Lord Chief Justice lobbied to retain Army base

Jim Prior
Jim Prior

The Lord Chief Justice twice wrote to the Secretary of State to make an argument for the retention of St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena as a Royal Irish Rangers base.

Lord Lowry feared that it was to be downgraded to a Territorial Army centre and regimental headquarters.

In a February 1984 note to James Prior, Lord Lowry acknowledged that it was “a subject which is not my concern as Lord Chief Justice”.

He made clear his personal interest in the issue as a former member of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and said that he had received a confidential letter from Major General Bredin, colonel of the Royal Irish Rangers, “expressing great concern at the possibility that the regimental depot at Ballymena might be closed. I share this concern and, whatever the savings may be in the short term, consider that this would be economically and politically a very severe blow to Northern Ireland”.

The senior judge added: “I think that an even more important consideration is that the Irish regiments (and this is now the only infantry regiment except the Guards) have provided a stable and unifying influence among law-abiding people in this divided community, and for that reason, among others, I strongly feel that very great harm would be done to the community if the depot were taken away from Northern Ireland or abolished altogether.

“I know how busy you are and therefore hope you will forgive me for troubling you.”

Two years later, Lord Lowry again raised the issue, this time with Secretary of State Douglas Hurd, warning that to move the regiment to England would mean that “they will, for practical purposes, lose their character and cease to exist as an Irish regiment”.

In the second of two letters on the issue sent within a week of each other, he said: “The political consequences of this ‘troops out’ movement would, I respectfully suggest, be disastrous, whatever the real motives of closing the depot might be, since no one will fail to associate the move with a desire by the mainland British to weaken the links with this part of the United Kingdom.”

In a previous letter about the issue in February 1984, Lord Lowry had said: “The regiment (which embodies the traditions of three historic Irish infantry regiments) would eventually cease to be Irish in anything but name, which is a sad thought and politically sinister.”