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Soldiers 'reluctant to move to NI'

Published 19/06/2015

1 Scots commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro is based at Palace Barracks in Holywood
1 Scots commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro is based at Palace Barracks in Holywood

They have served in some of the most dangerous places in the world b ut battle-hardened soldiers were still reluctant to re-locate to Northern Ireland nearly a year ago.

Security concerns and the upheaval of leaving their Edinburgh base, meant the move by 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots) was not met with enthusiasm.

Speaking from Palace Barracks ahead of Armed Forces Day, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro said today: "Security was just one of the considerations.

"The principle concern was actually being uprooted out of Edinburgh and going elsewhere."

The unit, one of six battalions in The Royal Regiment of Scotland, had been based at Dreghorn Barracks in south-west Edinburgh since its formation in 2006.

But, troops moved to Palace Barracks - which was targeted by dissident republican bombers in 2010 - in August 2014.

Despite the threat from dissident extremists, officially categorised as severe, Lt Col Munro insists his infantrymen have been embraced by the local community.

He added: "There is a credible threat to uniformed services in Northern Ireland from dissident republicans and we have to be very careful and very sensible in order to mitigate that threat.

"In practise for us this means that we don't draw attention to our status as soldiers outside of the barracks and we maintain a high level of awareness and diligence.

"But, really the headline is that these sensible measures don't constrain us and they don't detract from the positive experience that we have had here.

"We have enjoyed very much the warm reception that we have had from the people of Holywood and more widely from the Northern Irish community."

Disparate groups of dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process have been responsible for murdering two soldiers, a police officer and a prison guard in recent years.

The bomb attack on Palace Barracks, which also houses MI5's headquarters in the region, was claimed by a group calling itself the Real IRA.

Soldiers from 1 Scots have deployed on military operations almost every year since Iraq in 2008.

They completed four tours of duty in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013 and since their return from the frontline they have been on operations in Sierra Leone and Bosnia as well as overseas exercises in Cyprus, Kenya, Jordan, Bosnia and the Falkland Islands.

But, the transfer to Belfast was also met with some degree of trepidation from their families.

Army wife and mother-of-two Lindsey Hempenstall, 36 from Peebles, said: "My heart didn't sink when we heard we were moving to Northern Ireland but, I was nervous.

"That's just because before you go you get all the information and most of it was security related and you don't get that if you move anywhere else.

"But, within two weeks of living here it was just like everywhere else in the UK."

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