The following is a statement from our Hon. President David Crabbe OBE, UD, BA delivered during the launch of Decorum NI in La Mon House Hotel on Wednesday 25th March 2015 in front of The Rt. Hon. Peter D. Robinson MLA First Minister of Northern Ireland and distinguished guests
What’s in a name? Shakespeare’s Juliet said that ‘a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet’. And that is true - to an extent. However, we know all too well that names are very important - especially in Northern Ireland today. Our organisation’s name - Decorum NI - a name not chosen lightly. As many of you will know our organisation builds on the work which was carried out under a previous name ‘Phoenix’. Phoenix was a good name with a lot of symbolism attached to it but to be honest we did at times, get a bit fed up having to tell people that we could not fix their gas boiler, nor were we responsible for digging up their road to lay pipes etc.! So we are
Decorum NI - a name which not only reflects the fact that those who served here in Northern Ireland through some 40 years of conflict did so because it was the ‘right and proper’ thing to do, but it also has an historically resonance through Wilfred Owen’s poem and indeed his own service. Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ was inspired by an inscription on the altar in the Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst which was placed there in 1913 ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' - it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one’s country. A quote from the Roman poet Horace. Owen became a commissioned officer and served on the Western Front in the First World War seeing at first hand many of the horrors of war.
He was a brave and inspiring leader and was awarded the Military Cross in 1918. He paid a high cost being both physically and mentally wounded. He suffered from ‘neurasthenia’ more commonly known as ‘shell shock’ or PTSD in modern parlance.
Poignantly, Owen was killed in action on 4th November 1918 just one week before the
ending of hostilities. Owen’s legacy of poetry has inspired many and the last few lines
of his ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ poem has a resonance today when he said:
My friend, you would not tell with such high jest,
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. (It is sweet and right to die for your Country)
We feel that this equally applies to the lack of appreciation for what so many who
served in the troubles here in Northern Ireland suffered. So many of whom still
carry their own mental and physical injuries and so many who also paid the
ultimate price to pave the way for peace in our land. It is something of a sad
reflection that those who bear the hidden mental injuries still struggle today
to access full and proper treatment just as the sodiers of the First World War
did 100 years ago.
We have learned a lot about mental injury in that time but those who suffer often
still face a challenge not just to have their illness recognised but to have it
So what’s in a name? Many who served were called a variety of names - Peelers - Screws - Squaddies - and many more, much worse names besides! Having left service they are called Veterans, Victims, and Survivors. Names which were rarely heard were Parent - Brother - Sister - Citizen - PERSON. For whilst there were 63,000 soldiers who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Home Service Battalions, and whilst there were over 14,000 Prison Officers who served in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and whilst there were some 33,000 Police Officers who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and whilst there were thousands more serving in policing and military roles it is all too easily forgotten that those who served and wore the respective uniforms were also people. People with feelings, hopes, fears, and aspirations - people who were integral members of families.
Of course not all of those who served have needs - but many do and we in Decorum NI will be working to help ensure those needs are met. We will work to provide a safe and trusted pathway to the services they need - something that is missing for many at the moment. We will work to ensure that just because someone who served is too proud to ask for help because they were always used to helping others, that they are not denied their needs.
But there is a more general need for everyone who served - that is the need for their service and sacrifices to be properly recognised. Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on looking at the deeds and misdeeds of the past - yet relatively little is spent on recognising those who held the line, those who stood up for law and order and paid a heavy price for it as did their families. Maybe part of the fault for that lies at our own feet - the constituency of those who served lacks cohesion, lacks a united voice, and thus currently lacks the ability to not only be heard but to counter those who seek to denigrate the very ‘right and proper’ stance that so many thousands of those who served took in standing up for law and order.
We have shared platforms and engaged in debate with organisations who represent former paramilitaries and former prisoners and see a common thread in their approach - and it works! We also hear them use the same language - again here what’s in a name? They will talk of the needs of ‘all combatants’ in the conflict. Well sorry, but we will never accept that term - a term of the politics of equivalence. When we put on our uniform we did not go on to the streets of Belfast or the fields and lanes of Armagh and South Down with murder in mind - we went to defend our country from those who did have murder in mind. There is a fundamental and irreconcilable difference - We were not a ‘combatant’ and neither were the tens of thousands of others who served. We must never bow to the politics of equivalence!
We in Decorum NI are and will remain, totally apolitical, but we will work hard to try to obtain a united voice for those who served. We should aspire to ensure that what we achieved in our service is remembered and acknowledged in a dignified way - perhaps some form of annual event or church service. Indeed we should aspire to creating a permanent reminder which would record the history of the service given on the path to peace. But we will need to get like-minded organisations to come together and work together, without fear of prejudice to their respective identities in order to achieve this.
We will also work hard to ensure that future generations will understand the true story of
those who served. We have already paved the way in this work - During March 2015 a
group of our members joined with pupils from Nendrum College, Comber in a very
successful trip to lasnevin Cemetery in Dublin exploring our joint heritage.
We look forward to future like-minded collaboration. We will be putting on an exhibition
in the Nomadic from 25th to 31st of May this year which is open to all - it is something we
would like repeated elsewhere particularly among schools and youth groups. So please
spread the word, not just so as the next generation will learn the true history of our
service but also that they can learn that such service and sacrifice should never again be
required in our wee country! We would like to talk and meet with any and all groups who
would be interested in working with us.
Decorum NI is an organisation which wants to look forward to a positive future. We want to break down barriers - be they barriers to accessing much needed services, or barriers to understanding. We are very much a self-driven organisation. Of course we need some financial support and we have been very grateful for the support we have received thus far from OFMdFM and Co-operation Ireland. However, we also owe a lot to our many volunteers who put in countless hours working hard to ensure the aims and objectives can be met, and we would like to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers.
Thank you all - you know who you are.
We in Decorum NI are confident and excited moving forward, and we hope you will join with us in helping to build a better future.
Wilfred Owen MC