Belfast Telegraph

Andy Allen: We owe it to ex-soldiers to stand by them now

By Andy Allen

The Ulster Unionist Party has consistently stated that nobody should be above the law regardless of who they are and that it must apply equally to all.

In terms of legacy, we are already in a position of imbalance. Terrorists have been able to avail of early release from prison; 16 received Royal Prerogatives of Mercy or Royal Pardons for premeditated crime including murder between 1998 and 2002, and over 200 people were also given so-called 'letters of comfort' by the Blair Government, and these were sufficient to either halt court action against, or prevent the arrest of, a number of high-profile IRA suspects.

There is a certain irony in the fact that under Tony Blair, the Labour Government handed out almost 200 letters to provide republican terror suspects with a virtual amnesty, yet the Ministry of Defence has issued almost 1,400 letters to former soldiers in relation to inquests, ongoing criminal inquiries and investigations.

What kind of country is it, which tries to pardon the terrorists who tried to murder its soldiers, yet at the same time tries to drag its veterans through the courts?

Given the outraged reaction from Sinn Fein to the arrest of John Downey, and their much publicised commitment to equality, one would expect them to be equally opposed to the investigation of soldiers regarding historic offences.

The reality is that when it comes to any investigation that involves the arrest of a suspect with connections to the IRA or Sinn Fein, republicans react with disbelief and indignation bordering on fury.

With regard to the recent arrest of John Downey we heard the refrain - 'he is a friend of the peace process.'

Gerry Kelly - Sinn Fein's policing spokesman - accused the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the government of being 'vindictive' and acting in 'bad faith' and Donegal TD Pearse Doherty said Downey's arrest was 'out of order'.

Strangely enough, Sinn Fein have no such misgivings when former soldiers such as Dennis Hutchings are arrested.

Republicans demand truth, justice and inquiries galore when it comes to the actions of the police and Army, but are strangely reticent when it comes to the litany of deliberate crimes of the IRA.

For three decades the police and Army stood bravely between terrorists and the civilian population, and paid a very high price.

Some 503 of their number lost their lives and many thousands more still bear the physical and mental scars. Many of those deployed here are now well into their 70s.

They served as part of the lawful forces of the State in contrast to the illegal terror gangs they faced. We must never forget that every single terrorist act - republican or loyalist - was unlawful, whereas the State and its actors does have the right to use legitimate force.

It is hypocrisy for Sinn Fein to demand the arrest of any soldiers suspected of wrong doing, yet refusing to countenance the arrest of those they regard as friends.

The Ulster Unionist Party is clear. The law must be applied fairly and equally.

We owe it to those who once defended us - and to future generations - to stand by them now, and not to acquiesce in an imbalanced process that will rewrite the history of the Troubles and minimise or ignore the crimes of the terrorists responsible, no matter what Sinn Fein may say.

  • Andy Allen is an Ulster Unionist MLA for East Belfast and a former Royal Irish soldier

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