‘Southern Protestants don’t dare speak up. It’s a false life’

In Omagh, Co Tyrone, a group of friends and former member of the security forces are keen to have their say.

“How many times do security force members get a chance to speak about how they feel about ordinary matters in relation to a united Ireland, so-called united Ireland? We don’t get that opportunity,” emphasises George, a former policeman.

He is among those who have agreed to meet The Irish Times to proportion their views on Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polling published last week on attitudes in the Republic towards a united Ireland.

The poll showed a clear desire for a united Ireland – 62 per cent were in favour of uniting the island, but not however – with only 15 per cent backing a referendum now, compared with 42 per cent who preferred a vote in the next 10 years – and not at any price. There was also strong opposition to a new flag or national anthem, and less than 50 per cent sustain for having unionist politicians as part of the government in Dublin.

There has to be a realisation that the great majority of soldiers and police just went about and did their job to the best of their ability

All of those who have agreed to give their views for this piece are unionists, and Protestant; all are former members of the British Army or – and in at the minimum one case both – the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) or Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

For security reasons, only one is willing to be identified; the others go by first names only, or use family names, and will not be photographed.

“There are nevertheless people out there who want to murder and maim,” says George, adding that if they were to be identified they would be attacked on social media. “There are nevertheless people getting threats and having to move home,” says Paul, who was both a soldier and a policeman.

“Security is nevertheless at the spotlight, I don’t think it’s ever left, so there would be a reluctance for former security force members, already members of the public, to give their views,” says Richard Scott.

“As a former security force member, I nevertheless feel that we are being victimised and villainised, so with that perception it’s hard to speak openly.

“Every time you lift a newspaper, it’s about what a member of the police or the armed forces has done. It’s a bit like when people say such and such a force is institutionally racist – we’re now institutionally uniformed terrorists, which is complete and utter nonsense, because what we did was our job.”

Omagh bombing

As a policeman, Scott tended to the dead and injured in the Real IRA bombing of Omagh in 1998, which killed 31 people, including unborn twins.

He was among the first on the scene, was among those who searched for survivors and helped retrieve the bodies of the victims. He worked on the police investigation and prepared the files for inquest, and was afterward diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

All agree that if there has been “wrongdoing in the past, that should be investigated, but it seems to be one-sided”. Scott says: “There has to be a realisation that the great majority of soldiers and police just went about and did their job to the best of their ability.”

They point to the controversy over a commemoration for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police – which was due to be held in Dublin Castle last year but was cancelled due to public opposition to the event – as evidence of how attitudes in the Republic have not changed, and why they would not be accepted in a united Ireland.

“So 100 years later, the only people who are nevertheless being vilified were the police officers, and everybody has been exonerated except for those poor policemen, many of whom were Catholics who were shot dead in their homes, shot dead on trains and everything else in a cowardly and horrible way,” says Scott.

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