Belfast Telegraph

RIR in job axe threat
Security source tells of warning

By Michael McHugh and Ben Lowry
06 November 2004

ROYAL Irish Regiment soldiers have been warned about possible redundancies in a move which is likely to provoke fresh debate about the normalisation of security in the province, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

Soldiers in the Regiment's St Patrick's Barracks headquarters in Ballymena were told last week that they have two to four years of service left before severance packages are introduced and Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram has refused to make any public commitment on their future.

According to both a security source and local Assemblyman Ian Paisley jnr, a meeting addressed by the Commanding Officer of the RIR's training operation, Lt Col Felix Spender, heard how any scale-down would be on the advice of the Chief Constable.

North Antrim MP the Rev Ian Paisley was expected to hold meetings with Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon on Wednesday and the General Officer Commanding for Northern Ireland, Phillip Trousdell, in an effort to limit the alleged job-shedding, which would involve security assessments and is politically sensitive.

Defence Minister Mr Ingram told South Antrim MP David Burnside in Parliament that no decision had been taken on the future of the three home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, or about the composition of the long-term garrison in Northern Ireland.

"We are aware that there has been a meeting regarding this (RIR future). We are having a meeting with the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and the General Officer Commanding Mr Trousedale," Ian Paisley jnr said.

"Dr Paisley wants to emphasise the role which the RIR plays in making peace and preserving law and order."

A security source said soldiers based in Ballymena were told of a generous redundancy offer being considered, which included a lump sum worth 18 months' pay and six months on full pay after severance to allow troops to re-train for the workplace.

The provisions have fuelled concerns that no decision has been reached to safeguard the future of the RIR battalions.

UUP politician Mr Burnside asked on Tuesday whether, in the event of security normalisation in Northern Ireland, the three home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment would remain "in addition to garrison strength in the province".

Mr Ingram replied: "The Government have not come to a final conclusion about the future of the three home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, or about the composition of the long-term garrison in Northern Ireland."

Mr Burnside called for a commitment that "we must continue to have the three locally-recruited home battalions" in peacetime, to be prepared to stop a terrorist threat."

In response to the Ulster MP, Mr Ingram added: "All that is subject to the intense discussions to which I assume he is party, but I had hoped that he wanted a normalised Northern Ireland, not the Northern Ireland that we have had for the past 30 years."

The 2002 British and Irish Governments' Joint Declaration anticipated the scale-down of troops once the conditions for normalisation were in place.

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