Fortieth Anniversary of Disbanding of B-Specials and Formation of UDR

Part of Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 24th May 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 4:45 pm, 24th May 2010

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes that April 2010 marked both the fortieth anniversary of the dissolution of the Ulster Special Constabulary, or B-Specials, and also the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment; expresses its gratitude to the bravery of the many people who served in each; acknowledges the sacrifice made by many personnel as they defended the population against terrorism; and calls on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to mark these two important anniversaries.

Declan O’Loan’s new party must now be in operation given the cross-party marriage of SDLP and Sinn Féin Members in relation to the signing of the petition of concern. No doubt the SDLP leader will have some questions to ask Mr O’Loan about who will be the new leader of the party. That is not said to politicise, in any way, what this afternoon is about.

Many people want revisionism at the heart of the way in which we move forward and, unfortunately, they wish to airbrush from existence the gallant history of the men and women who served in the B-Specials and the UDR. That will not happen as long as members of my party are on this side of the House. Many people have stood between terrorism and the community. Among them were the members of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the UDR, whose brave service helped to hold the line against terrorism. The motion acknowledges their service and sacrifice. It is only right and proper that this opportunity be taken to applaud the way in which the community was defended from those who sought to murder by night.

A force of special constabulary was raised under the Special Constables (Ireland) Act 1832. Recruiting for the Ulster Special Constabulary opened on 1 November 1920, after a period of unrest and as the South descended into anarchy and chaos. Between 1920 and 1922, it is estimated that some 428 people were killed and a further 1,766 were wounded as the IRA sought to kill the Northern Ireland state at birth.

In 1922 alone, 232 people were killed and 1,000 wounded. Just as the IRA would again fail in latter times, so, too, did it fail in the 1920s.

When World War II broke out, a ready-made force of 13,000 men was available for Home Guard duties. That would later swell to 40,000 personnel. In the 1950s, the IRA reverted to carrying out a terrorist campaign. The Ulster Special Constabulary played an important role in responding to and defeating that terrorist campaign. It is interesting to note historical author Tim Pat Coogan’s description of the B-Specials as:

“the rock on which … the IRA … foundered.”

After that period, and until its dissolution, the Ulster Special Constabulary continued to give gallant and dedicated service to the Province. Regrettably, members of the Ulster Special Constabulary lost their lives in the line of duty. They were ordinary people who placed themselves to the fore in combating terrorism, and they deserve our thanks.

This year also marks the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It was formed in 1970 and incorporated some former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Its main purpose was to engage in guard and patrol duties in Northern Ireland, and it was a key component in resisting the extreme, cruel and bloodthirsty terrorist campaign that republican terrorists waged against the entire population. The depravity, cruelty and brutality of events such as Bloody Friday bear solemn testimony to the circumstances in which the UDR served this community, and served it bravely.

In the late 1980s, the UDR provided backup for the RUC across 85% of Northern Ireland. Since its formation, 40,000 people served in its ranks. It is estimated that the combined total of full-time and part-time members exceeded 60,000 personnel. Given the sheer number of people who served in the regiment, the extent of the reach of its duties and the prolonged period for which it was on active service, the UDR’s disciplinary record is nothing less than exemplary. By the time that it merged into the Royal Irish Regiment, 197 members and 47 former members had been murdered. The UDR was on active service longer than any regiment since the Napoleonic wars.

Whereas regular troops could usually be attacked only while on duty, members of the UDR lived and worked in the community. They were almost always attacked when at home, when at work or when unarmed. Today, we do well to remember those who lost their lives. Although it would be improper to pick out any individual, I recall one incident involving a serving member of the UDR who travelled to work with someone whom he thought was his colleague, but who was charged a few years later with his murder. How sad that we had a society in which that was not only something that happened but, unfortunately, was something that was supported. I trust that we will never again go back to that mentality. These were ordinary Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen who placed themselves in danger that we might live in peace. In the worst days of the Troubles, they became the target of terrorist organisations that we in this House might have a future.

Today, Sinn Féin sits in this regional Assembly in the UK. Today, it upholds the British criminal justice system. Today, it gives allegiance to, and, in many cases, is actively giving evidence to, a British police service. The republican movement has been forced to deal with decommissioning; it has been forced to announce the formal ending of its campaign; it has been forced to issue a formal stand-down order to all its personnel; and it has been forced to sign up to support the police, the courts and the rule of law.

In short, as Mr Molloy, a Member of this House, said in 1999:

“We are really prepared to administer British rule in Ireland for the foreseeable future. The very principle of partition is accepted, and if the unionists —