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Queen Elizabeth II presents medal to British army battalions in N. Ireland being disbanded

Queen Elizabeth II presents medal to British army battalions in N. Ireland being disbanded

Queen Elizabeth II presented a group medal Friday to three British army battalions being disbanded in Northern Ireland, a symbolic milestone in the province's slow transition from war to peace.
The queen presented a conspicuous gallantry cross, one of the military's highest honors, to the Royal Irish Regiment during a rain-soaked ceremony in Belfast's Balmoral showgrounds. It was the first time in British military history that the honor was bestowed on an entire unit, rather than an individual soldier.
She handed the medal to Claire Withers, daughter of the last soldier from the regiment to be killed: Trelford Withers, a part-time soldier who was shot point-blank through the head by the Irish Republican Army while standing outside his butcher's shop on Aug. 8, 1994.
"I was lucky to have been picked because of my father, but I am representing everyone here today," said Claire Withers, who is a corporal in the regiment.
The ceremony, attended by 9,000 spectators, featured soldiers in green berets marching, bayonets fixed, to the tune of drums and bagpipes. It marked the sacrifices made by all members of the regiment and its predecessor, the Ulster Defense Regiment, since its formation in 1970 at the start of the IRA's campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland by force.
In her speech, the queen noted that the overwhelmingly Protestant, locally recruited regiment had to face unique threats because its members lived vulnerably in Northern Ireland communities, not in heavily fortified bases. The position "required uncommon courage and conviction," she said, lauding members for sticking to their duty "without flinching in what was often a climate of extreme personal intimidation."
The IRA and other outlawed anti-British groups killed 274 members and ex-members of the Ulster Defense Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment from 1970 to 1994, when the IRA called its first major cease-fire. The IRA last year renounced violence for political purposes and disarmed, clearing the way for Britain to accelerate its own program for cutting troop numbers and closing bases.
Catholic leaders condemned the Royal Irish Regiment and its Ulster Defense Regiment predecessor as biased because of its overwhelmingly Protestant composition. They noted that more than a dozen members were convicted of helping outlawed Protestant groups to kill Catholic civilians and long demanded the regiment's disbandment.
About 3,100 soldiers constituting the three Northern Ireland-confined battalions are scheduled to be demobilized by July 2007, when Britain has pledged to trim its military forces in Northern Ireland to a peacetime level of 5,000. One battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment that is reserved for overseas deployments will continue to exist.
The British government scheduled Friday's ceremony _ nine months before the regiments actually are demobilized _ to illustrate Northern Ireland's dramatically improved security landscape, a reality that could help to achieve progress in high-profile negotiations next week.
Britain and Ireland are corralling Northern Ireland's rival British Protestant and Irish Catholic parties in Scotland Oct. 11-13 in hopes of striking a deal to revive a Catholic-Protestant administration, the central unfulfilled goal of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.
Britain is paying lucrative layoff packages for the Royal Irish Regiment soldiers. About 1,900 full-time soldiers will receive tax-free payments of 28,000 pounds (euro41,000; US$49,000), 1,200 part-time members 14,000 pounds (euro20,500; US$24,500). They also will receive regular army redundancy payments based on their rank and length of service, which means most will receive a lump payment more than twice their annual salary.
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On the Net:
http://www.army.mod.uk/royalirish


Updated : 2021-06-15 18:25 GMT+08:00