29 March 2006

Daily Ireland Editorial: British guns still pointed one way

Daily Ireland

Editor: Colin O’Carroll

Any timetable for troop withdrawals published by the British army is welcome although this latest one is – as usual – a case of not enough and much too slow.
Currently, more than 9,000 British soldiers are garrisoned in the North of Ireland. What they’re doing there from a military point of view is anybody’s guess. What they’re doing there from an ordinary person’s point of view is disturbing the quality of life of far too many people as the British army continues the noisy and disruptive business of servicing and supplying troops and bases which simply aren’t needed any more, if indeed they ever were.
Those 9,000 troops are contained in some 40 military installations – the vast majority of them located near nationalist areas, the vast majority of them designed to observe and marshall nationalist districts. The best-known and most controversial bases and spy posts are located in nationalist border areas of Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh.
Less well-known are the large state of the art installations in the city of Belfast which loom balefully over Catholic districts. A trip around the city of Belfast would prove instructive for those outside the city not familiar with its military geography.
While loyalists have been engaged in bitter and bloody internecine feuding for years, no barracks or bases or spy towers exist to watch the districts in which they operate. The entire military apparatus of the city was designed with the republican community in mind. That’s hardly surprising as not only were the British not interested in tackling loyalist sectarian violence, we now know that they were controlling and directing it.
Right across the North nationalists are still living with the legacy of that warped policy, even though the IRA has stood down its units and the armed state nexus of the British army, the PSNI and the loyalist paramilitaries remains the only side still on the field.
Today in South Armagh and west Belfast young nationalists are constantly reminded by the huge and ludicrously expensive military and paramilitary infrastructure that the British state regards them as the enemy. The moves will be significant if far from comprehensive. The number of British army troop bases will be reduced in the next year from around 40 to 14; the number of troops will drop from 9,000 to 5,000; and the five remaining watchtowers in South Armagh will be removed.
The British government feels itself in need of 14 bases and 5,000 soldiers – none of this being deployed against still active loyalists – not because they make one iota of difference to the security environment, but because to do the right thing and remove the British army completely would upset unionist politicians.
Those bases will continue to be deployed against the republican community and those guns will continue to be pointed at nationalists.

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