British Troops sent to Northern Ireland
The 14th of August 1969 AD
When British soldiers arrived in Northern Ireland they were largely welcomed by a Nationalist community who greeted them with cups of tea. Amidst spiralling sectarian violence, they saw the troops as protection, a neutral force to counter attacks from Loyalist mobs and perceived excesses from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The restoration of law and order was one of the key aims of Operation Banner. No-one could have predicted that it would become the longest operation in the British Armyís history, lasting from August 1969 to July 2007.
Such were Northern Irelandís problems, the RUC were unable to keep a lid on dissent. The problems in policing the province were numerous: rioting and mob violence was commonplace; and with the ascension of paramilitary groups, the RUC would desperately need support, both in de rigeur policing and in counter terrorism measures. Bomb disposal units would be worked overtime, and the army were key in infiltrating neighbourhoods were paramilitaries assumed control over policing.
The good welcome afforded by Nationalists would soon evaporate as the rise of militant Republicanism spread through the six counties. A year into the operation, after subduing protesters and Republican activity in the hugely Nationalist Falls Road area of Belfast , the Army became targets for the Provisional IRA. It would become a bitter conflict. The events of Bloody Sunday , on the 9th January 1972, Derry, saw fourteen civil rights protesters shot dead by the Parachute Regiment. It was one of the darkest days in The Troubles , and it both swelled the IRAís ranks and ended any good relations between the Army and the Nationalist community.
As the peace process gathered pace, and the Good Friday Peace Agreement ís legacy began to unfurl, there was an end in sight. The British Army would be withdrawn by the 1st August 2007. The day was marked by radio station phone-ins offering people from all sides of the divide to reflect on the end of an era for Northern Ireland. Troops would remain, but only as they would remain in any part of the UK. Checkpoints were brought down, garrisons closed, and thousands of troops would be transferred elsewhere. The Army may not have defeated the IRA, or militant Republicanism itself, but rather its containment had a great deal of influence for the organisation to pursue political means rather than military.
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