Letter: Northern Ireland: the Army's continuing support for the RUC; Labour's policy

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The Independent Online
Sir: With regard to Conor Cruise O'Brien's article 'Heady days for the IRA' (19 August), at no stage did I 'pay tribute to the sincerity of those in the IRA whom I believed to be working for peace'.

On 4 July, following the launch of my annual report, I was asked about the 'genuineness' of a peace debate within the republican movement. In reply I said I thought the IRA would like peace, but naturally on their terms; that the debate was genuine and that I suspected those considering peace were, on balance, in the majority.

That was not a 'tribute' to anyone; it was a factual statement of what I believed then and continue to believe now.

Mr O'Brien then states that last week I 'indicated that an IRA ceasefire would be followed by a scaling down of the British military presence in Northern Ireland'. I said no such thing; rather I made clear that the army in Northern Ireland continued to be essential for the support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and could not possibly be withdrawn.

Indeed, as one of those who argued so strongly for troop increases to their current level, I would require a great deal of convincing about the safety of any reduction or withdrawal of the soldiers who so unstintingly support my officers.

What I did say, and what, regrettably, has been the subject of inaccurate comment and analysis, relates to the army support of the RUC in the operational context. A high level of terrorist activity and threat requires a high police and army profile; a low level of activity does not.

From this it follows that in the absence of terrorist violence from any quarter, the current high level of daily deployment could be tactically reduced in concert with ongoing threat assessments.

The overall troop level in the province, and the circumstances in which this could be reduced, is clearly a matter for decision by the Government on security advice. This is quite a different issue from day-to-day operational deployment against varying demand within the province: clearly, therefore, my views were not 'contradicted' by Mr Rifkind on his recent visit.

Mr O'Brien suggests that the 'authorisation for Sinn Fein's rally outside Belfast City Hall is believed to have the approval of Sir Patrick Mayhew'. There was no such authorisation and the Secretary of State was not involved. The Sinn Fein march went to the City Hall because there were no legal grounds to alter the route notified by the organisers.

The innuendo that RUC decisions in the public-order field have been politically influenced is without foundation. I state again that none of the Secretaries of State with whom I have worked has ever interfered, either directly or through any third party, in what are properly operational decisions.

Whatever happens in the arena of political development, the RUC will do its job, impartially and sensibly, for the benefit of all those whom we serve; we are not naive and we have no intention of lowering our guard. In providing this service we will continue to rely heavily on the support of the armed forces, who have shown outstanding courage, commitment and sacrifice over 25 years.

Yours faithfully,

HUGH ANNESLEY

Chief Constable

Royal Ulster Constabulary

Belfast

22 August

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