Operation Banner comes to an end in the north of Ireland following a British Army campaign that lasted 38 years.
British Army troops were deployed on Northern Ireland’s streets in 1969, following the response of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and the B-Specials (The Ulster Special Constabulary) to growing civil unrest. The soldiers were initially welcomed by both the Nationalist and Loyalist communities.
The situation changed in February 1971 when the IRA shot dead the first British soldier, and from that time on, Republican paramilitaries considered them legitimate targets. Unionists always saw them differently, as Jeffrey Donaldson explains,
They were there in a role which was to help end the civil conflict and bring peace onto the streets, and in many respects they were holding the line, holding the line against terrorism, and they had, I believe, the full support of the Unionist community in doing so.
During the Troubles, the British Army suffered many casualties, such as at Narrow Water near Newry in 1979, when the IRA blew up 18 soldiers, and at Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone, in 1988, when an IRA bomb killed 8 soldiers on a bus. The darkest day for the British Army was in Derry in 1972, when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 14 civilians.
Corporal Michael Ryan, whose parents were Catholics of Irish extraction, was shot dead in Derry city in 1974. Billy Page, one of the teenagers convicted in relation to his killing, is now a Sinn Féin councillor,
We’re living in different times, and I’m a different person now, and I can understand what those young soldiers must have thought, coming here...this was a...war zone city.
The road to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was littered with obstacles, but the peace process proved that through dialogue, a cessation in violence could be achieved, and that the British Army’s presence in the North would no longer be required. According to Lieutenant General Nicholas Parker,
It’s a transition, a much more subtle transition, than some sort of war being over. The security challenges that exist today do not require people like me and my troops to provide the support to the PSNI that we had to in the past.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 31 July 2007. The reporter is Tommie Gorman.