Daily Ireland

Dread at return of regiment

A British army regiment that has been accused of carrying out war crimes during the latest Iraq conflict is returning to the North of Ireland.
The Black Watch regiment was based in various locations throughout the North during the height of the Troubles and will be returning before the end of this year for a new tour of duty, to last either two years or six months.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman yesterday said, “Black Watch will be back in Northern Ireland before the end of the year. I can confirm the regiment will be operative but we are not yet sure which barracks its soldiers will be based at or how long the tour will last.”
News of the regiment’s return got a frosty reception in nationalist areas throughout the North. During numerous tours here in the past, particularly in Belfast and Armagh city, the regiment built up a reputation for unlawfulness and brutality.
In July 1970, its soldiers imposed an illegal curfew in the Falls Road area of west Belfast, warning all civilians to stay indoors or risk being arrested or shot. The British army shot dead four Catholics in the trouble that followed.
Lower Falls Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley said the mere mention of the words Black Watch to nationalists conjures up images of sectarianism.
He said, “The Black Watch were hated by nationalists, almost on the same level as the paratroopers. They were a vicious regiment renowned for being brutal and in-your-face. I can remember them as being very anti-Irish. Given the accusations being made about the regiment in Iraq, it seems its soldiers haven’t changed a bit. Nationalists will not be buoyed at all by the news that they are coming back.”
Armagh city SDLP councillor Pat Brannigan said he was “very sad” at the news the regiment was returning to the North.
“I hope the soldiers are not stationed in Armagh. Black Watch is a name that is synonymous with forcefulness,” said Mr Brannigan.
The Black Watch is currently based in barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire. The regiment’s return to the North will be on a residential two-year stay or a roulement tour for six months.
In June 2003, Black Watch soldiers were questioned by war-crimes investigators over the deaths of two Iraqis the soliders had captured. Men from the regiment faced allegations that the two civilians died after having been mistreated.
According to reports at the time, the Iraqis died at a detention centre in the southern city of Basra after being “roughed up”. An internal investigation later cleared the men.
The Black Watch was last stationed in the North in 1996. The regiment was based in barracks at Ballykinler near Newcastle in Co Down for six months. Prior to that, it conducted a two-year tour of the North between 1989 and 1991.
The most likely base for the Black Watch when the regiment does return is Palace Barracks in Lisburn, Co Antrim, although Holywood Barracks has also been mentioned.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said it was likely the troops would be used in riot situations.

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