“and nobody would bat an eyelid..”

In The Observer, Henry McDonald interviews Lt Gen Nicholas Parker CBE, GOC (Northern Ireland) – the senior officer commanding the British army here – as Operation Banner comes to an end. There are several points made in the interview which no doubt others would want to pick out, but there are two that stand out to me. Firstly what he has to say about the future

All targets for demilitarising large swaths of Northern Ireland are likely to be met by 31 July. Eventually the troop numbers will fall to just under 5,000. Looking ahead, Parker envisages that the military presence will be comparable to troops stationed in Glasgow, Yorkshire or Cornwall. Asked what life soldiers in Northern Ireland would have in five years, he said: ‘I think they should be going into Tesco’s to get their shopping on the way home from their barracks in their uniform and nobody would bat an eyelid. ‘But the aim is to move from being part of the security forces in Northern Ireland to becoming another part of the Northern Ireland community.’ He adds that he foresees a day when the armed forces can open new recruitment centres across the north of Ireland, ‘in places like Bangor, Coleraine and Newry’.

The other point of interest is what he has to say about the threat from republican micro-organisations

‘Everybody knows that there is a dissident republican threat and that the chief constable leads on that. But my personal view is that I have watched with interest to see how they have absolutely no political support in the democratic process. I think they got under 1 per cent of the vote in the last elections.

‘If you are viewing a threat from a military perspective, it’s one that really would not cause you to lose much sleep, and I think that as a group they have been bypassed by the rest of the world. Whether they are persistent, whether they retain a capability to be taken seriously, is absolutely the chief constable’s call, and if he needed help we would provide that. But I think they are not a problem for the military,’ Parker says. ‘Anybody can take information off the internet that could produce things we should worry about. But everyone I talk to dismisses them as people who have lost the plot.’

The key line is, “But I think they are not a problem for the military”.

Indeed. They are, though, a problem for the police. And therefore, as Conor Ryan points out, also a problem for others.

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  • huge airy
  • heck

    “He adds that he foresees a day when the armed forces can open new recruitment centres across the north of Ireland”

    god I hope not–to recruit and send young Irish men and women to third world countries to kill people for Honest Tony’s successors. And this goal is supported by people who “opposed violence”!!

  • ingram

    ah,

    No long term or selfish interest? LOL

    Ding Ding

  • Frank Sinistra

    A member of my family, non-blood, is a member of the British army. I mentioned this topic to him at a BBQ we both attended.

    His almost exact words were: “Without a Personal Protection Weapon, I wouldn’t risk it within several decades. I’d be the easiest of easiest targets for even the least organised group of nutters”

    I’d agree.

  • willowfield

    “No long-term or selfish interest” doesn’t mean that NI ceases to be part of the UK.

  • Pete Baker

    Well, the “in five years” is stated as a target date.. not a deadline.. and may have been introduced by the interviewer.

    The more interesting point, I thought, was the stating of, once the targets for demilitarisation are met, the aim is for the remaining military presence [the 5,000 troops mentioned] to be the same as those in Glasgow, Yorkshire or Cornwall.

    And hasn’t anyone read below the fold to the second point?

  • toolate

    “Iraq will continue to have an impact on the army in Northern Ireland. A unit from RAF Aldergrove is patrolling the skies over Baghdad. This means military helicopter flights, albeit on a dramatically reduced scale, will continue for training purposes over urban areas such as Belfast, Parker says.”

    Is this what Bobby Sands died for?

    I don’t even vote SF but this sticks in my gut.

  • ingram

    Willowfield,

    HMG invested so much time, effort, money and blood in this conflict that only a fool would believe they have any plans to disengage from NI especially now the constitutional question has been resolved and accepted by modern day Republicans.

    At about the same time Gerry Adams says a UI will be achieved the GOC believes troops will be in a no different position then those in Cornwall? shopping and socialising and using it as a rather large training aid? LOL

    Ask Paddy Power for a price on who is closer to the mark? Adams or the GOC LOL

    Ding Ding a ding a long

    Ingram

  • DK

    I read the article and one bit not in Pete’s snippet that I found interesting is the reference General Parker makes to recruiting troops from the Republic of Ireland: namely that there have always been a lot of recruits from there. If I remember my stats, the UDR was pretty much representative of NI society in terms of the proportion of catholics in the ranks – maybe the army is less obnoxious for catholics to join than the PSNI, and even more so for southerners.

  • heck

    the UDR was pretty much representative of NI society in terms of the proportion of catholics in the ranks !

    where TF did you read this crap?

  • inuit_g

    Not sure about the UDR DK, but there certainly would be a lot of southerners in the Irish Guards and the overseas regiment of the RIR (all that’s left of the RIR now that the home element has been disbanded)

    I remember RTE doing a news special a few years ago about the Irish Guards in Bosnia and how they came from both sides of the border – both tricolors and ulster flags around the base there.

    I liked the GOC comments about the squaddie being able to do his shopping in Tescos and nobody batting an eyelid, that strikes me as the kind of normality we’re now moving towards.