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SNP's Feargal Dalton says ancestors fought the British 'but there's only one military organisation I was ever involved in, Her Majesty's armed forces'

The Scottish politician targeted by bigots tells Ivan Little how he totally rejects terrorism

Published 11/06/2015

Feargal Dalton
Feargal Dalton

Feargal Dalton is a cocktail of contradictions. He's a committed nationalist espousing Scottish and Irish independence with equal fervour. Yet the Co Monaghan-born and Dublin-raised SNP politician in Glasgow is also proud of his 17 years as a member of the British armed forces.

The former Royal Navy officer, who featured in a recent recruitment advertisement on behalf of his old employers, remembers how during a spell living in Belfast he used to check under his car for bombs planted by the very organisations he's now accused of supporting.

Mr Dalton, who's a councillor for Partick West on Glasgow City Council, speaks with pride too of his ancestors who fought and died for Ireland during the War of Independence.

But he also wears a poppy in memory of people from the British Isles who fought and died in world wars.

He talks of the time in his student days in Dublin when he took part in protests against IRA murders, notably the Enniskillen bombing which killed 11 people in November 1987 as they attended Remembrance Day commemorations.

While he's not exactly laughing off the online 'Patriotic Unionist' campaign to have him removed from office for his views on Ireland, the physics teacher doesn't appear unduly concerned either, though he rejects the online suggestion that he has any truck with republican violence.

He says: "It's hateful bigotry. It's racism and I have better things to do than to entertain bigots and racists and to dance to their tune. Like a black person who is called the 'n' word, I don't feel the need to answer these bigots."

The 'Patriotic Unionist' campaign with an online petition attached has urged the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to expel Dalton from his council post. It has cited, among other things, his participation in an Easter Rising ceremony in Scotland where he read the graveside proclamation at veterans' graves. But he says: "That was an Irish Heritage Foundation event which was sponsored by the Department for Foreign Affairs in Ireland and I was asked to read the proclamation which I was honoured to do.

"I am a member of the 1916 Rising Centenary Committee Scotland which had its official launch in the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh.

"So if I am what these people are saying I am, then so is the Irish government, the Irish state and everyone who is an Irish citizen."

Of the campaign against him he said: "It's the classic, 'You're Irish therefore you're a dissident' tactic, just like 'You're Muslim therefore you're Isis' smear."

Mr Dalton, whose wife Carol Monaghan has just been elected as an SNP MP to Westminster, says he feels honoured to have served with the Navy for 17 years.

"I work with many service charities and I go to events connected with Armed Forces Day and Remembrance Sunday services every year," he said.

"There's only one military organisation that I have ever had any associations with and that's Her Majesty's armed forces and I'm still proud to say that to this day." Mr Dalton says he attended academic events in Glasgow connected with anniversaries associated with the Ulster Covenant and with the outbreak of the First World War.

He's also been conducting research into recipients of the Victoria Cross.

"Next year I will also commemorate the centenary of the Somme and the fact that I will proudly remember the fallen who served with the Ulster Volunteers does not mean that I am a supporter of loyalist paramilitaries.

"There are those of us who are living in the academic and enlightened world who will dip into everything and draw lessons from all that and there are those on the margins who seem to think that just because I drink a pint of Guinness I support people who are still going around killing people in the name of a united Ireland."

Mr Dalton says he's been on the receiving end of attacks before from people whose enmity towards him, he believes, is rooted in the fact that he is openly proud to be Irish.

He's been criticised for displaying an Irish tricolour on his Twitter page but he says that his Facebook account features the Royal Naval ensign complete with a Union flag.

He adds: "My record, my background and my politics speak for themselves.

"I stood in protest in Dublin after the Enniskillen bombing and Warrington.

"I am like most people from Dublin. I didn't support anyone's paramilitary grouping and I was fully behind the peace process - and I still am.

"So if there are bigots out there who want to attack a decorated member of Her Majesty's armed forces - good luck to them.

"I happen to be in the SNP because I believe Scotland should be an independent country as 150 countries around the world have opted for self-determination in the past 60 years."

Of whoever is behind the 'Patriotic Unionist' campaign he says: "For some people this is their daily diet, it's their living soap opera and they have found someone they think is some sort of closet dissident republican supporter. And lo and behold, he's not. I am no more controversial than the SDLP.

"I am very careful not to get involved in modern-day Irish politics because I am SNP. I do have a view and while it wouldn't be a particularly controversial one, I am a supporter of the peace process which is not particularly newsworthy because even Martin McGuinness is.

"Which doesn't mean I am necessarily a supporter of his either because I know people on both sides in Ireland whose lives were lost needlessly as far as I am concerned."

During his days as a Navy officer, Dalton lived for a time on Belfast's Ormeau Road and considered himself an IRA target.

"I checked under my car for devices from the organisation that I supposedly supported," says the ex-Lieutenant Commander who has also been seen recently in his uniform in a 50-second TV advertisement aimed at finding recruits for the Royal Navy's 'hunter killer' submarine force.

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