Nationalist demonstrators blocked a main road in Belfast for more than an hour on Saturday to protest against a televised ceremony marking the disbandment of the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment.
Justice group An Fhirinne [The Truth] waved banners and placards outside the King’s Hall showing the names and photos of people killed by unionist paramilitaries in collusion with the RIR (formerly UDR).
A spokesman for the protest recalled how the British government was aware of large-scale collusion between locally-recruited British soldiers and unionist death squads from 1973.
Files on collusion have revealed the British army believed the “best single source of weapons and the only significant source of modern weapons for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR”.
Other documents from 1975 showed Margaret Thatcher was briefed that the UDR was “heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants” and in a crisis could not be relied upon to be loyal”.
However, no action was taken as a result of these findings, and collusion continued unhindered.
An Fhirinne spokesman Robert McClenaghan said the RIR was a “cover name for the UDR” which itself had its origins in the B Specials”, an exclusively Protestant and sectarianised part-time police service.
“For the Queen of England to give them her seal of approval and then meet widows and survivors is a slap in the face for the victims of state violence,” he said.
He said he was angry the group was told their protest was illegal.
“I find that ridiculous. We are a campaign group. We are being criminalised,” he said. “We are just making the point that there was collusion within the UDR.”
In a reference to the new documents, he said: “The British government themselves said that between five and 15 per cent of the UDR were also in the UDA or UVF.”
Sinn Féin councillor Jennifer McCann said she was angry Lisburn City Council had proposed putting up a monument to the UDR in the town, saying the council “is supposed to be representative of everybody”.
The three ‘home service’ battalions of the RIR are being disbanded next year after 36 years of continuous deployment in Ireland. The 3,000 troops involved will have access to a redundancy package worth more than a quarter of a billion pounds.
Seventeen members of the UDR/RIR have been found guilty of murder.