General links demilitarisation to IRA-DUP deal
General links demilitarisation to IRA-DUP deal

A suggestion by a British military chief that some troops could be withdrawn from the North of Ireland by Christmas in the event of a political deal has been greeted with cynicism by republicans.

General Sir Mike Jackson, chief of the general staff, said it was “quite possible” that a go-ahead for what the British government describes as “normalisation” could come by Christmas.

According to reports, senior British military figures are among those who believe the Provisional IRA is preparing a statement about ending their struggle as part of a deal involving DUP support for power-sharing in a Six County administration.

Jackson is understood to be keen for “normalisation” to free up troops for other assignments, and to facilitate reforms to the British Army.

Currently, there are still more British soldiers in Ireland than the combined force levels in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo.

In the Joint Declaration published by the Irish and British Prime Ministers last year, Tony Blair promised to reduce the British Army from the present 11,200 to the peace-time “garrison” strength of 5,000.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on demilitarisation, assembly member Thomas Reilly, said that appeared to be missing the point.

Mr Reilly said: “It is 10 years on from the first IRA cessation and six years on from the political deal which committed the British government to a programme of demilitarisation.

“What we have had in the years since is a rationalisation programme being conducted by the British crown forces to suit their own narrow military agenda.

“It is worth remembering that the British army currently has almost twice as many personnel occupying the six counties as it has in its occupation and war in Iraq.

“Nationalists and republicans want to see the British government deliver on its commitments in this area.”

SDLP spokesperson Dominic Bradley said it is only right that commitments given by the British government in the Joint Declaration are delivered on.

“Tony Blair himself has said that there is no sense in which the security situation is deteriorating,” Mr Bradley said.

“There is no reason why we cannot make further progress on demilitarisation now.

“This also includes the closure of the joint army and police bases.”

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