Analysis: Use of army personnel dispels myth of normalisation
THE 'normalisation' of life in Northern Ireland is, in many ways, more based on perception than fact.
While the PSNI are politically accountable under reformed policing structures, the British army are not.
In Northern Ireland the British army were participants in a lengthy and violent conflict, their presence on the streets a visible sign that we remained in a situation that was far from normal.
During parade related violence in 2005 the army provided assistance to the PSNI during a sustained summer of rioting.
It was one of the last times they would be seen providing back up as the PSNI prepared to deal with street violence alone.
In July 2007 the army announced the end of Operation Banner, its longest military campaign. The move made headlines around the world, aimed as a rubber stamp endorsement of the success of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
At the time it was suggested that the military's only role would be to be provide bomb disposal assistance to the PSNI.
Major General Chris Brown, a veteran who spent the earlier part of his career in south Armagh’s ‘bandit country’, was the last official general officer commanding to serve in Northern Ireland. His departure was supposed to bring to an end an era of British military history in the north which saw almost 300,000 British soldiers deployed over 39 years.
However, in more recent times the appearance of soldiers in roles other than bomb disposal has raised eyebrows and caused political embarrassment in some quarters.
While military intelligence has been used to convict a number of dissident republicans it is the 'boots on the ground' - soldiers who the public had been told were no longer required - that is causing the most controversy.
Not only are the army unaccountable to the Policing Board and locally elected politicians who promised a new dispensation, they are also a sign that we are not yet living in a normalised society.