RIR was, like the B-Specials, an impediment to peace that had to be got out of the way. Most nationalists have little interest in hearing the word “sorry” from the RIR brass – a simple and final “goodbye” is more than enough.

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