Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK: Northern Ireland
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

BBC NI's Mark Simpson reports
Gerry Adams said the May deadline for arms decommissioning no longer exists
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 17:58 GMT
Army rejects 'Troops out' call

Army bases have been scaled down since 1994
A spokesman for the British Army has dismissed claims that nothing has been done to reduce the security presence in Northern Ireland as agreed in the Good Friday peace accord.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Sinn Fein
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Decommissioning
According to the spokesman, troop levels on the ground were at their lowest level since 1970 at the beginning of the Troubles and a third of the province's bases had been closed down.

The Army's response follows calls by the Irish Republic's foreign minister, Brian Cowen, for a reduction of the military presence in sensitive areas such as south Armagh.

Brian Cowen: Wants military presence to be scaled down
Speaking on Irish national television, RTE, Mr Cowen said such a move would take away any reason that dissident republican paramilitaries might have for continuing violence.

"If you want to decommission the mind set, you've got to be prepared to show that politics works on the ground, in those areas," he said.

"At the moment, there are parts of those areas where the security presence is at least the same, if not, in some cases, increased. Even though we have had a ceasefire for almost five years with one interruption."

Mr Cowen's allegations appear to echo calls by Sinn Fein spokespeople who have been demanding the publication of a document detailing plans to scale down the military presence in Northern Ireland.

The Army spokesman said it was "outrageous" and "ludicrous" to suggest there had not been changes.

Routine army patrols are down by three-quarters since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and in two-thirds of the province the RUC operated without routine army support, said the spokesman.

'Lawless part of country'

He added that the security presence in south Armagh was higher than elsewhere because of the continued terrorist threat - particularly from dissident republican groups such as the Real IRA.

"It is a lawless part of the country where the police are still unable to go about their duty without being escorted by a minimum of 12 soldiers."

"The fact of the matter is that in certain parts of Northern Ireland the terrorist threat today is higher than it was last week, or last month or at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and we have to react to that."

Modifications to the military presence started, he said, not after the Good Friday Agreement or second IRA ceasefire in 1997, but in response to the first ceasefire in 1994.

In total 34 out of 105 bases - including two battalion and three major company bases - had been shut together with two patrol bases and a dozen permanent vehicle check points.

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 18 bases had been closed down or demolished, all border patrol bases and all permanent vehicle check-points had been closed or demolished.

The troop concentration in Belfast had been reduced from 15 battalions in 1972 to two in 1997 and just one this year.

Internment power needed

As the demilitarisation debate gathered momentum, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Andrew Mackay called for the power of internment to be restored to the Prevention of Terrorism Act which is to be debated in the House of Commons.

His amendments would also ensure that emergency legislation introduced following the 1998 Omagh bomb could be applied to any paramilitary group which fails to decommission by the deadline of 22 May.

Doubt has been cast over this deadline by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who said "it no longer existed" because of the collapse of the power-sharing institutions.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

14 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Adams: Arms deadline 'unrealistic'
13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
St Pat's talks 'no party'
13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble may face leadership challenge
12 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Critical stage in NI process'
09 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Assembly may be back by Easter'
08 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
NI talks still unresolved
26 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Demonstrations against assembly suspension
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Northern Ireland stories