Monday, August 01, 2005

Parochial response to NI plans

If anyone is surprised by today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that Army watchtowers in the province will be taken down, they should not be. If anyone is surprised by Ian Paisley’s response to it, they can be forgiven some incredulity, but not much.

While most residents of Northern Ireland, of whatever persuasion, will be happy that these eyesores are to disappear from the environment, Mr Paisley and his supporters seem to think they are excellent architecture — or perhaps excellent symbolism of a state architecture which they wish to cling to with their withering hands.

The three-stage plan, which is dependent on the verification and preservation of last week’s IRA undertakings (and which is an addition to annex 1 of the Joint Declaration, available here as a PDF) contains, among other things, the following proposals:

  • The vacation and closure of Forkhill Base; the removal of Tower Romeo 12 in South Armagh; and dismantling of the super sangar in Newtownhamilton. Work has already started and will be completed within a 6-month period.
  • The continuation of the review of the police estate with action taken as agreed with the Policing Board following consultation with District Commanders and local communities, including work to defortify some 24 police stations.
  • Progressive withdrawal of soldiers from sites where co-located with police in Armagh (Crossmaglen, Newtownhamilton, Middletown) and in Fermanagh and Tyrone.
  • The vacation, closure and disposal of all military sites to leave no more than 14 core sites.
  • The further reduction in Army and other service levels, including the disbandment of the operational brigade headquarters, to a permanent military garrison of no more than 5,000. The size of the longer-term garrison is likely to fluctuate in response to global demands on the army and its overall complement.
  • Repeal of counter terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland.
  • It is not, however, simply a case of a change of environment that Mr Paisley objects to. It is the reality that, since the province’s two largest parties are the DUP and Sinn Féin, if Ian Paisley became First Minister, his Deputy would be Gerry Adams. That is something that Mr Paisley, rightly or wrongly, cannot stomach. And so, with the DUP having the upper hand in negotiations to come, we will see a protracted and annoying period of stalling which will keep Northern Ireland from struggling free of its pathetically parochial fetters.

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