UDR memorial stone at remembrance site
Mid and East Antrim councillors granted permission at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening for a memorial stone to be erected at the war memorial.
A motion for the memorial stone to be installed “to acknowledge the bravery and sacrifice” of those from the town who served in the UDR was proposed by Larne Lough DUP Councillor Gregg McKeen and seconded by Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr McKeen said: “I believe it is of the utmost importance that the Ulster Defence Regiment and the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who answered the call and gave up their own time and sometimes their lives so we could enjoy the freedoms to go about our business today.
“I believe we should be making that within the Larne Memorial Garden.
“This year saw the 50th anniversary parade and service to mark the foundation of the UDR, albeit a year late due to the Covid pandemic.”
E Company from Larne was part of the First Battalion County Antrim between 1970 and 1984 before being amalgamated in 1984 with the Ninth Battalion and consisted of four platoons, made up from members from Whitehead, Larne and Coast Road who served from Mill Brae in the town.
Cllr McKeen continued: “The commitment of those who served the community for 22 years through the darkest days of the Troubles must be recognised by the inscription on a memorial stone.
“The vast majority of the UDR worked and gave up their free time at nights and weekends to protect the communityfrom the onslaught of terrorism activity through those years.
“We need to show our gratitude to the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment not only those who paid with their lives but also now those people who are most probably in retirement – we need to show our respect for those people. We can do this through the placement of a memorial stone with an inscription recognising their sacrifice and service to the community.
“I believe it would be a fitting tribute if we were able to to mark this and show our appreciation with a small gesture in the memorial garden in Larne.”
Cllr Clarke said: “For those of my generation, the worst of the Troubles is thankfully something we tend to hear about or read about. It is almost impossible to imagine the sustained stress and threat of evil striking at any time or place must have been on those serving. For them, there was no off-duty, no relief at the end of the tour.
He went on to say that “given what we know now about mental health”, he is “simply in awe of what UDR members and their families went through”.
He indicated that in Larne there was a “mixed band of men and women, Protestant and Catholic”.
Cllr Clarke added:”This memorial , a stone, is dignified and the location Larne Memorial Garden, is highly appropriate. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, the timing could not be more fitting.”
However, the motion was not supported by Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid who said: “Whilst I understand the sensitivities around the motion, I cannot in good conscience support it.
“Many, many members of the UDR caused terror amongst the nationalist community and many members used their power to abuse and torment members of their opposite community including members of my own family and friends and me.”
He commented that the UDR was allegedly linked to “some of the most harrowing events of our troubled past including the Miami Showband massacre” and some serving officers, he suggested, were said to have been involved with loyalist paramilitaries.
He added that the SDLP “continually” called for the disbandment of the UDR and it was “regrettable” that this did not happen until the early 90s.
Knockagh Independent Councillor Bobby Hadden indicated that his brother served in the UDR as a part-time member in Armagh.
“I am disappointed in Cllr Reid’s comments. In my view, these guys deserve the greatest credit.”
Cllr McKeen said he was “not surprised” by Cllr Reid’s comments.
He acknowledged that there are always “one or two bad apples in a barrel”.
“You cannot take that into consideration when you look at the sacrifice that was paid by 197 members of the UDR who were murdered on active service, 61 murdered after they left the UDR, four of whom were Greenfinches. When you look at those statistics, I believe it is right and fitting that we give this recognition.”
Michelle Weir , Local Democracy Reporting Service