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Killings reignite sad memories of the Troubles in Northern Ireland

PUBLISHED: 16:46 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 09:46 12 August 2010

Britain's Brigadier George Norton pauses to read floral tributes left at the front entrance of Massereen Army base in County Antrim, near Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 9, 2009. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday visited the scene of a deadly gun attack on an army base in Northern Ireland, as leaders tried to gauge the threat level to peace in the province. A dissident republican group opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process claimed it shot dead two British soldiers, the first such killing in 12 years. AFP PHOTO/Peter MUHLY (Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain's Brigadier George Norton pauses to read floral tributes left at the front entrance of Massereen Army base in County Antrim, near Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 9, 2009. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday visited the scene of a deadly gun attack on an army base in Northern Ireland, as leaders tried to gauge the threat level to peace in the province. A dissident republican group opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process claimed it shot dead two British soldiers, the first such killing in 12 years. AFP PHOTO/Peter MUHLY (Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

2009 AFP

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

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."

'I know lads who were shot' by Fintan Quinn

PLACES still hold tags bearing testament to Northern Ireland's horrendous past - the Murder Mile, Murder Triangle and Suicide Inn.

Badges or markers are common place in Northern Ireland and close to my family home one 19-year-old was murdered for wearing a Glasgow Celtic top. Sickeningly the football shirt and the corner he was standing on were seemingly enough to mark him out as a so-called 'legitimate target'.

It is not right to mention names or stir up memories of those who died. It is something that is simply not done in Northern Ireland, but the pain of those years and many worse beforehand remain. The fear they will one day return is as strong as ever this week.

I know lads from school that have been or have had parents who were shot, stabbed or murdered for being different to their attackers.

In January 1998 there was an attempted murder of a taxi man yards from my front door, my dad and uncle were in the street.

The 30 seconds or so after that attack, when I knew my family and the gunfire were in close proximity, were the most terrifying of my life and until Sunday morning something I had managed to completely remove from my mind.

I was born in 1984 in Belfast and although I didn't experience the worst of the Northern Ireland troubles at first hand, violence in my part of town never seemed too far away.

It would be unfair to many people, from both communities, who lost loved ones if I made out I have suffered a great deal because that simply didn't happen. My upbringing was privileged and by all accounts a very happy one.

But what is true is that I was brought up in a city that was extremely divided and very often ruled by fear.

The problems in Northern Ireland are often painted along religious grounds - in that Protestants don't get on with Catholics and vice versa.

While that is not strictly true armed pro-British Loyalists are mostly from the former group while militant Irish Republicans find their roots in the latter. What is often misunderstood is that the majority of people don't support one group or the other. Most people I encountered during my childhood support neither, they simply desire to live a quiet life free from intimidation.

At times, though, in north Belfast - my much maligned ward - it was hard to maintain what could be classified as a 'normal life' because of the divided nature of the area.

The feeling of always looking over your shoulder or being warned by your parents not to go into a certain street, pub, park or even shop was constant.

Only the most deluded 'hard man' will claim never to have been worried while out and about at least once.

It is common place for most areas to be completely, or at least have a significant majority, of just one of the two main religions living in them. Generally, you went to school and even played sport only with people that were 'similar' to you. This is not unique to north Belfast but the interwoven nature of these staunch one domination areas not present in other parts of the city has led to violently troubled times.

Conflict and depression have once again been brought about by the series of glum-faced news readers announcing the death of the latest victim. The stop-start nature of post-ceasefire violence seemed to be something that most in Northern Ireland had tried to forget about.

However, it all seemed to come flooding back with the recent murders of two soldiers and a police officer. I was in shock when I read the news first thing on Sunday morning that two young English lads were shot dead on an isolated lane in rural Ireland.

Worryingly, and perhaps more so for younger generations like myself who did not live in Ireland at its most volatile, it was probably the first time the true magnitude of killings such as these had been felt. People had been numbed by acts like this in the past. But as normality returned we are now shocked by actions that once seemed almost normal only because of their frequency. This was an era Northern Ireland had desperately tried to escape, yet in a moment of madness it was thrown back at us.

One act of violence by people, with almost no support from any section of society, could jeopardise what so many have wanted and worked for so long to achieve - peace in Northern Ireland.

It is the talk of the town back home rather than the usual football banter and weather talk but worries about slipping back into the dark old days.

Everyone, for once, is open in their condemnation of these attacks but you can detect an element of worry that another dark chapter in the short but colourful history of Northern Ireland may be about to begin. That underbelly of violence and fear never really went away and has always been fragile. Now peace is at risk once more and it is a terrible shame.

I left Belfast to go to university in England in 2003 and even in that short time I saw the place improve. The place I was once so desperate to leave is now my favourite place to be.

I am, and always will be, a proud Belfast man, but I much preferred the fantastic future it seemed to have just a week ago.

fintan.quinn@archant.co.uk

Where the soldiers are

Afghanistan 8,050

Northern Ireland 5,000

Iraq 4,350

Falklands Islands 1,500

Qatar 700

Kuwait 700

Cyprus 300

Kosovo 150

Bahrain 150

Bosnia 50

Other locations in the UK 151,000

(Figures include Army, Navy and RAF)

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