A number of strategic military installations that have been in place in Northern Ireland for decades are to be removed as part of a gradual winding-down of security, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said yesterday.
The Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said he believed a real lowering of the overall threat had resulted from recent negotiations in which the IRA has spoken of putting its arms beyond use.
Sir Ronnie indicated that he also envisaged the demolition of the observation post overlooking the square in the south Armagh village of Crossmaglen. This would be seen as hugely symbolic in that a number of soldiers have lost their lives in and around the look-out post, which for years epitomised the struggle for local superiority between troops and the IRA.
Within weeks, army bases in Londonderry and Cookstown, Co Tyrone, are to close, as well as the Cloghogue observation base near the south Armagh border. In Belfast, observation posts at the top of high-rise flats will be vacated in the north and west of the city.
The developments affect only a small percentage of the dozens of fortified army and RUC bases and posts in Northern Ireland, but are seen as a significant part of the process of enacting the Good Friday Agreement and eventually putting IRA arms beyond use.
Sir Ronnie said there would be a further review in three months. On Friday, Tony Blair referred to demilitarisation moves when announcing the arms issue breakthrough.
The move was welcomed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, with republicans describing it as welcome though overdue. Most Unionists appeared relaxed about the move, though there were protests from the Rev Ian Paisley's DUP and from some anti-Agreement Unionists.
Unionists and nationalists meanwhile continued to differ on policing proposals, with Sinn Fein warning against government concessions to Unionists. A spokesman said any tinkering with the Patten report was "a recipe for disaster".Reuse content