Victory for the British: As the IRA terrorist group announces an end to its campaign of violence and terror, the British Army prepares to leave Northern Ireland.

Times OnlineOctober 06, 2006

Goodbye Ulster: Queen marks end of Army's role with honour

By Jenny Percival and PA

A soldier from the Royal Irish Regiment among attendees for the parade today. Many of the soldiers in this British Army regiment lost comrades and family members due to Irish terrorists.
(Justin Kernoghan/Alan Lewis Photopress)

The Queen today awarded a rare military gallantry honour to Northern Ireland's Royal Irish Regiment, which is being disbanded next year as its role supporting the police in the province comes to an end.

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, second only to the Victoria Cross, was presented in recognition of the regiment's "36 years of continuous service and sacrifice". It is the first time it has been awarded to a military unit rather than an individual.

Corporal Claire Withers, 30, whose father was the last serving Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) solider to be killed in terrorist action, received the medal on behalf of the regiment.

Her father, Corporal Trelford WIthers, 46, a soldier with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) was shot dead on 8 August 1994 as he worked in his butcher's shop in Crossgar, County Down.

"I think of him every day," said Corporal Withers, a physical training instructor with her father's former battalion.

She added: "I was obviously thinking of him today as well, but I was also thinking of everyone else in the regimental family who has lost a loved one over the years. I was lucky to have been picked because of my father but I am representing everyone here today."

Presenting the award in the pouring rain at the Balmoral Showgrounds in south Belfast, the Queen praised the regiment for their unique contribution to peace and stability. She said that in spite of extreme personal intimidation they had served with "uncommon courage and conviction".
Regiment Colonel Mark Campbell said the award would be emblazoned on to the regimental colours, as a reminder of the gallantry of those who served in Northern Ireland.

He added: "There have been many difficult years but our job is now done and we march into history with dignity and with heads held high."

The 9,000 people, including past and present members of the regiment and their families, who gathered for the ceremony had no idea that the Queen would be honouring the regiment and loud applause and cheering rippled round the crowd when she was first spotted.

In spite of the persistant rain, the Queen took time to inspect 300 soldiers drawn from the regiment as well as 100 musicians in the regimental band and 100 former Defence Regiment soldiers.

She made a point of stopping to meet wheelchair-bound veterans drawn up near the Royal Dais before taking the final salute.

The three battalions of the RIR are being disbanded next July after 36 years of continuous operational duty in Northern Ireland, as part of the process of demilitarisation following the end of the Troubles.

The event was the Army’s official farewell to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th battalions of the RIR, whose role helping the police in Northern Ireland, known as Operation Banner, is coming to an end.

Since 1979 more than 60,000 men and women have served either full-time or part-time in the RIR and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), which was merged with the RIR in 1992.

The 1st battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment will continue its role in the regular army. In recent years it has served with distinction in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Queen was accompanied by her son the Duke of York, who is Colonel in Chief of the RIR.

The Parade was attended by relatives of many of the 274 serving and former members who lost their lives during the troubles.

A murdered UDR soldier’s widow said she felt pride tinged with sadness. Georgina Bennett witnessed the gruesome killing of her husband Robert, a UDR part-time soldier, in September 1984.

She said today: "There is never a day passes when I don’t remember what happened, especially as I was there, but today brings it back even more. This will be the last time they will be together as a group. It’s quite sad.

"It’s a very nice occasion for us all to be here and for the Queen to take the time to come."

She said she believed the UDR had a very important role. "They were local men and they knew the local situation and what to look out for. It was very important to the security of Northern Ireland.

"Robert willingly gave his spare time to go out and fight for his country and the consequence was he lost his life. There were plenty like me left to bring up their families."

Her friend Eileen Long was left with a three-month-old baby and a four-year-old daughter when her husband was murdered in 1972.

Mrs Long said: "We all paid a very heavy price and they should never be forgotten, nor the supreme sacrifice they all paid. I hope when we get peace, we get a true peace."

More than 3,000 soldiers serve in the RIR, more than a third of them part-time. The part-time members are demanding the same pension and redundancy package as full-time soldiers. At present the part-time soldiers get a tax-free one-off payment of 14,000. Full-timers get 28,000 plus a pension and redundancy package.

Republican groups were planning to demonstrate outside the Showgrounds in protest at the RIR's alleged record of collusion with loyalists.
The Queen reviewed the three home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment at the Balmoral Showgrounds in south Belfast. The battalions are being disbanded next year because their role supporting the police in Northern Ireland has come to an end (Peter Morrison/AP)

Three hundred British soldiers from Northern Ireland’s Royal Irish Regiment were inspected by The Queen, as well as 100 musicians from the regimental band and 100 former Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers (Paul Faith/PA)

The event was the Army’s official farewell to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, which is being disbanded as part of the process of demilitarisation following the end of the Troubles (Paul Faith/PA)

Last edited by Blackleaf; Oct 6th, 2006 at 12:29 PM..