The biggest British Army training exercise to be held in the north of Ireland since before the conflict is being held in the north west next week. About 500 British soldiers are taking part in areas around County Derry.
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Monroe, who commands the Royal Scots Borderers, said it would have been “really difficult to have run this exercise during Operation Banner [the British army’s operation in Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007].”
Sinn Fein’s Cathal O hOisin said the British decision to hold large scale war games in Ireland was a “backward step”.
“We want to see demilitarisation in all its forms, with no exceptions, and this decision flies in the face of that,” O hOisin said.
The Republican Network for Unity said that the only thing that had changed in 2007 was the “name and tempo” of the British campaign in Ireland, now known as Operation Helvetic.
In a statement on their website, they said 5,000 armed British soldiers remained in Ireland “ready and waiting” to quell any social disruption, and provide strategic, intelligence and military training to “those on the front line of British rule in Ireland - the PSNI”.
“The narrative that the people of Ireland were fed in 1998 is in direct conflict with the reality of the situation,” they said. “We were informed the British were in a process of withdrawal, that we would have a complete demilitarisation of the North and the British had no ‘strategic interest’ in the Six Counties. However the so called Lt. Col Monroe has well and truly put the last nail in the coffin of the Stormonteers narrative when he asserted: ‘We’re here for the foreseeable future.’”
Separately, an acclaimed British journalist said this week he believed that the war in Ireland has indeed been won by the British government and by unionists.
Filmmaker Peter Taylor, who has written several well-known texts on the conflict, argued that while the IRA may have played a part in “breaking the mould of the unionist state”, the union is today secure, while the Provisional IRA is no more.
“The unimaginable has already happened with Martin McGuinness up there at Stormont as deputy first minister and dining with the queen,” he said. His new documentary, ‘Who Won the War?’, is to be broadcast this week.