On Saturday 8th May, the former Defence Minister, Johnny Mercer is leading a protest march to Westminster on behalf of the elderly veterans, who are under investigation for alleged crimes in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
Hopefully, by then the trial against the two soldiers charged with shooting an IRA officer responsible for the deaths of 15 British troops, will have collapsed. The Judge in Belfast has already condemned the prosecution’s case against by ruling that the statements given in 1972 are inadmissible and criticizing the lack of new evidence.
We have to remember that 1972 saw the worst levels of violence in Northern Ireland. At 0400 hours on Monday 31 July, the Government launched Operation Motorman against the IRA safe havens in Derry and Belfast. The security forces expected an intense firefight, but the work with local communities and restraint on the part of the soldiers ensured that heavy civilian casualties were avoided. This operation lasted until December that year and was a notable success for not only demonstrating that the rule of law would be applied in all places, but also for catching many of the Provisional IRA commanders. It was also a key turning point in the campaign as the IRA changed their tactics from insurgency to terrorism.
The 200 soldiers sent into the fray by the government 50 years ago, who are now under investigation, were doing their duty to the best of their abilities and deserve our tributes, not our censure.