THE LATEST report of the Ulster Countryside Commission shows South Armagh designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is both that and an area of immense human tragedy.
Bordering on County Louth in the Republic, it contains sites made famous by the saints of Ireland and many of its ancient heroes. Just across the border from Armagh is St Brigid's Shrine. In Forkhill. Armagh, Peader O'Durnin taught in his Fledge Schools and wrote his poetry.
At the turn of the 14th century Edward Bruce died at the Battle of Faughart and is buried on the hill in Faughart cemetery, now used as an observation post by the Irish Army to look for subvL‘rsis es infiltrating into the Republic from Armagh.
It is the most beautiful of countrysides—winding lanes. the gorse in early June in full colour setting the hillsides ablaze. the grass still green and lush, the woodlands in full leaf. It is an impossible territory to pat
rot effectively, and the problem is compounded by the stupidity of the actual border.
I drove along a road with the Irish Army, my left foot in the Republic, my right in the Six Counties: a barn where the cows were milked in the Republic. but their mangers are in the Six Counties.
Shops and houses are similarly divided, and in one area, in order to reach parts of the Republic by road, members of the Garda Siochana (the Irish Police) put overcoats over their uniforms as they drive along the only road from the Republic through: the Six Counties hack into the Republic. Add to these stupidities—and I make no comment here about the necessity of the existence of such a border—the difficulties of the terrain and the problems facing the armies and police forces on both sides of the border can be appreciated.
The 'part played by the IriSh Army is that described as the classic function by liberal constitutionalists when speaking and writing of the role of the Army in a democratic State. Its duty is to protect the State from external aggression and then to come to the aid, when invited, of the civil power to defeat internal subversion.
The police in the Republic are not armed.; at the road checks they are protected by the Army. All contact between the security forces in the North with the Army in the Republic are conducted through the Garda. This relationship between the Irish Army and the Garda is a remarkable contrast with the situation in the North.
In the Six Counties, until recently, the Army played by far the most dominant role in maintaining order. It still now plays the major role in the troubled border areas, but increasingly the Royal Ulster Constabularly has become accepted in the North.
Its firm handling of the Loyalist strike. and its recent successes in apprehending the "Shankhill Butchers," the alleged perpetrators of the sectarian crimes, has done much to restore the minority's confidence in the police. Nevertheless, in South Armagh the burden against the terrorists is still borne by the British Army.
Many British politicians imagine that if a huge border fence. or "no-go area" were created around the Six Counties, then the alleged havens that exist for the terrorists in the South would disappear. Even if it were possible to build such a tench—and 1 think I have described the terrain sufficiently to show how impossible that would be—the need for it would be questioned.
On our Government's own figures' only about 2 per cent of all the violent incidents which occur in the Six Counties are alleged to have a confirmed con
nection with the Republic.
The success of the Irish sec.• urity forces has cost the Republic dearly. Defence expenditure has increased by 68.8 per cent in the past seven years, the Army strength by over 70 per cent and that of the Garda by nearly 30 per cent.
In terms of our own defence budget the costs in the Republic of only 72.9 million are a mere fleabite: to the Republic it represents quite a massive transfer of resources which could he used to strengthen and expand the Republic's economy.
The same is true of the money the British Government is spending to try and defeat ter rorism in the Six Counties. Whatever may be the future political settlement in the North, both Governments deserve our support.
Those who believe in democratic politics and government
by persuasion should be grateful to the armies and police forces both North and South of the border for their efforts to preserve our peace.