Sunday Life

RIR lose their guns
NIO says personal protection weapons to go

By Stephen Gordon and Chris Anderson
01 August 2004

HUNDREDS of Ulster soldiers have been stripped of their personal protection weapons.

Furious Royal Irish Regiment members claim they have been left defenceless against terrorist attacks and many have launched appeals to have their guns returned.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson last night accused the Northern Ireland Office of pursuing a "dangerous strategy" and called on ministers to urgently re-think the issue.

The Lagan Valley MP said the NIO had an "unwritten policy" to slash the number of legally-held weapons in the province as a sop to republicans.

One member of 3 RIR, based in Portadown, told Sunday Life he had his weapon suddenly removed without any reasonable explanation.

"I travel through areas where there has been a lot of activity from dissident republican elements.

"Now, I've been left with no means of defending myself. This is a political decision and it is causing a great deal of resentment inside the regiment.

"Soldiers living in outlying areas feel particularly vulnerable."

Jeffrey Donaldson told Sunday Life: "I'm very concerned about the moves that have been made to withdraw a large number of PPWs from members of the Royal Irish Regiment.

"I'm aware that a large number of the soldiers feel very vulnerable.

"In my opinion, there is an unwritten policy by the NIO to drastically reduce the number of legally-held firearms in Northern Ireland and this is being done at the behest of republicans.

"I know that soldiers are pursuing various appeals procedures, but they are meeting with a brick wall from the NIO, who, ironically, having ordered the weapons to be withdrawn, are also the people considering the appeal."

Mr Donaldson said there remained a high level of threat in a number of areas from certain organisations, particularly the Real IRA.

"It is a very dangerous strategy to deprive soldiers of this level of security," added Mr Donaldson.

He called on the NIO to urgently review the policy and to instruct the Army to re-issue PPWs in circumstances where there is a clear threat - and to all soldiers living in vulnerable areas.

"This policy needs to change," said the MP.

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