HL Deb 27 June 1984 vol 453 cc907-9
The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have under consideration any proposals for the removal of the depot and of the training of their regular recruits, the Royal Irish Rangers, from Ballymena and, if so, what these proposals are.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, a recent review of individual training in the British Army covered all depots in the United Kingdom, including that of the Royal Irish Rangers at Ballymena. It made a large number of recommendations, all of which are under current study. No decisions have yet been taken about any individual establishment. It would be premature to detail any particular proposal at this stage.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Quite apart from the damage to the morale of and the recruiting for this particular regiment which might ensue from its removal from Northern Ireland, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government have considered the enormous political damage that might result from taking it out of Ireland? This is the last Irish regiment in the British Army and its removal could possibly be analogous with the withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" from the Falkland Islands, which gave to the Argentine Government the impression that we were about to pull out of the Falkland Islands.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there are of course important considerations, such as those to which my noble friend has referred, which need to be taken into account in making decisions of this kind, and I can assure my noble friend that they will be.

Lord O'Neill of the Maine

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the importance of this depot to the excellent country town of Ballymena, in terms of both the life of the town and employment there?

Lord Trefgarne

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the point which my noble friend makes. and that, too, will be taken into account.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I want, if I may, to add my support to the noble Earl in raising this matter, because I had the privilege of visiting the regiment and its predecessors. I think that it would be a very sad day for the regiment as regards morale and other considerations if it lost its depot in Ballymena. It is good to know that as yet decisions have not been taken, and I hope that the noble Earl's proposal will be well considered.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. I hear what the noble Lord says. These, too, are important considerations. The noble Lord said that he had visited this establishment. I, too, hope to have the chance to do so.

Lord Murton of Lindisfarne

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he will pay particular attention to the fact that the Royal Irish Rangers are the only remaining link with Northern Ireland? Other regiments which have the word "Irish" in their titles recruit from a wider range, in Britain itself, and the Royal Irish Rangers have the unique distinction of being the descendants of three famous fighting regiments with many battle honours. They should surely not be relegated to training in England if it is at all feasible for them to remain in their own native land.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall certainly want to take into account the kind of views expressed by my noble friend. However, perhaps it is worth pointing out that although the regimental headquarters, as has been said, is presently in Ballymena, the units of the regiment are deployed elsewhere.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the review which he has mentioned, so far as the Royal Irish Rangers are concerned, concentrates mainly on training as part of his ministry's present efficiency drive, or whether it goes more widely than that?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the review to which the noble Lord refers is principally concerned with training matters, and a version of the report is available in the Library of your Lordships' House.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my Question has nothing whatever to do with the regimental headquarters, which consists of one officer and one clerk, but is to do with the depot and the training and the recruiting of the whole regiment?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am of course aware of the recruiting implications of my noble friend's Question, and that is why I replied as I did.

Lord Blease

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that this matter has given rise to considerable concern throughout the Province during the last few months and has also given rise to rumours about an aspect even wider than the training of the Ulster Rangers? May I ask him whether he will take an early opportunity to have consultations with the local representatives, or take an opportunity. during his visit, to scotch, or to rule out. any of the rumours arising from this particular issue?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, decisions in relation to this matter will be announced in due course. However, perhaps I ought to say that the context in which the report which has been referred to has been prepared has been one in which the size of the British Army has contracted quite considerably over recent years. It was therefore appropriate to look at the size of the Army's training machine, including the establishment that has been referred to in this Question.

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