Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's united Ireland 'not safe' for unionists: war hero Beattie weighs into twitter row over 'our soldiers'

It should be no surprise to unionists some republicans have no affinity for British troops here, says O Donnghaile

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein's vision of a united Ireland would be a scary place for unionists, war hero and MLA Doug Beattie has claimed.

He was responding to a tweet by Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile who took issue with UTV's Paul Clark referring to soldiers as "ours".

However, Mr O Donnghaile said he was questioning no one's identity and that the matter had been blown out of proportion.

"I want a united Ireland where we can all assert our own identity," he said. "But that does not mean we all have to conform with one side's view and be some kind of drone. We should be able to discuss these points in a respectful manner and then sit down and have a cup of tea after it - as Paul and I did."

A war of words erupted between the UTV presenter and Sinn Fein politician after the broadcaster referred to "our" soldiers in a tweet promoting a series on Irish troops in Afghanistan.

"Paul ain't speaking for me and many, many other UTV viewers," said the Irish senator.

Among those to respond was Doug Beattie. The Upper Bann MLA was "born in barracks". A son of a Royal Ulster Rifles soldier he has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He won the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery during the invasion of Iraq and the Military Cross while fighting the Taliban.

He took aim at Mr O Donnghaile saying the tweet exposed Sinn Fein's attitude to soldiers as being an "underclass" of people and both they and unionists would not be safe in the republican party's vision of a united Ireland.

"They define everything by what happened in the conflict, they can't look beyond it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The vast majority of people serving in the British military now never set foot in Northern Ireland with a rifle in their hand.  To say this discounts the good they do. Like helping eradicating ebola in Sierra Leone, maintaining peace in Kosovo or Rwanda or defusing a bomb in Londonderry. All soldiers, in the Sinn Fein mindset, are tainted by what went on in Ireland.

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Paul tweet
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The tweets

"Sinn Fein say they have respect and equality for all, so long as you didn't serve in the British military that is. They are spinning a yarn that in some way they are looking at an inclusive united Ireland for all people to live in. But it is quite clear that vision does not include unionists or those that served in the British military.

"None of them would be safe in Sinn Fein's vision of a united Ireland."

He said the Royal Irish Regiment is a local regiment with troops from all across Ireland.

"You may not like soldiers and many don't but they are our soldiers and should be accepted in the same way we accept teachers and nurses and firefighters as being ours. I don't see that because someone choses a career in the military we should some how set them apart."

Responding Mr O Donnghaile said there had been a element of "fury" around the Twitter debate with Paul Clark.

"When there doesn't need to be," he said.

"A person in Paul's position should not presume soldiers are 'ours'. We debated that, we agreed to disagree and it was amicable. I wasn't questioning anyone's Irishness and for those that want to assert themselves as British or unionist I would argue they have the right to assert that.

"It should come as no surprise to anyone in the loyalist or unionist community that there are people like myself from a nationalist or republican background that have a problem with the British military.

"Republicans have been leading the way in a process of engagement on what a united Ireland would look like that would be inclusive. It would be a society of equals with civil and religious freedom for all. There would be no lesser people."

He added: "Twitter is restrictive and can be an echo chamber and that point may be did not come across for some but we should all be free to debate our point of view and, as Paul and I have, agree to disagree and have a cup of tea at the end of it."

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