29/05/2003

Trimble calls for meeting with PM over RIR future

Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble was seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister today over fears for the future of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR).

Mr Trimble has already warned the Government that he would "not lift a finger" on the Joint Declaration between the British and Irish Governements until the regiment's future was safeguarded.

Last month's joint declaration by the British and Irish Governments outlined plans to reduce troop numbers to 5,000 as part of an attempt to move the political process forward in Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Trimble claimed these figures were for the regular army alone and not the RIR which has been suggested.

Speaking to reporters at UUP headquarters today, Mr Trimble said: "At Hillsborough Castle in March we were told of a garrison of 5,000 in the event of there being 'acts of completion'.

"We sought a meeting with the NIO to go into this in detail, and, indeed, we were briefed by the Director of Security at the NIO. He told us that the figure of 5,000 was 5,000 Regulars and that the Home Service Units of the Royal Irish Regiment would be in addition to that.

"Now, that is borne out by the text in the Joint Declaration.

"What we have today from Army HQ NI is a statement that they would, in effect, be disbanding the Home Service units."

While MoD sources have said that no cuts will be made until the IRA declares its war is over and decommissions its weaponry, the Chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Cooper has already called for a special meeting of the party's Executive over the issue.

Mr Cooper confirmed that the meeting was scheduled for Friday and that Mr Trimble would be proposing a resolution on how to effectively deal with the issue.

(MB)

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