06/10/2006

Queen awards gallantry cross to RIR

The Queen has awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the Royal Irish Regiment during a ceremony in Belfast earlier today.

The parade, which was held at the Balmoral Showgrounds in south Belfast was to mark the final review of the home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment.

Speaking at the ceremony, Her Royal Highness said: "Your contribution to peace and stability in Northern Ireland is unique.”

The Queen said the regiment "had never flinched despite suffering extreme personal intimidation."

She continued: "Today you have cause to reflect on the fine achievements, while remembering the suffering."

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is the second highest award for gallantry within the armed forces, second only to the Victoria Cross.

The award is similar to that of the George Cross which the Queen presented to the entire Royal Ulster Constabulary when it was succeeded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Today's ceremony was to mark the end of the three home service battalions, which are to be disbanded next July, after 36 years in service.

Around 60,000 people have served in the RIR or its predecessor the UDR since 1970, and thousands of representatives from both turned up at Balmoral Showgrounds to bid an official farewell to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th battalions.

The Queen, who was accompanied by the Duke of York, who is Colonel in Chief of the RIR, was joined by a range of political figures, including Secretary of State Peter Hain, Church of Ireland Primate Lord Eames, UUP peer Lord Trimble, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey and SDLP South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell, along with current and former members of the regiments, disabled veterans and relatives of many of the 274 serving and former serving members who lost their lives during the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'.

Many widows and children of fallen soldiers were among the 9,000 regimental spectators who attended the event.

Music was provided by the RIR band.

The Regimental Colonel, Colonel Mark Campbell, who spoke at the ceremony said: "We are today commemorating the service and the sacrifice of the UDR and the Royal Irish over the past 36 years and the duty of so many that has helped secure the primacy of democratic politics in Northern Ireland."

He added: "There have been many difficult years but our job is now done and we march into history with dignity and with heads held high."

The decision to disband the home service battalions was part of the normalisation process in Northern Ireland and marks the end of 'Operation Banner' – the longest running government operation, during which the Army was called into the province to support police during the Troubles.

(EF/KMcA)


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