Belfast Telegraph

Prosecutions not biased but still unfair, ex-Army chief tells rally

Army veterans marching through Lisburn on Saturday
Army veterans marching through Lisburn on Saturday
Viewing the procession were Yvonne Black (left), widow of murdered prison officer David Black, and Kate Carroll (right), widow of murdered PSNI officer Stephen Carroll
Former GOC Sir Robert Pascoe
Actor Charlie Lawson with veterans
DUP leader Arlene Foster greets former soldiers
Veterans with a wreath
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A former commanding officer of the Army in Northern Ireland has said claims of bias against former servicemen by the PSNI are "exaggerated".

Sir Robert Pascoe, who was GOC between 1985 and 1988, has been critical of the investigation of ex-soldiers over historical killings.

He was speaking at a ceremony in Lisburn on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of troops here in what was to become known as Operation Banner.

He said: "We are all aware of the continuing threat of legal action against some of our soldiers. Many people have joined in public protests against the historical investigations.

"And there are unfortunately exaggerated stories of bias against the Army by the PSNI. This is not borne out by the number of cases they are so far investigating, which involves the Army less than any other category."

However, Sir Robert added: "We all know the process is unfair and we look to our politicians to sort this out without further delay."

He said he hoped the appointment of Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer would see a way out of "this very complex and distressing situation".

Looking back, the retired senior officer added that no one at Stormont or Westminster had imagined in 1969 that the decision to deploy soldiers - which they took with "some reluctance" - would last almost 38 years.

He said: "All of us here today remember bad times - and good times - as together we carried out our various duties in the towns, villages and country lanes across the province."

He said he was pleased to see so many members of the Ulster Defence Regiment at Saturday's Wallace Park event, adding: "You faced many more difficulties in carrying out your role than those of us who came across the water on our four-month tours."

Sir Robert, who also praised the "important contribution" of the RUC and Prison Service, added: "Many people have forgotten that troops were first deployed to protect members of the Catholic community in Londonderry, where inter-communal violence in the Bogside couldn't be contained by the overstretched RUC.

"Some people remember those early days, when tea and cakes were on offer. But the honeymoon period did not last long and we were soon engaged in a seemingly endless and bitter struggle against the IRA and their supporters."

Sir Robert said that despite many successes, it was evident that the security forces alone could not bring about a victory or any peaceful settlement.

"It was our job to hold the ring, to limit the attacks by the terrorists and sap their will to continue the fight - this you did," he told the veterans.

Presbyterian minister the Rev Edwin Frazer, who conducted the drumhead service at the event in Wallace Park, said: "We are gathered here today not in celebration but in commemoration of the selfless sacrifice made by the members of our security forces, emergency services and other agencies during Operation Banner. We also remember the many other tragic victims of violence during that dark period of our country's recent history."

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