Ulster Unionist MLA and decorated war veteran Doug Beattie has said veterans have “for far too long” been told to stay quiet, ahead of a demonstration planned for Belfast tomorrow.
The demonstration, organised by campaign group ‘Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans’, will take place at City Hall tomorrow from 11am.
Doug Beattie, who has been invited to speak at the event, said the veterans are entitled to make their concerns heard.
The veterans’ concerns centre on the way investigations into killings during the Troubles here are being conducted. The former soldiers say there has been a disproportionate emphasis placed on killings by state actors than on the more numerous killings by paramilitary groups such as the IRA.
The former soldiers stress that no one should be above the law, but that the focus of the investigations is misplaced.
Doug Beattie said those planning a counter-demonstration should “have a look at themselves”.
The dissident republican group Saoradh have organised the counter-demonstration. Only a matter of feet will separate the two demonstrations on Good Friday after the Parades Commission ruled to allow a Saoradh parade to take place in the same location and at the same time as the rally by Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans.
Saoradh, in a brief statement published to their Facebook page, said: “As always, republicans will behave with dignity and it will be a peaceful protest but we will not accept the revision of our history.”
Doug Beattie said: “Veterans have the right to equality as well, the right to stand and peacefully demonstrate the same as any other person.
“I have no doubt at all that they will do it with dignity, professionalism and control and the end of the demonstration they will disperse.
“If other people have a problem with equality and allowing people to demonstrate, then that’s their problem and they need to have a look at themselves. The veterans should not be forced away from making a point.
“I don’t understand why they don’t want to allow the veterans to have their say. I’ve got to say, for far too long veterans have been told to stay quiet and say nothing while everything else happens around them. I do not think that is fair. They need to have their say and this is them having their say.
“This is not some bit of jingoistic triumphalism the way some people are trying to sell it, it is none of that.”