Berets on the streets of Belfast

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SECURITY has been wound down dramatically at Northern Ireland's most important border checkpoint as the Army and police respond to last week's declaration of a cessation of IRA violence.

And at midnight last night, soldiers in West Belfast, one of the most dangerous republican areas, exchanged their helmets for berets and Tam o'Shanters.

The easing of security activity came as Sir Patrick Mayhew went to unprecedented lengths last night to reassure Unionists by becoming the first Northern Ireland Secretary to address a meeting of an Orange lodge in an Orange hall. He delivered a lengthy speech at Comber, Co Down.

Although the Government maintains the permanency of the republican ceasefire is uncertain, the security forces have all but ceased checking vehicles on the Dublin- Belfast road at Newry, Co Down.

Police and troops previously ran round-the-clock checkpoints outside two security bases in the town, as well as manning Northern Ireland's biggest checkpoint, which covers a wide area at Cloghogue, between the town and the border with the Irish Republic. But yesterday the two checkpoints in the town had gone, while almost all vehicles were being waved through without examination at Cloghogue.

Commenting in general on security measures in Ulster, Sir Patrick said: 'Certain things are not in place that were. That is the case because the (military) commanders and the chief constable in particular, who is in the lead here, believe it is right to make a reduction in proportion to what is seen to be a reduced threat.

'The chief constable has reported that certain measures have been taken, not of any great significance - for example soldiers are now on patrol with berets generally instead of wearing helmets.'

John Major last night made it clear in an interview on Dutch television that it is too early to talk about removing British troops or lifting the ban on Sinn Fein members being heard on television and radio. He appealed again for a 'clear cut, unequivocal' assurance of a permanent ceasefire.

Earlier yesterday, the American Vice-President, Al Gore, met the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, in Shannon, Co Clare. After a 40-minute briefing he said that Ulster was 'right at the top' of US foreign policy and added: 'The American people have a dream that this peace process will succeed.'

Mayhew speech, page 13

Hamish McRae, page 15