UUP leader Doug Beattie rebukes Michael D Higgins over ‘myth’ of why Irish join British armed forces

UUP leader Doug Beattie has rebuked Michael D Higgins for pedaling a “myth” that Irish citizens only join the British armed forces due to poverty and lack of alternative options.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 5th November 2021, 4:00 am
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 12:31 pm

Mr Beattie, a former Royal Irish Rangers Captain, was speaking after Republic of Ireland President Michael D Higgins visited Tubbercurry in Co Sligo to unveil a memorial to men from the Connaught Rangers regiment involved in a mutiny against the British Empire in India 101 years ago.

Sixty-one men were incarcerated in Indian and British jails as a result of the mutiny, which took place in June and July of 1920 in protest against the actions of British forces in Ireland at that time.

Mr Higgins described the mutiny as an “extraordinary act of defiance” which had inspired drama and song.

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Irish President Michael D Higgins suggested Irish people only joined the British armed forces if they were out of work - which was flatly rejected by UUP leader Doug Beattie.

And he made a plea not to judge those who had, like the Connaught Rangers soldiers or members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), taken up service with the Crown in the days before Irish independence.

“It is so important to try and put ourselves into the circumstances of the people with all of their contradictions,” the Irish Times reported him as saying.

“If you are without work, if you have few options, a life in the RIC at the time offered an opportunity and a pension. How can we not seek to understand the attempts that people made in the conditions that they had been reduced in the absence of being an independent State?

“They exercised their choices making a fist of life. We don’t abuse their experience and we don’t abuse their words or their actions”.

But it did not mean that we had to ignore the reality of the British Empire and its “terrible inability to see others as equals”, Mr Higgins added.

In a speech which received a standing ovation, he said countries in Europe which had empires in the past should acknowledge to Africa, Asia and Latin America the price for their “imperialist madness” .

But UUP leader Doug Beattie said that 10% of the Royal Irish Regiment forces that fought with him in Afghanistan in 2010 were from the Republic of Ireland, and accused Mr Higgins of pedaling a “myth”.

“Irishmen served with great distinction within the British military for hundreds of years,” he said. “They still serve with the same great distinction and their input both at the highest levels of military command as well as within the rank and file cannot be underestimated.

“I am proud - as a modern day soldier – to say that I stood beside and fought alongside Irishmen and women from both sides of the border.  Indeed 10% of my regiment, fighting in Afghanistan in 2010, was from the Republic of Ireland. To say they joined for purely societal reasons is a myth that cannot be sustained through rational argument and by extension to say the Irish soldier from centuries ago did also fall short of fact.

“The story of the RIC is a similar one. Policing was often then – as it is today – a family tradition and that is true of many societies. It is simply wrong to judge the motivations and actions of people over a hundred years ago and more through the narrow prism of Irish nationalism in the modern era.”

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