Category Archives: British army

Call for Aegis’ expulsion from Iraq

Article by David Granville from the Irish Democrat:

THE MOTHER of the Peter McBride, the Belfast teenager murdered by two Scots Guardsmen on 4 September 1992, has appealed to the Iraqi government to cancel the contracts of private security firm Aegis Defence Services and to expel it from the country.

Jean McBride’s appeal follows a decision in September by the Iraqi interior ministry to expel another leading private security contractor, Blackwater, after it was confirmed that the company’s personnel had opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding a further 13.

Her family has waged a vigourous campaign on both sides of the Atlantic and won the support of a number of British and Irish MPs. Despite this, British government ministers and defence officials have consistently refused to back campaigners’ calls for Peter McBride’s killers to be thrown out of the army. At a time when it is still possible for serving soldiers to be cashiered for a string of relative minor offences, it’s

not difficult to see why the McBride family regard the decision to allow the two guardsmen, whose convictions for murder have not been quashed, to resume their army careers, as adding insult to injury.

In recent years, the McBride campaign has widened its scope by also focussing on the career of Aegis chief executive Tim Spicer, who was the British army officer in charge of the two guardsmen convicted of her son’s murder.

Spicer has always refused to accept that his soldiers did anything wrong in shooting an unarmed teenager in the back in broad daylight and is on public record as saying that they should not even have been charged, let alone brought to trial.

Since leaving the British army in 1995, Spicer has moved into the murky and highly lucrative world of private ‘security’ – that’s mercenary to you and me – provision, where the activities of his various companies have resulted in a string of investigations and official reprimands. Unfortunately, tacit British government approval has ensured that such misdemeanours have not restricted his business opportunities, especially in Iraq.

The McBride family and human rights campaigners have not been so forgiving. In the years since his son’s murder, Jean McBride has repeatedly told anyone who would listen that Tim Spicer is unfit to to be in charge of men in a conflict situation. She is now urging the Iraqi government to “show the door to Aegis” as they have done to Blackwater.

Speaking after the Iraqi government announced that it was expelling Blackwater and revoking the company’s license to work in the country, Jean McBride explained that she had written to the Ambassador to Britain and Ireland, Dr Salah Al-Shaikhl, pointing out that Aegis employees had been filmed firing at Iraqi civilians in 2005 and that neither the company nor the Pentagon had bothered to carry out a proper investigation.

Following representations from the McBride family, prominent US lawmakers, including Democratic presidential candidate hopeful, Barack Obama, have joined the call for an inquiry into the awarding, and re-awarding, of ‘security’ contracts in Iraq to Aegis.

The family has welcomed the recent announcement, made in the wake of the Blackwater revelations, that the oversight and government reform committee of the US Congress is to hold formal hearings on the use of private security companies in Iraq. It could be a small step on the road to justice.

Further details about the activities of Aegis, Tim Spicer and the McBride family campaign can be found on the website of the Pat Finucane Centre at

The above article originally appeared in the Morning Star on 01/10/07 (that’s 1st October…)



Filed under aegis defence services, belfast, British army, British government, human rights, Iraq, ireland, middle east, Pat Finucane Centre, Peter McBride, private military contractors

Let’s not gloss over the facts

From David McKittrick’s article in today’s Independent, “Staying on one side or the other makes life less complicated”:

Their widely differing takes on the Troubles were starkly illustrated by a poll that showed 86 per cent of Protestants approved of the police using plastic bullets while 87 per cent of Catholics disapproved.

The gulf in these mindsets is so wide that, apart from television and radio debates, it is extremely rare for committed unionists and committed nationalists to debate such things.

McKittrick doesn’t provide any explanation or attempt at a reason to explain this “gulf in mindsets”–and I’m already bored thinking about the reasoning behind this–but the facts are out there, and it bothers me to see an issue like this laid out there in the “we just see things differently” sort of way.

In 2000, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, now Director of the Tranisitional Justice Program at the University of Ulster, published a study called the Politics of Force: Conflict Management and State Violence in Northern Ireland  that I am reading as background for my thesis.   Her study shows notable patterns in the use of state force and the typology of victims–namely that an overwhelming number of victims (85%) of state violence were from the minority (Catholic) community, as opposed to 11% from the Protestant community (with 4% “other”).  Kind of puts the poll in a different perspective now, doesn’t it?

“If we acknowledge that lethal force has, in fact, been a prevalent and widespread component of the minority community’s experience within the state,” writes Ní Aoláin, “then this acknowledgement, in turn, must validate and reinforce the minority’s perception of the states and its agents.”

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Filed under belfast, British army, British government, cross-community, human rights, ireland, Irish peace process, policing

Withdrawal? What withdrawal?

An editorial from Father Des Wilson in the Andersonstown News:

The British government’s change of military tactics in Ireland has been hailed – unfortunately – as a withdrawal.
It is not a withdrawal, the British garrisons are still there to try to hold the northeast of Ireland militarily and economically. And they have been given new extra oppressive powers to do it.
In 1969 extra troops flooded in not to protect Catholics or Protestants but to uphold the Stormont regime which was toppling – it could not co-exist with justice. As time went on the reason for their coming was explained in different ways. First it was to protect Catholics, then to protect Protestants against republicans, then to save Britain from terrorism, then as a bulwark against international terrorism. One explanation followed another, all to convince the world that flooding Ireland with British troops was a good thing. The final claim about international terrorism was directed to the American administration which was not interested in protecting Catholics or Protestants or British people but was interested in developing a doctrine of international terrorism.
London’s strategy was to turn a peaceful civil rights campaign into an armed conflict, because it believed it could win an armed conflict whereas it could not win against a united people’s demands for fair government. It had then to make a choice, either attack the unionist establishment and its supporters or attack the Catholics. It made a deliberate decision to attack the Catholics. Its agents said that if ever Catholics and Protestant were fighting them on two sides they would have to withdraw. John McKeague was one of their friends who passed on the message. To prevent this, they attacked one side and armed the other.
They believed that in an armed conflict the London army must win. This went against many examples in the history of the dissolution of the London empire, the Irish example included; but militarist governments do not accept lessons, even to their own advantage. They needed to control the economy in Ireland and military bases. If anyone thinks the London administration spent generous amounts of money on Ireland’s northeast, they should consider how much they would have to spend, and did spend, maintaining military bases in other parts of the world. London got a military bargain in Ireland. They still owe us a lot of money and life. And they took as much care of us as they would of any military base, no more and no less. Nearly everybody in the northeast suffered as a result of such primitive caretaking – and still suffers.
A new campaign of recruitment to the London army in Ireland has already begun. Can we hope that no Irish body will support it? That no school will admit recruiters to seduce yet another generation of children?
Remembering that London sends teenagers to fight its wars for it, not only in Ireland but in many parts of the world, one wonders at the irresponsibility of anyone who admits the gun-toters and armed aeroplane leapers into their classrooms – no contraceptives, please, only rifles, we’re Christians.
Elected representatives have things to do. One is to tell the truth about continuing military occupation and what it is costing us. Another is to make sure recruiting cannon-fodder is ended. Another is to take all oppressive powers off soldiers. And to get rid of those garrisons, in the interests of Irish unionists, nationalists and republicans, and of peaceful people all over the world who should be sick to life of the culture of death with which London has burdened us all.
Time to disarm and go. For good and all.


Filed under British army, British government, Father Des Wilson, human rights, ireland, war

Truth last big issue to be resolved in conflict

From Jim Gibney in this week’s Irish News via Newshound:

This Sunday thousands of people from all over Ireland will march to Belfast’s City Hall in memory of the 10 hunger strikers behind a banner calling on the British government to tell the truth about its role in the conflict.

The march organisers – Sinn Féin and a number of relatives’ organisations – are focusing on the word truth because they believe the truth is the last big issue to be resolved in the conflict.

By and large the truth is known about the role played by the IRA and loyalist organisations because they claimed responsibility for their actions which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.

Thousands of republicans and loyalists were also imprisoned for their part in the conflict.

It is also public knowledge that the crown forces killed hundreds of people, some of them in massacres in the early 1970s like Bloody Sunday in Derry and in areas of Belfast like Ballymurphy and the New Lodge Road, yet only a few members of the crown forces spent time in prison.

The fact that the public know the extent of the involvement in the deaths of thousands of people by the various armed groups of course does not make it any easier for the relatives of those killed to carry their burden of grief.

This was painfully obvious last Tuesday when the relatives of 11 people gunned down by the British army in Ballymurphy over a four-day period following the introduction of internment in August 1971 recalled the horror of the time.

As part of the Feile programme Relatives For Justice assisted the relatives of those killed in Ballymurphy to tell their frightening and heart-breaking tale.

The relatives of the dead have struggled for over three decades to force the British government to tell the truth about the circumstances in which the Paras, the same regiment responsible for Bloody Sunday, shot their loved ones dead and then lied to the world about it.

For many relatives the burden of grief is more difficult to deal with when the people charged with protecting life and upholding human rights, in this instance the British government, are in fact guilty of fragrantly violating both.

For relatives of those killed this violation is made much worse by the British government’s refusal to acknowledge the part it played in the conflict and the cavalier manner in which it dismisses demands from relative’s organisations for them to tell the truth.

Thirty-six years after the killings in Ballymurphy the British government has yet to say those killed were innocent; it has yet to apologise to the relatives.

The British government’s refusal to face up to its part in the conflict stems from its belief that its actions in Ireland were morally superior to for example the IRA.

That its presence here is legitimate and on that basis whatever its armed forces do is in defence of democracy against terrorists.

This is reflected in the myth peddled by the British government and its apologists that its military occupation here is in fact a peace mission; that it was not involved in a war.

The absurdity of this view has many consequences and is particularly felt by relatives seeking justice who lost a loved one at the hands of the crown forces.

It is also reflected for example in the production in July past of an equally absurd British army publication about ‘Operation Banner’ the British army’s version of its occupation or as is likes to call it ‘campaign on British soil’ by the “armed forces of a developed nation against an irregular force”.

This denial of the reality of what everyone else accepts also leads the British government to continue perpetrating yet another grave injustice: the cover-up of its involvement in the murder of hundreds of people, mainly Catholics through collusion with loyalists.

Despite overwhelming and documented evidence which proves hundreds of people were killed as a result of collusion with loyalists, the British government continues to refuse to admit it orchestrated this murder campaign through its crown forces – the British army and RUC.

The relatives’ determination has the British government in the dock of public opinion.

There it will remain until it cries truth.

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Filed under belfast, Bloody Sunday, British army, British government, collusion, human rights, hunger strikes, ireland, Irish peace process, Jim Gibney, Operation Banner, policing, relatives for justice, RUC, Sinn Féin, truth

The wrong force in the wrong place

“As the army left this week, with hardly a muffled drum to lead them out, the magnitude of the wastage of it all was overwhelming.”  So writes Tom McGurk in today’s Sunday Business Post , reflecting on the legacy of the last 38 years in the north of Ireland.  I’ve already posted about the army’s exit a few times, and I’m going to continue to do so–mostly because there is so much misinformation out there about the roots of the conflict and the “role of the British” in it all.

This article focuses on how things didn’t have to end up the way they did–that due to the political mistakes made by Westminster, the presence of the army actually escalated the emerging conflict in the north in the late ’60s/early ’70s, that their behavior became a recruiting agent for the IRA and so forth.  No surprises there.

Whatever about the ideology of Republicanism, after their mother’s door was smashed in or they were batoned down the street, local youths began to drift into the IRA.

By the summer of 1970, only months after their deployment, the army was regularly using CS gas and rubber bullets.

Their political honeymoon was over and the essential elements and components in the guerrilla war that was soon to erupt with huge ferocity were already evolving.

Next came the infamous Falls Road curfew, when the army forced thousands indoors and drove unionist ministers and the press around in lorries to view what seemed like their ‘occupied town’.

The original fatal flaw as to who had direct responsibility for the army -Westminster or Stormont – was soon to culminate in the disaster of internment in 1971.Astonishingly, a mere 24months from arriving to cups of tea and a huge welcome from the Catholic population, the British army was now dragging the same people from their beds in the middle of the night and locking them up in prison camps without trial or habeas corpus.

Perhaps what then followed after internment – Bloody Sunday and the rest – had all that sense of historical inevitability about it, but in the months just after the army was first deployed in the North in August 1969, there was a unique opportunity, tragically not to be seen again for almost 40 years.

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Filed under British army, ireland, war

Few tears shed

From the Ulster Herald: No misty eyes about ‘Banner’

Few tears will be shed for Operation Banner, the British army’s 38-year involvement in the conflict here. Despite nostalgic footage of housewives treating squaddies to cups of tea, this military adventure should be remembered for some of the most destructive events of the Troubles. British military policy fanned the flames of communal strife and brought us to the brink many times.

Ostensibly sent over to help the police “keep the peace,” Britain’s army was soon immersed in a draconian onslaught against those who opposed or even questioned the state. It began with the Falls Road ‘Curfew’ and quickly moved to internment and Bloody Sunday. If anyone had illusions about the “peace” credentials of the troops who poured onto our streets in 1969, they were soon shattered in partisan application of military might.

…the entire military operation rested on the notion that Catholics and Protestants here somehow just fell out. Promulgated around the world, the carefully fostered pretext for thousands of troops even took root here. It meant brushing under the carpet not only decades of misrule in the North, but also Britain’s obdurate refusal to do anything before the dams burst in violent denial of civil rights.

The fact that the army’s initial welcome was short-lived bears out the fact that it was never here to bring peace.

Its role actually turned civil unrest into civil war.

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Filed under belfast, Bloody Sunday, British army, collusion, Falls Road, ireland, policing, war

Tommy Makem at the Free Derry Fleadh

Folk musician and singer Tommy Makem, best known as one of The Clancy Brothers, died of lung cancer today. The following is a great video from YouTube of Makem both at and being interviewed about Free Derry’s “Liberation Fleadh” in celebration of the nationalist community’s self-declared autonomous zone.  A “fleadh” is a music festival.  This video contains some really great footage.

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Filed under British army, Derry, human rights, ireland, policing, RUC