At long last the British troop numbers here will drop to the ‘peacetime’ levels they were at before being called onto the streets of Belfast in 1969. Already the battles are beginning over what it means. It clearly means different things to different people:The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson:
Referring to the 763 members of the forces who were killed, he said: “This is a difficult time for the families of those who were killed. This was an immense sacrifice and we owe a great debt to those who laid down their life in defence of democracy.” Turning to locally recruited and part-time members of the forces, Mr Donaldson said: “Many UDR and latterly RIR soldiers were killed as they sat alongside their family, worked in their local community or while they returned home from duty. Undoubtedly those soldiers who served amongst their community, especially along the Border, faced scenes and hardships which were never printed and we’ll never read of.”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly:
“I remember around 1972, when I was going about, nearly every working class Catholic’s house was on computer,” he said.
“I was on the run at the time and if I gave a name they would ask me what colour the wallpaper was in that household because they had it on file. They used to walk into houses at night and count everyone there, from babies up, to keep check.” He described such operations as “real Big Brother stuff”. “We have had British troops and other crown forces on the ground now into a second generation, and it was an oppressive presence. . .
“Before they had intelligence, internment was being used as a weapon against nationalists and Catholic people. But when you look back at it now it was the simple repetition of tactics that were used by the British army in every single arena in the world they went into as a colonial power.”
If Mairtin reckons it’s bon voyage, to Richard Walsh of the Derry based Rpublican Prisoners Action Group, the ‘withdrawal’ is meaningless:
“They say it (Operation Banner) is drawing to an end, but there will still be a permanent garrison, and they`re only a helicopter`s flight away.
“They can be brought back at very short notice.”
He added: “The fact is that British policy has effectively succeeded in that the RUC/PSNI are able to police without the support of the British Army.
“It`s by no means a step forward when you have the Provisionals openly collaborating with the British Crown Forces.”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty