Belfast Telegraph

Belfast unionists want memorial window for bomb squad

By Rebecca Black

The courage of the Army bomb squad has united unionists at Belfast City Hall, with the DUP and UUP coming together to call for the unit to be honoured with a stained glass window.

DUP councillor Aileen Graham made the proposal calling for the council to acknowledge the "vital role" played by the soldiers of the unit, which investigates every suspect device found in Northern Ireland.

The dangerous work has been carried out by the same unit since the start of the Troubles - 321 Explosives Ordnance Disposal Company, Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

They have lost 20 members during this work. Each is remembered on a memorial stone at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn and at the memorial garden in Palace Barracks, Holywood.

Ms Graham's proposal was seconded by UUP councillor Peter Johnston.

It also pays tribute to how the "sacrifice and dedication" of the unit has saved many lives and "helped preserve our city from those who would physically destroy it".

The motion calls for the council to commission a stained glass window at an appropriate location in the City Hall.

It was passed without debate at a meeting of the full council last night and will now be considered by the Strategic Policy and Resources committee.

Mr Johnston said he hopes it will not meet any opposition from councillors.

"It would be a disgrace," he said. "Those people didn't have any offensive or defensive role, they were there just to protect life."

The UUP man explained that he and Ms Graham agreed to back the proposal because they are both military veterans.

Mr Johnston served for more than 30 years, including with the UDR and the Royal Irish.

He quoted from Winston Churchill during his speech last night, saying "never was so much owed by so many to so few" as he paid tribute to the bomb disposal officers.

"Having served for many years I know very well what they did, their sacrifice and their huge courage," he said.

"This honour for EOD at City Hall is long overdue. We owe them so much."

Despite the ceasefires ATO remains highly active in Northern Ireland.

Last summer the Belfast Telegraph revealed the bomb disposal experts had dealt with 19 viable devices and 20 hoaxes by the end of August 2016.

In 2015, the figures were 37 and 36 respectively. In 2014, there were 21 viable and 33 hoax devices whilst in 2013, ATO was called out to deal with 55 viable devices and 73 hoaxes.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph that the unit may be called out for a range of incidents, including hoaxes, false alerts or significant instances.

Earlier this year it emerged that the Army also carried out dozens of controlled explosions concerning the 2,4 dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH) chemical at schools in Northern Ireland last October and November.

A total of 55 schools were affected, including Grosvenor Grammar in Belfast, Ballymena Academy, Loreto Grammar in Omagh, Enniskillen Integrated College, De La Salle College in Belfast and Dungannon's Integrated College.

Across the UK the bomb squad was called out 594 times to schools or colleges from October to December.

The chemical at the centre of the alert - 2,4-DNPH - is used in chemistry lessons.

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