British Army commander said troops were not deployed to Drumcree because ‘our job is to kill people’
The British Army’s senior commander in Northern Ireland warned Irish diplomats that his troops could not get involved in the Drumcree clash in 1996 for fear of loss of life because “our job is to kill people – and we do it very well”.
This surprising exchange was revealed in secret documents released as part of state documents.
The British Army General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, insisted to Foreign Office officials in 1996 that his troops could only act in support of units of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) deployed to Drumcree.
Drumcree became a flashpoint in Northern Ireland as loyalists flocked to support protests over the refusal to allow the Portadown Orange Lodge to march past Drumcree Church via the mainly Nationalist Garvaghy Road.
There were widespread riots across Northern Ireland as well as a series of sectarian attacks when the peace process was at a critical stage.
On September 19, 1996, Seán Ó hUigínn, Second Secretary in the Anglo-Irish Division of the Foreign Office, received a confidential briefing note from Joint Secretary David Donoghue regarding a dinner he had with the Lieutenant General Smith.
The issues raised ranged from the Drumcree protests to the Parachute Regiment.
“We looked in detail at the Drumcree crisis and how it could have been avoided,” the memo reads. “Smith was adamant that the army could only have played a supporting role for the RUC – in the sense of logistical support, taking on RUC duties elsewhere in order to free up more police for duties at Drumcree.
“He clarified that he gave strong advice at the time that deploying soldiers in a more active role would automatically have resulted in fatalities.
“Our job is to kill people, he remarked bluntly, and we do it very well.”
Lieutenant General Smith was candid with Irish diplomats that soldiers should not be tasked with a policing role.
“Smith’s highly exposed intellectual capacities rarely translate into an enlightened view of what
The military could do to defuse longstanding suspicions about its role here and to promote better relations with the nationalist community,” the memo notes.
When Irish officials raised concerns about the Parachute Regiment’s deployment to Armagh, Lieutenant-General Smith was noted as becoming defensive.
“I’m part of the tribe,” he replied, after being commissioned into the Paras as a second lieutenant in 1964.
“(He was) upbeat in his response. While Bloody Sunday had been completely unforgivable, the Paras’ record over the ensuing years was, in his view, statistically no worse than any other regiment in Northern Ireland.
“Furthermore, it was not administratively possible to ensure that the Paras (who make up 5–10pc of all British Army infantry) were not serving in Northern Ireland.”
The memo continued: “And, in any event, other regiments strongly disapproved of special provisions of a positive or negative character and would combine to ensure that there was no order of exclusion on the Paras.”