British Army special forces soldiers are back in the north of Ireland, according to PSNI Chief Hugh Orde.
Special British forces, such as the SAS, operated throughout the conflict and were responsible for multiple assassinations, shoot-to-kill ambushes and collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
Members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have now returned at Orde’s request.
It is claimed that the soldiers will not be on the streets, but will work behind the scenes.
Despite the highly publicised end of ‘Operation Banner’ -- the British Army’s role in military operations in Ireland -- almost two years ago, several thousand British troops remain permanently stationed in the North.
Long-standing suspicions that Special forces were now working from the HQ of British military intelligence (MI5) in Holywood, Belfast, have now been confirmed.
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness has said it was the British Army’s forces that were a “major threat”.
He was responding to the comments of Hugh Orde, that the deployment was a response to an increased republican threat.
“The history of the north has shown that many of these forces have been as much a danger to the community as any other group,” said Mr McGuinness.
He said the decision was “stupid and dangerous” and “shaken his confidence” in the PSNI chief. Sinn Fein has raised the matter with the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Yesterday [Thursday], there was anger among nationalist members of the Policing Board after it appeared that the board had been deceived by PSNI chief.
The SDLP said the decision to send in the regiment “raises the issue of who is in control”.
“At lunchtime on Thursday, the PSNI were telling the Policing Board the British Army would not be deployed save for bomb squad support,” said a statement.
“But by teatime we learn that British Army recon units are deployed.
“There is an immediate issue of who made this decision, when it was made and what the PSNI did not know or knew and did not tell the Policing Board.”
But the DUP backed the deployment of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, and said it was a national [British] security issue and not a matter for the local population.
The announcement of the return of special forces followed the declaration by Orde that the “threat level” in the North was “severe” -- to mean he is expecting increased activity by republican armed groups.
Republicans viewed the statement, as well as an announcement of an increased deployment of British bomb-disposal teams, as disingenuous and propogandistic.
The statements were also linked by nationalists to efforts by so-called ‘securocrats’ to justify continued high expenditures in the face of mounting financial pressure.
Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said reports of a raised threat level suggested elements of the Crown forces were attempting to talk up the ‘dissident’ threat to justify more hardline policing and remilitarisation.
“For me there is clearly not a lot of substance to that, it’s a play on words and it’s giving fear to the public,” he said, warning against an agenda of ‘slipping back to the bad old ways’.
“Like many others, I was a victim of so-called British Special Forces, who colluded with Unionist Murder Gangs in attempts to murder me and my family. There can be no place for these types of groups within any civic and non-political policing service.”
Republican Sinn Fein said the move confirmed that the previous announcement of the end of ‘Operation Banner’ was meaningless.
“Alex Maskey cannot feign indignation about the return of these malign forces, given his party’s open and unambivalent support for those who have made this decision,” a spokesman said.
“For British prime minister Gordon Brown to say in Washington that ‘Ireland is now at peace’ is but a fairy tale.
“British troops never left the Occupied Six Counties and now reinforcements are arriving to shore up Unionist and British interest to the detriment of Irish interests and Irish freedom.”