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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
Marching in step with the Royal Irish

The Royal Irish Regiment are based in Ballymena
BBC News Online looks back at the history of the Royal Irish Regiment at a time when some of its members are held hostage in Sierra Leone.

The Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army was formed by the amalgamation of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Rangers on 1 July 1992.

The UDR had been the largest serving regiment in the army and had been on active service longer than any regiment since the Napoleonic Wars.

However, in 1991 the government announced that the UDR was to disappear in a review of the armed forces.

The decision was presented as a purely military one, arising from a reduction in forces with the ending of the Cold War.

However, by then only 3% of its members were Catholics and many nationalists and the Irish government regarded it with suspicion.

Problem with nationalists

The Ulster Defence Regiment dated back to 1 April 1970.

In its early days, it had up to 18% Catholic membership but suffered an early image problem with nationalists, who saw it as absorbing too many former Protestant B Specials, a paramilitary-style police reserve.

There were allegations of members associating with loyalist paramilitaries, resulting in charges against a number of UDR members, and warnings that higher standards of recruitment were needed.

Two UDR soldiers were convicted for the murder of three members of the Miami Showband in a gun and bomb attack in 1975.

However, during its 22 years of duty in Northern Ireland, a total of 197 serving UDR soldiers were killed.

A further 60 former members were killed by paramilitaries after they left the regiment.

Granting colours

In the 1980s, the UDR provided the back-up for the RUC over 85 % of Northern Ireland.

In June 1988, it was announced that the Queen would be granting colours to all its nine battalions.

When the end came for the UDR, there was protest from unionists who said the level of criminality within the regiment had been exaggerated in light of the fact that 40,000 people had served in its ranks.

The UDR was merged with the Royal Irish Rangers which had been formed through the amalgamations of the Royal Ulster Rifles, The Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

In its first six months of operations, the RIR had three members murdered, two locally based and one home on leave from Cyprus.

Seven RIR soldiers have been killed by paramilitary organisations.

The role of the RIR today is the same as that for other regiments and battalions within the army - to keep the peace wherever it serves.

An RIR company was among the British Army contingent sent to Bosnia to protect food convoys in 1992.

The RIR headquarters is at St Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena, County Antrim. The Duke of York is colonel in chief.

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03 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Regiment's City Hall snub
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