Tuesday, July 31, 2007

British army leaves Northern Ireland after 38 years

After 38 years the British Army is ending its presence in Northern Ireland. What was the longest campaign in the army's history draws to an end at midnight on Tuesday, without fanfare or ceremony.

Colonel Wayne Harber of the 39th Infantry Brigade told the The Times: "There will be a private moment of remembrance and absolutely nothing else."

Troops Out!

For the Republicans of Northern Ireland this is the end of the End Game: for years "troops out!" was the recurring slogan and aim of the Irish Republican Army.

The unravelling of Operation Banner, as the campaign was known, began for real when the IRA abandoned its policy of armed resistance. Colonel Harber comments:

"I think that everyone is glad that it's over. There has only been one set of losers: the people of Northern Ireland. You should not have the Army on your streets; it is an aberration."

Send troops

In August 1969, the Catholics of Northern Ireland were begging for British soldiers to come to their rescue.

In just a few days time, seven people had died and hundreds had been injured in street fighting between the Protestant and Catholic communities, streets were ethnically cleansed, houses set on fire.

The Irish MP Gerry Fitt remembers being beseiged by an almost hystericla mob of 500 people demanding he ask London to send troops.

"In the company of four or five hundred of my constituents, I went down to a bookmakers shop and rang [British] Home Secretary James Callaghan. He said - and I will never forget his words - it would be relatively easy to bring the army in to Northern Ireland, but it would be the devil of a job to get it out."

RUC

The task of the British Army was to support the Northern Ireland police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The RUC was not your average police force. It was a semi-military organisation (unlike police in other parts of the United Kingdom, the RUC carried firearms) concerned mainly with protecting the existing, Protestant-dominated order.

Ninety-six percent of its membership was Protestant and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland were generally regarded as potential or actual Republican terrorists. The treatment meted out to Catholics was based on this conviction.

The real Republicans regarded the RUC as no better than a sectarian militia and the police became one of the IRA's primary targets. In the course of "the troubles" they killed 277 RUC officers (while 763 soldiers were recorded as killed by paramilitaries).

No-go

Throughout the province, "no-go" areas developed - Catholic neighbourhoods regarded as too dangerous for the RUC and the army.

Until recently the police station in Crossmaglen could only be supplied from the air, since this apparently unexceptional little border town with its maze of winding streets was regarded as too dangerous for police and troops on the ground.

Despite the withdrawal, around 5,000 British troops will continue to be stationed in Northern Ireland.

They will no longer be there to support the police. They will form part of a peace-keeping garrison which can be deployed in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone or wherever else they are needed.

Reorganisation

Probably one of the toughest elements of the Northern Ireland peace process, which only got going properly in 1997, was the reorganisation of the RUC.

A peaceful Northern Ireland would not be possible without a police force which would serve both communities and be respected by all sections of the population. Different uniforms, different insignia and a new name (the Police Service of Northern Ireland) were introduced to help create a new culture within the force.

An extraordinary meeting of the main Republican party, Sinn Fein, at the start of this year gave the final stamp of approval to Catholics to apply for jobs with the new service.

Recruiting Catholic officers is, however, still a problem. It will demand creative thinking to reach the long-term goal of a 50 percent Catholic, 50 percent Protestant police force.

Recruiting Poles

The solution may even lay outside of Northern Ireland, in Poland. Almost 600 people filled in application forms for the PSNI in reponse to adverts in Polish newpapers in recent months.

They still have to pass language tests and evaluations but, to the great relief of the Polish police, who were afraid - Northern Ireland salaries being four times higher than Polish - of losing hundreds of epxerienced oficers, almost every candidate proved in need of greater language skills to be accepted.

Northern Ireland doesn't seem particularly perturbed about the continuing Protestant domination of the police.

An opinion poll earlier this month indicated that 83 percent of the population, both Catholic and Protestant, has confidence in the new police force.

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The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Sotto Voce

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately organised religionism has not gone away and the hatred will go on and survive into future generations.
'Catholic' children will be indoctrinated in 'Catholic' schools and 'Protestant' children will be indoctrinated in 'Protestant' schools.

The nettles have been cut back but the roots are still there.

Herny DeButler