Friday, October 06, 2006

Unionist Foot-soldiers Exit Stage Left

For an hour-and-a-half today, BBC Radio Ulster waxed lachrymose at the demise of the Royal Irish Regiment, with much mewing over the history of its former incarnation, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

Michael Copeland, a former UDR man, spoke to presenter Seamus McKee about how he and his companions in terror "Did their bit for Ulster." Phrases such as 'The Province' were scattered throughout this eulogy. He spoke in a sentimental fashion about a Catholic recruit, fearful of 'service' on the streets, who said: "What am I going to do on the streets of Londonderry? How can I come out against my own community?" One would imagine that usage of the term 'Londonderry' would provide an adequate solution to that problem.

"You can almost hear the thoughts of people," gurgled Seamus McKee in a reverential tone as he described the widows and families gathered at the Balmoral Showgrounds in Belfast. His faux-plummy accent was choked with equally faux remorse.

A UDR Greenfinch was interviewed. She described her pride at serving in the UDR, noting her duties as a security searcher in Belfast during the 1970s. I recalled a story from a friend, whose baby sister had her pram searched going through those 1970s security barriers. The child's mother hoped the baby would void its bowels as the Greenfinch attempted to search its nappy.

I also remembered an occasion when, stopped by a UDR patrol, I was questioned by a pig-faced soldier who asked me my address. I told him and the answer didn't suffice. He asked for my previous address, which also didn't compute. I had lived at many addresses over the years, primarily in ethnically mixed areas. Unable to determine my religious background, the pig-faced creature grew red with fury and apoplexy. But this is a minor complaint compared to the murders, the collusion, the harassment and the rifle butts in the face suffered by others.

Back at the Balmoral Showgrounds, a commentator noted the presence of the great and good from within unionism - Reg Empey, David Trimble, Archbishop Robin Eames, Jeffrey Donaldson, David Forde, Lord Alderdyce, Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley The Next Generation.

Alasdair McDonnell from the SDLP was also there. I wondered what had brought him to this carnival of unionism. Didn't someone tell him about the long history of UDR collusion with loyalist paramilitries? Didn't he know that nineteen members of the UDR were convicted of murder? Has he ever wept into his tea at the dreadful killings of the Miami Showband?

Cue a rather magnanimous Brian Feeney, obviously wheeled on to give some sense of balance to the unfolding event. Mr Feeney wasted no time in assuring the listeners that the UDR was loathed by Catholics. He noted that members of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) often joined the UDR and made up 15% of the regiment between 1975 and 1976. He also reminded listeners that, up to 1980, it was perfectly legal to be in both the UDR and UDA.

Mr Feeney was swiftly cut off by Seamus McKee, who doubtless swooning in ecstasies, handed over to a commentator who described how Queen Elizabeth II had arrived, wearing a rather fetching suit and hat of purple, complete with a purple-edged umbrella, for alas, it was raining.

At this point, I felt compelled to switch on the TV to see this outfit in all its glory. There it was, resplendent in the rain with BBC Northern Ireland's Noel Thompson fawning like his aural counterpart on Radio Ulster.

The British national anthem was played. And played again. And again. Queen Elizabeth II craned her neck awkwardly to watch some helicopters fly overhead, a look of bored resignation etched on her face. She handed over The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the Royal Irish Regiment, paying them off in much the same way she payed off the equally abhorred RUC.

Soon after, a black limousine arrived to whisk Queen Elizabeth II back to the world of fresh air. The assembled dignitaries broke up into bewildered groups. The RIR marched up and down. The rain stabbed against the wet concrete.

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