Mrs Thatcher has expressed her confidence in the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is at the centre of allegations of leaks of secret information to Loyalist terrorists. Speaking during a one-day visit to Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said the soldiers of the UDR were a “very [very] brave group” of men. Mrs Thatcher flew into Belfast this morning amid tight security; news of her visit was kept secret until after her plane had landed. During the day she's been meeting businessmen and security chiefs, as our Northern ireland Correspondent, Fergal Keane reports: [end p1]
Although apparently organised some time ago, this visit is being seen as a timely morale booster for the security forces, coming as it does during a period of serious concern over the alleged leaking of confidential intelligence to Loyalist terrorists. The Prime Minister has spent a large part of the day visiting security bases&em;talking to policemen, soldiers and the families of army personnel living in the Province. Security for the visit has been intense. Travelling by helicopter, Mrs Thatcher visited the heavily fortified police base in the County Tyrone village of Carrickmore, one of the most strongly Republican areas in Northern Ireland. She also paid a visit to an industrial site at Campsie in Londonderry. Later at Lisanelly army barracks in Omagh, the Prime Minister was introduced to soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The UDR has been the focus of fierce criticism from nationalist politicians in recent days following the weekend disclosure that a confidential file on IRA suspects had disappeared from a UDR base in County Down. Mrs Thatcher was asked if she had full confidence in the regiment:
Yes indeed. Of course. The UDR have done remarkable work. As you know, they have suffered greatly. I just looked up the figures. A hundred-and-79 of the UDR have been murdered in the last twenty years.
The Prime Minister said that allegations of collusion with terrorists were a matter for the courts and she said people were only guilty when the courts had found them to be so. Mrs Thatcher has been accompanied throughout the day by the Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Brooke. It's her second visit to the Province this year.