Irish Republican News · August 3, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: TIME TO GO
TIME TO GO

British military reductions underway

The British Army has begun dismantling some of its most infamous spyposts in the North of Ireland as part of a major programme of demilitarisation and troop withdrawal.

The move follows last week’s landmark initiative by the Provisional IRA to dump arms and stand down and yesterday’s publication by the British government of its long-delayed schedule for demilitarisation.

Republicans have been cheered and unionists outraged by the British government’s choreographed response to the end of the IRA’s armed campaign.

The phased plan, to be carried through over two years, depends on a peaceful “enabling environment” being “established and maintained”.

If completed, it will result in the withdrawal of about half the British military deployment in Ireland, including the partial disbandment of the notorious Royal Irish Regiment [RIR] and the removal of a number of controversial military installations.

One of the first steps in the demilitarisation plan began at the notorious military fortifications on top of Divis Flats, a residential building overlooking Gerry Adams’s West Belfast constituency.

DUP leader Ian Paisley thundered: “It is a surrender to the IRA and is further evidence of bad faith on the part of the Government.”

In particular, the treatment of the RIR was “a scandalous betrayal” comparable to the reform of the old RUC police into the current PSNI.

He accused ministers of taking a “dishonest and dangerous approach” and warned that the announcement would block the restoration of the Belfast Assembly.

British Secretary of State Peter Hain published the three-phase plan yesterday linking it specifically to the “normalisation” papers released after intensive talks at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast in March 2003.

Announcing the measures, Mr Hain said: “In April 2003 the [British] government set out proposals to normalise the security profile across Northern Ireland when there was an enabling environment. Following the IRA statement of 28th July, we are now moving quickly to begin that process.”

Mr Hain added: “Provided the enabling environment is established and maintained, this programme will be achievable within two years, though if the conditions are right to move more quickly in implementing elements of the plan, the government will do so.”

He said the programme “will see the creation of an environment which will allow the return of conventional policing across Northern Ireland”.

Other measures outlined include the closure of 26 of the 40 British army sites in the North, and the cutting of troop numbers from 10,500 to 5,000. Defortification of PSNI stations is also to be accelerated, according to the news release.

Spy posts in south Armagh will be dismantled, along with the Masonic base on Derry’s walls. There are also plans for the phased withdrawal of troops from counties Fermanagh and Tyrone within the next year, and demolition of the controversial spymast at Rosemount in Derry within two years.

Policing and judicial powers would be brought more into line with those in Britain. In particular, emergency legislation dealing with the special ‘Diplock’ non-jury courts would be removed.

UDR TO GO

The end of military support for policing should lead -- within two years -- to the disbandment of the three local battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment. The regiment was created in 1992 from the the murderous Ulster Defence Regiment [UDR] and the Royal Irish Rangers.

The UDR, a locally recruited Protestant militia, has a reputation for being ruthless and bigoted. Its existence created tensions in communities where local unionists were effectively policing nationalists.

The reputation of the UDR was further tarnished by the number of loyalist murders in which members of the UDR were involved. The most famous of these, the murder of three members of the Miami Showband, happened 30 years ago almost to the day.

On July 31, 1975, the band members were stopped by a UDR roadblock in Banbridge, Co Down. Loyalists tried to plant a bomb in the band’s van but the bomb exploded, killing two of the loyalists.

Three band members were then killed in a hail of gunfire. Two UDR soldiers were later convicted of the murders.

WORK BEGINS

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams celebrated the removal of the Divis military watchtower in west Belfast -- and suggested a possible relocation on the Rev Ian Paisley’s church rooftop.

Over the last 30 years the post has been used to photograph, film and spy upon people in the community. INLA Volunteer Matt McLarnon was shot and killed by British troops from the post, while unionist paramilitaries worked with impunity in its shadow. Two men, Thomas ‘Toddler’ Hughes and Martin O’Prey, were shot dead in full view of the post.

Mr Adams said the removal would be a relief for residents in his constituency forced to endure the British military presence.

The west Belfast MP added that it could be rebuilt at the church in the east of the city where Mr Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party leader opposed to the demilitarisation and disbandment of Royal Irish Regiment battalions, preaches regularly.

He said: “If Ian Paisley wants it to be transferred to the tower of the Free Presbyterian church, to the tower of the Martyrs` Memorial church, that`s a matter for him. But he must welcome the fact that these people (in Divis Tower) are going to be given respite.”

But, with leaders of the main unionist party still refusing to enter direct negotiations with republicans, Mr Adams asked if Mr Paisley would have preferred that the IRA had not made its move.

He also challenged British prime minister Tony Blair to advise the DUP it was time to move on with the peace process and restore devolved government.

But as engineers continued to dismantle equipment high above him, the Sinn Féin leader was quick to wish them good riddance.

“I’m and Irish republican and the British army should never have been here at all,” he said. “They serve no useful purpose here on Divis Tower. We are told they were there for our protection but people were killed in my constituency office, people were killed in this neighbourhood, all within sight of the squaddies on this tower.”

West Belfast MLA Fra McCann, who lives in its shadow, said locals would be happy to see it go under British government plans to scale back its military presence in the North over the next two years.

Mr McCann said: “For 25 years we have lived as a community under surveillance. People will be glad to see the back of it.”

Asked about unionist concerns about the pace of demilitarisation, Mr McCann said: “The [IRA] ceasefire has been in place for 11 years.

“The British government promised then that they would move on demilitarisation across the North. Considering it has been 11 years, then I would not consider it too soon.”

© 2005 Irish Republican News