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Army using police style uniforms during raids

Military personnel took part in an arrest operation in Newry last year

BRITISH Army units have been operating in Northern Ireland as back up to the PSNI during search operations, but in discreet 'police style' uniforms.

The Irish News revealed yesterday that during house searches in Derry linked to serious crime on Wednesday the PSNI used back up from the British army.

The development met with anger from nationalist Policing Board members who described the move as "unacceptable". Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly also said it made it harder for "political leaders to achieve genuine policing in the community".

Days ago army units were also seen accompanying police during follow-up bomb searches in Lurgan, Co Armagh. The personnel were not wearing standard army fatigues but dark grey boiler suits similar to those worn by police and hard hats. The military vehicles used are also painted white.

However the recent appearance of army units is not the first time the military have assisted in policing search operations involving dissident republicans.

Military personnel were involved in a policing operation that led to the arrest of Tyrone woman Sharon Rafferty and Sean Kelly in 2012 who were later jailed for taking part in a so-called dissident training camp.

Military drones were used to monitor the movements of Derry republican Tony Taylor before he was was arrested in 2011 for possession of a rifle.

And in November last year members of an elite army unit were involved in an operation in Newry during which 10 people were arrested for paramilitary-related offences following a lengthy surveillance operation.

In Ardoyne in north Belfast a British army unit conducted a six hour search of the old St Gemma's school site two months ago, assisted by the PSNI who provided back up. On that occasion the soldiers were dressed in jumpsuits rather that in full military uniform.

Ardoyne republican Aidan Ferguson said it was a "myth" that members of the British army were no longer active in Northern Ireland.

"People were fed the lie that there were no longer British soldiers on the streets but that's a political myth. They have always been active in republican areas. In fact it's becoming a more common occurrence. The fact they try and disguise their presence wearing PSNI style uniforms is fooling no one", he added.

The British army officially downgraded its status in Northern Ireland seven years ago as part of the demilitarisation process with the last general officer commanding (GOC) Major General Chris Brown leaving the north. Instead a brigadier was put in charge following perceived advances in the peace process.

At the time it was said that the army would continue to provide bomb-disposal assistance to the police since public order and security would now be a matter for the PSNI and that any future dissident republican threat or loyalist activity would be dealt with entirely by the police.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said yesterday; "Security in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the PSNI.

"The Armed Forces have specialist capabilities in terms of high risk search and explosives disposal which - just like everywhere else in the UK - is, and has been available to police as and when required".

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