Killings reignite memories of a troubled Northern Ireland

PUBLISHED: 16:42 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 25 August 2010

Nick White

Nick White

Jamie Gray

AN ARMY veteran who twice toured Northern Ireland during the IRA reign of terror fears a resurgence of violence following TWO terror attacks within 48 hours.

AN ARMY veteran who twice toured Northern Ireland during the IRA reign of terror fears a resurgence of violence following TWO terror attacks within 48 hours.

Nick White, 51, from north Kent was stationed in there during his military career in the '80s and '90s. It was his tours of Northern Ireland that caused him to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he still receives treatment decades later from Combat Stress - a charity which provides psychological help for ex-servicemen.

During two tours, from 1988 to 1990 in Ballymena with the Catering Corps and then in 1992 in Armagh as part of an emergency tour with the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment he witnessed IRA atrocities at their worst. He said this week's murder of Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, who trained at the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham, and Cengiz 'Patrick' Azimka, 21, from Wood Green, London, brought back painful memories. Just hours later he was devastated by the news that a police officer had also been shot in the head in a second attack at around 10pm on Monday in Craigavon, County Armagh.

Mr White said: "It's worrying that they are going back to using weapons. Just when you think it's safe in Northern Ireland and after there has been peace for a decade and they have got over the worst of it they - go back to this sort of thing.

"I haven't been over there for years but everything has been rebuilt and people are getting on with their lives I just can't see them wanting to go back to the old days. It is worrying that two attacks have happened so close together."

The 51-year-old, who is now on disability benefits after injuring his back, still finds it hard to talk about his experiences in Northern Ireland, but said: "I don't like speaking about it. That's why I go to Combat Stress. Just hearing this on the news is very painful and is a setback for all involved.

"In 1988 to 1990 I was stationed about 30 minutes from Antrim where this happened. Lots of things went on out there. These sorts of things would be happening on a regular basis in those days and even before I was there. We lost a few out there on the second emergency tour but we stopped a few bombs out there. We did our job and we came back and that's just part and parcel of what goes on."

He added: "For a while it was all going well and it seems to have kicked off again for some reason. It could be that they are fed up with the peace process. I expect it's only a minority group but you never know. They may be trying to stir up trouble again. If that happens we are back to square one and we haven't got anywhere. You just have to ask why they have done it. It's nothing new but after all the peace it seems surprising that it has all happened again."

More than 20,000 British troops are currently stationed at various locations outside the UK. A further 5,000 are based in Northern Ireland, the most allowed under the Good Friday Agreement 1998 which was signed to create a ceasefire in the troubled region and establish a power sharing government. Over 151,000 remain at barracks and posts around the UK, ready for deployment at a moments notice.

Mark Quinsey and Cengiz 'Patrick' Azimka, 21, were killed at Massereene Army base in Antrim at about 9.20pm on Saturday). The two young soldiers became the first to be murdered in Northern Ireland for 12 years when they were shot down by members of the 'Real IRA' after going to the barracks' main gate to collect some pizzas. Both of them were from 25 Field Squadron, 38 Engineer Regiment.

Four other people, including two pizza delivery men were injured in the attack. Three are said to be in a serious condition.

Then, on Monday, Republican dissidents struck again. A police officer, Constable Stephen Paul Carroll, 48, a married man with children from the Banbridge area of County Down, became the third member of the security services to be killed within 48 hours when he was shot in his car while responding to an emergency call. The Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr White has been receiving treatment from the charity Combat Stress since 2001. He travels to a specialist treatment centre in Leatherhead, Surrey, for two-week sessions three times a year.

Paying tribute to those who died, he added: "My heart goes out to their families. They are there to do a job and then someone just comes up as does this. It's something you just don't expect to happen.

"It's the same for the people who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. You just don't expect your loved ones to be shot down.

"We just have to hope this was a one off."

Gravesham MP Adam Holloway, a former member of the Special Air Service is shocked at the events. He said: "Anyone who thinks it's reasonable to gun down young soldiers and police officers in this way is not going with the tide of history. The remarkable thing about this is that even former terrorists like Martin McGuinness are saying that the world has moved on. The Sinn Féin IRA will probably be doing their utmost to find the people who did this.

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