The army must not be brought back onto the streets of Northern Ireland, one of Northern Ireland’s most senior loyalists has told the Belfast Telegraph.
The leading paramilitary was responding to recent speculation that the military may be needed to deal with the heightened dissident republican threat – particularly in areas such as south Armagh.
The Northern Ireland Office has made clear such a move is not on the agenda.
And speaking to the Telegraph, the loyalist leader – who asked not to be identified — said: “It definitely should not happen. We can’t go there.”
The dissident threat, and the recent illegal checkpoint involving the Real IRA in the village of Meigh, are understood to have been raised in talks earlier this week between the UDA leadership and General John de Chastelain.
Asked could the threat slow down the loyalist decommissioning process, the senior loyalist responded: “Hopefully not – unless something physical happened.”
And he was adamant that the Army should not be reintroduced into security operations here.
“It’s a great morale booster for the dissidents to talk like this,” the loyalist said.
“The Army coming back would only encourage young people to join the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, “ he continued.
“We need the PSNI doing their job. It’s going to be a ridiculous situation if the peace process falls apart because of a lack of resources for the PSNI.
“The PSNI need extra manpower and resources to deal with situations like that (the Meigh checkpoint).”
And he warned that any use of the Army could change loyalist decommissioning plans and thinking.
“If the Army come back people are going to say, ‘If there’s that big a threat, how can you give up the guns.’ We can’t go there.
“The roadblock, that was a problem,” the loyalist leader continued.
“It’s embarrassing. Even people who support the peace process and decommissioning are saying, ‘be careful here. This is how it all began with IRA roadblocks’.
“The dissidents can cause these problems without firing a shot.”
The Army’s support role to the police, Operation Banner, ended in 2007.
It was the longest-running military operation in British Army history.
No appetite for going back
By Brian Rowan
We are in the week of the 15th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire – that “complete cessation of military operations” which came into play at midnight on August 31, 1994.
Much has changed since then. It’s been a gradual process that saw the IRA and the Army withdraw over a period of time from a battlefield of street, field, road and lane.
It took a very long time to achieve the statement ending the armed campaign of the IRA. Eventually it came in 2005, and the most significant acts of decommissioning quickly followed.
The Army responded. Operation Banner ended in 2007, troops were withdrawn and watchtowers and bases dismantled. Now only a peacetime garrison remains.
At government level and at a senior security level there is no appetite to undo all of that.
But dissident activity can threaten so much. Earlier this year, the loyalists postponed plans for decommissioning and thought about reacting to the murders of two soldiers and a police officer. They were held back.
The dissidents have also been attempting to goad mainstream republicans into some sort of conflict. That has not worked.
Everyone knows that returning soldiers to the streets would send out a message that the dissidents are succeeding in their efforts to unpick the peace process.