A UDR soldier who was maimed for life by an IRA car bomb was given a standing ovation at Stormont yesterday during a ceremony to mark European Day for Victims of Terrorism.
Several hundred victims, their supporters and politicians stood as one after Fermanagh man Noel Downey told his story in the Senate Chamber.
TUV leader Jim Allister has hosted the event for the past six years, to mark the anniversary of the 2004 Madrid bombings and to remember victims of republican and loyalist terrorism in Northern Ireland.
He led a minute’s silence in memory of all those that died during the Troubles, noting: “No victim chose to be a victim; every terrorist chose to be a terrorist.”
Others who attended were DUP leader Arlene Foster and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.
Now 53, Mr Downey joined the UDR to “protect the community” after a string of friends were murdered, in particular Ronnie Graham.
He was a work colleague in a Lisnaksea factory and one of three brothers murdered in four years.
“His murder and the triumphalism of the republican workforce [at the factory] at the time sickened me to the pit of my stomach. But joining a terrorist group was not what we did in Fermanagh ... we refused to bring to another’s door that which had been brought to ours.”
The IRA had been “attempting to carry out a campaign of ethnic genocide of Protestants within the border areas of Fermanagh”.
Their 1990 attack on him took place as he left a pub in Lisnaskea and stepped into his car.
There was a blinding flash and he lost consciousness. When he woke up he got up and tried to walk several times but could not understand why he kept falling down. His leg had been blown off and he suffered serious injuries to the left side of his body.
He almost bled to death and had only three litres of blood left when he arrived in hospital.
“Life was changed forever,” he said.
In the aftermath he suffered nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of hopelessness.
Mr Downey paid tribute to how his then fiancé Helen – now his wife of 25 years and mother of his two children – has been an “incredible strength” to him ever since.
One person was jailed but got out early under the Good Friday Agreement.
“But there is no release from my injuries.”
He asked for two things to help him move on: that republicans will “cease the justification of the murder of my friends and attempted murder of me”. The men who targeted him were “neighbours” he said: “I was not a stranger.”
Secondly, his injuries meant he has been unable to build up an occupational pension and he wishes to give his wife security as they get older.
The special pension for Troubles victims would be a great help, he said.
But if it was to be given to Sinn Fein MLA and convicted IRA commander Sean Lynch, he said: “I would not want it.” Mr Lynch was seriously injured while on IRA operations.