Three battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment to disband as part of NI peace process

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Monday, August 1, 2005

The Camp Flag of the Royal Irish Regiment.

The General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, Lieutenant-General Sir Redmond Watt, has confirmed that the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) — one of only two remaining fully Irish infantry regiments in the British Army — is to have its three 'home service' battalions disband on 1 August 2007, affecting some 3,000 soldiers of the regiment. It comes after the Provsional IRA declared that its armed campaign against the British is over.

The RIR is one of the largest regiments in the British Army, and once consisted of eleven battalions, formed by the amalgamation of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1992. It now numbers five battalions: one regular (1 RIR); one territorial (Royal Irish Rangers); and three 'home service'.

The 'home service' battalions consist mostly of part-time volunteers who can only serve in Northern Ireland with the main objective of supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Their existence will end on the same day as Operation Banner — the Army's support of the PSNI.

Lieutenant General Watt said in a statement: "With the end of Operation Banner there will be no military requirement for the Home Service battalions and they will disband. The 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Irish elements of the Territorial Army will continue the traditions of the Regiment."

With the IRA's declaration, the British Armed Forces have already begun to drawdown its garrison in Northern Ireland, envisaged to be reduced to just 5,000 troops by 2007, from its current 10,000. A number of observation posts and bases are already being dismantled.

Unlike much of the British Army, the RIR had been unaffected by the restructuring of the British Armed Forces that began earlier this year.

The move has been welcomed by Nationalists, while Unionists have criticised it. The DUP leader, Ian Paisley, has described government plans as "dishonest and dangerous" and that it was a "surrender to the IRA".

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