British Army in ‘draw down’
British Army in ‘draw down’

The British Army is to change its official status in Ireland in a move to highlight the demilitarisation and so-called “normalisation” in the North.

For the first time in 30 years the British Army will have no general officer commanding (GOC) to head its military operation in Ireland. Instead a brigadier will be put in charge.

The downgrading in status is an extension of last year’s withdrawal of troops from the north which marked the end of Operation Banner, the British Army’s name for its part in the conflict.

In practical terms it only means around 30 military personal leaving army headquarters at Thiepval barracks in Lisburn, County Antrim.

Five thousand troops will still be “permanently” based on Irish soil. Many of these are currently engaged in other active occupations in the Middle East.

With British forces still engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ireland is now low on their list of military priorities.

The departing GOC General Brown said this week there was no longer a need for “public order support”.

“We still provide bomb disposal, as has been seen in recent days and weeks, and that will continue.

“The PSNI have neither the desire nor the capability to provide their own bomb disposal.”

Brown suggested that street violence surrounding the Whiterock Orange parade in west Belfast in 2005 delayed the announcement.

Management of the highly contentious Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) march through Belfast in November was seen as the final test of the normalisation process.

Brown said the British Army parade through Belfast city centre demonstrated how normal the North had become.

“We had fewer people arrested on November 2nd than are arrested at an average fourth division football match,” he boasted.

With British troops on standby, the parade was policed entirely by the PSNI at a cost of almost half a million pounds.

A spokesperson for Republican Sinn Féin said that despite the appearance of movement, the status quo would remain indefinitely.

“Recent admissions by Hugh Orde that his force is unable to patrol the streets as they please because of the ever resurgent military opposition to English rule shows that the military situation in Ireland is far from ‘normal’.”

“The only normal number of British soldiers in our country is none. Brown admits that ‘this is not a withdrawal’, but a full British withdrawal remains the Republican demand.”

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