Ben Lowry: It is only because Northern Ireland is so cowed by grievance mongering that army help in a pandemic is in doubt

The hullabaloo over the army helping with Northern Ireland’s Covid response reflects the multiple challenges that are being mounted against this country’s place in the UK.

Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 1:53 pm
Updated Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 2:13 pm
Soldiers set up a coronavirus vaccination centre in Glasgow earlier this week. The military helped in multiple roles in Great Britain during the pandemic in 2020 but not in Northern Ireland

In every other nation on earth, the army operates in an unfettered fashion across the territory, fulfilling a variety of emergency roles.

During the first phase of this pandemic, people in uniform helped administer Covid tests in Great Britain. But in Northern Ireland there is always sensitivity over the use of the army in such situations, and so they did not fulfil the same role here.

Now that they are finally being deployed in NI to help with the emergency in the NHS, caused by coronavirus, it is almost as if we should be grateful that Sinn Fein have not blocked it.

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There was an unhelpful suggestion earlier this year that the Irish Army might be deployed. Robin Swann only in fact said that he would not turn down help from any quarter, including the Irish military, if needed. He was trying to be diplomatic.

But that is the problem. We almost assume that this is a matter of negotiation, so cowed are we by perpetual grievance mongering.

Until there is a change of sovereignty (and I am not anticipating such a change for a very long time, if ever) then the only army that operates in Northern Ireland is the army of the sovereign nation state to which we belong: the United Kingdom.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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