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Former British army commander does not consider 'taig' as a 'term of abuse'

Former MP and ex-British soldier Eric Joyce said servicemen were "well aware" of what terms were "abusive". Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A RETIRED British army commander criticised for using the word "taig" in a tweet said he did not consider it a "term of abuse" and said it was "common parlance" in his army units.

Richard Kemp, who was awarded an MBE in 1993 for his intelligence work in Northern Ireland, used the term in replies to a post in which he criticised a Catholic Church statement on recent violence at a key holy site in Jerusalem.

After a man responded to the post with a reference to "Fenians", Mr Kemp replied: "Do you mean taigs?"

In a follow-up tweet, Mr Kemp, a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, said that 'taig' was "common parlance in my units".

He was criticised by several social media users, including former Labour MP and British soldier Eric Joyce, who asked: "You understand that's a racist term of abuse?"

Mr Kemp, a practising Catholic, replied that he had "often been called a taig myself".

It is described in the Oxford Dictionary as a "derogatory term for a Catholic or Irish nationalist", with the dictionary stating that it originated in the mid-17th century as a variant of the Irish name Tadhg and "a nickname for an Irishman".

Speaking to The Irish News yesterday, the retired commander said that he had "not considered it as a term of abuse".

Mr Kemp said: "As a Catholic in my unit I was in a minority. The fellow soldiers would have called me a taig as well.

"I wasn't calling anyone a taig (in the tweet). I wouldn't see it as racist but everyone interprets things in different ways. I suppose it is like so many things, people want to take offence at almost anything these days."

He added: "It is possible that in my case I am used to a military banter where you get used to all sorts of different names. You don't really take offence."

The retired commander, who works as a writer and motivational speaker, said that 'taig' was used by fellow soldiers he served alongside in the north to refer to "Catholics generally" and not republicans.

He said: "It was terminology you would pick up where you were serving. I doubt (many) would have heard it before, they would have heard Irish people referred to as Paddy or Mick but not taigs.

"Soldiers were culturally sensitive and were told how to deal with people and how not to deal with people. I can't envisage that it would have been widely used between soldiers and civilians."

However, Eric Joyce, a former shadow Northern Ireland minister and ex-British soldier who also served in the north, dismissed Mr Kemp's suggestion that language was "picked up" as "absolute b*ll***s".

He told The Irish News: "Everyone was well aware of what terms were abusive and which were acceptable. Some soldiers would have used that term to be abusive, and some commanding officers would definitely have told them not to use it.

"The fact that he is a Catholic is neither here nor there. You would be aware of terms before going to Ireland."

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