I was so delighted to hear yesterday that British troops were ending Operation Banner. That was the longest on going British operation which saw over 200 000 personnel involved. At its peak in 1975, 25,700 troops were stationed in that tiny province.
When I was last in Belfast my sister and I awoke to see painted on a wall, across the road, the phrase “Brits out”. The houses we were staying in were new build so even within the last 15 years the anti-brit sentiments had not been erased from the hearts and minds of the people in Northern Ireland. Travelling around the province we came across baracks, outposts and road-checks which formed the routine of life in the province.
I hold no doubt that the troops were necessary to stem the spiral of sectarian violence. Before they arrived, my aunty, her parents and 13 brothers and sisters had their home broken into by ulstermen and were forced down the street to watch their family business be burned to the ground. They didn’t go back to sleep, they had to pack their things away and move out of the largely protestant area they were in, to the falls road where they stayed with my great-grandmother. The troubles had escalated.
When the troops, who were only supposed to stay a few weeks, first arrived they were welcomed. An end to the violence was in sight, and self-determination seemed plausible and even possible. The army then became closely associated with the RUC, the police already dogged in scandal at the betrayal of a people. Rumours of spy-rings and at one time (so I’m told) soldiers, posing as priests awaiting the confessions of IRA men.
There is a tremendous sense of relief in my family at the sight of troops leaving a land ruled by its own people. Some even speak of unification and if not further independence from Westminster – akin to the Scottish parliament. I have not tried to make political arguments. I have strong feelings and emotions about the soldiers, what they did and why they were there but I’ve not tried to make those points now. This is a time for the people to look forward to the future and start governing themselves properly, co-operating with Governments in Dublin and in London to create a better, more egaliatrian nation.