Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Northern Ireland troop levels to return to pre-Troubles levels

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond

The number of troops in Northern Ireland will return to pre-Troubles levels when 200 soldiers lose their jobs in a massive military shake-up.

The posts will be gone by 2016 after the Defence Secretary announced major military cutbacks.

It will mean troop levels will be hovering just above the 2,000 mark in three years time – representing an Army presence more than 10 times smaller than during the Troubles.

The plans have been criticised in the House of Commons by the DUP's Sammy Wilson.

"Why has he turned his back on some of the investment which is already available in Northern Ireland and not decided to relocate some of the units either at Palace Barracks or Thiepval Barracks?" asked the East Antrim MP.

Mr Hammond said the Army had already looked at the potential for using vacant accommodation in Lisburn's Thiepval Barracks, but said he had to consider the "operational costs of having troops in that estate".

The biggest change locally will see the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, based in Holywood, move to Chester in 2014.

Replacing them will be the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland. They are currently based in Edinburgh.

There are no plans to close military bases at Ballykinler, Palace Barracks, where MI5 is also based, Lisburn and Aldergrove.

The 38th Irish Brigade will remain at its Thiepval Barracks headquarters in Lisburn.

"The basing plans confirms the future in Northern Ireland for Ballykinler, Palace, Lisburn and Aldergrove," said Brigadier Rob Thomson, Commander 38 Irish Brigade.

"We are looking forward to welcoming the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots and their families to what will be their new home in North Down.

"We look forward to the continued support from the community across Northern Ireland in support of this important and highly valued garrison."

The military restructuring programme will lead to the closure of four Army barracks across the rest of the UK.

The move, which also includes the part-closure of three other barracks, takes place to provide accommodation for up to 15,500 troops and their families being relocated from Germany.

Mr Hammond, insisted that despite a capital outlay of almost £1.8bn the strategy will, in time, lead to savings of some £240m a year.

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