Troops pull out of Bessbrook 25 June 2007
The British army has pulled out of its base at Bessbrook in Co. Armagh.
The move is a step in Northern Ireland's "normalisation" programme, in response to the IRA's declared end to its activities.
Fewer than 20 members of the Second Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment vacated the complex at Bessbrook Mill. Colonel Wayne Harber said it was nostalgic. Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said it was welcome in the community.
Colonel Harber said they were pleased that the peace process was progressing.
"The Army doesn't deal in sentiment but there's a hint of nostalgia and that thread of continuity and the significance that this is the longest military campaign in the army's history," he said.
"It is the idea of continuity that we feel today but we are optimistic."
Conor Murphy said: "This is obviously welcome news for the community of South Armagh, who have had to live under British military occupation for the past 30 years.
"Sinn Fein made the issue of demilitarising communities like South Armagh a central part of the political negotiations. We are happy we have now arrived at this point."
UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy paid tribute to the military for their "huge contribution to peace and the enormous sacrifices they endured".
He said he hoped a lasting memorial would be established in the village "to recognise the service of the many thousands of military personnel who served in the area".
The last soldier killed during the Troubles was based at Bessbrook. Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was shot dead by a long-distance sniper while operating a security checkpoint in 1997. He was the last of 763 military personnel to die in Northern Ireland.
General Officer Commanding Nick Parker said that dissidents no longer merited an army response. "If I look at the reality, they do not represent the sort of threat that the military infrastructure built up for Operation Banner should be used for,"
"So don't let's overplay the military role in removing the dissident threat; it is for other people to do that, not large numbers of troops in bases around the country."
The closure of Bessbrook was "quite iconic", said Gen Parker. "It signifies a time when the army stops being part of the security forces and moves into being part of the community."
"The reason Bessbrook is significant is because it's the last big project in the normalisation plan," Gen. Parker said. "In two years since July 31, 2005, we have reduced from 44 to 10 bases. There's been an incredible amount of work."
House of Commons Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said:
"As part of the announcement of normalisation made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 1 August 2005, we undertook to reduce the number of military bases in Northern Ireland to the 14 core sites named in the Security Annex of the Joint Declaration. We have since reported that we will in future only require ten of those 14 core sites.
"Since 1 August 2005, we have successfully undertaken a major programme of work to remove 37 years' worth of military infrastructure. At one time there were 106 military sites in Northern Ireland and even at the beginning of the security normalisation period less than two years ago there were 44 sites.
"The departure of troops from Bessbrook Mill today marks a key step in the delivery of tranche 3 of security normalisation as set out in the revised Security Annex to the Joint Declaration on 1 August 2005.
"Of the other sites to be closed in this tranche, the observation post at PSNI Rosemount and the Masonic Base in Londonderry have already been vacated and, in the case of Masonic Base, handed to Defence Estates for disposal. We are on schedule to vacate Harmony House, Lisburn; Drumadd Barracks, Armagh; and Lisanelly Barracks, Omagh by 31 July 2007.
"This will mark the completion of the work set out in the Joint Declaration with the exception of Moscow Camp, Belfast which will be vacated by the end of the year. Following my statements of 10 May and 12 October 2006, work to vacate St Lucia Barracks, Omagh and to close Laurel Hill House, Coleraine is expected to be complete by 31 July 2007. Plans to close St Patrick's Barracks, Ballymena by 31 March 2008 and Shackleton Barracks, Ballykelly in April 2008 remain on schedule."
There are now approximately 5,600 military personnel based in Northern Ireland, as compared with 27,000 at their height in 1972. Operation BANNER ends on 31 July 2007. A peacetime garrison of no more than 5,000 military personnel will thereafter be based in Northern Ireland, comprising Army personnel from incoming units of 19 (Light) Brigade and RAF personnel based at RAF Aldergrove. A new regional brigade – 38 (Irish) Brigade – is also being created at the same time, comprising mostly Territorial Army personnel. The garrison will be available for worldwide deployment in support of British foreign and defence policy.
Well over 300,000 military personnel have served in Northern Ireland since 1969. Terrorist action claimed the lives of 651 Army and Royal Marine personnel and wounded 6,116, as well as claiming the lives of one Royal Navy serviceman, 50 former Ulster Defence Regiment or Royal Irish Regiment personnel and 10 Territorial Army. 51 military personnel were murdered outside Northern Ireland, making a total of 763 killed as a direct result of terrorism.
- A bomb disposal team will remain in the area but in the event of trouble, sparked by a marching season, for example, soldiers would be moved in from England, Scotland or Wales.
- Bessbrook Mill once boasted the busiest heliport in Europe and was home to the Army Air Corps, better known as "Teeny-Weeny Airways", whose fleet of light helicopters kept outposts supplied and manned along a border deep in hostile "bandit country".
- More than 20 police officers and soldiers were murdered in the tiny village of Crossmaglen (XMG in Army -speak).
- The last soldier of the 763 military personnel to die in Northern Ireland was based at Bessbrook; Lance-Bombardier Stephen Restorick.
- Where there were once 104 fortified locations from downtown Belfast to Tyrone and Fermanagh, by August 07 there will be just 11, garrisoned by a maximum of 5000 soldiers.
- Private Andrew Mason, aged 19, from Southampton and Lieutenant James Phipps, aged 25, from Guildford. A Platoon Commander with 2 PWRR, led the last of the soldiers out of Bessbrook Mill.
(publicly anyway)! The kids broke in a few days later and the police had to sort them.
- "Since 1 August 2005, we have successfully undertaken a major programme of work to remove 37 years' worth of military infrastructure. At one time there were 106 military sites in Northern Ireland and even at the beginning of the security normalisation period less than two years ago there were 44 sites. (Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram). [editor - Some say 107 bases!!]
- Bessbrook Mill was built as flax mill in 1845. The linen industry was a major employer in the area and the Bessbrook Spinning Company flourished from the 1860s, peaking at around 1900. The site was acquired by the MOD in the early 1970s, and it will now be returned to the landowners.
- Of the 763 British military personnel killed in Northern Ireland from 1971 to 1997, South Armagh claimed 108, while the British rarely captured or killed members of the IRA's South Armagh unit in exchange. AOL
- The IRA launched only one accurate attack on Bessbrook Mill itself, an April 1987 mortar strike that injured three soldiers in the base's parking lot. AOL
Sourced From: BBC
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