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13 October  
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1971: Army blasts N Ireland border roads
British Army engineers have begun systematically to blow up several minor roads crossing from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland.

Shots were fired from across the border during the operation and one soldier was injured.

The destruction of the roads forms part of new security measures announced in Stormont yesterday by Ulster Prime Minister Brian Faulkner.

Border security will also be reinforced by increased patrols of regular troops and the part-time Ulster Defence Regiment.

The Ulster-Eire frontier is criss-crossed by dozens of narrow roads and tracks which paramilitaries often use to smuggle weapons into Northern Ireland.

Senior military sources say the number of tracks and trails make security along the 335 mile border difficult to enforce.

Soldiers began work this morning with plastic explosives to destroy between 20 and 50 of the frontier's 200 'unapproved routes'.

They used plastic explosives to blow holes approximately 10 feet (3m) deep and 20 feet (6m) wide.

In one incident a sniper's bullet hit the rifle of a soldier guarding a team of sappers near Rosslea, County Fermanagh.

Asked whether the measures would be effective in stopping gun runners and bombers, Colonel Simmonds of the Royal Engineers appeared confident:

"Nobody is going to use this road for some time without a major piece of engineering repair work," he said.

The decision to tackle cross-border smuggling of arms through the systematic destruction of minor roads was approved in a meeting between Prime Ministers Edward Heath and Brian Faulkner last week.

But local residents on both sides of the border are likely to find the 'cratering' a major inconvenience.

A loss for words

One local farmer looked at a gaping hole between himself and his farm further down the road. Asked how he was going to get to it he was at a loss for words. He shrugged.

In past incidences roads blown up that are regularly used for access have simply been refilled.

Republican Taoiseach Jack Lynch has made it clear he disapproves of the measures.

In a statement today he said they were directed at the wrong problem in the wrong place and that they were unlikely to succeed in their "overt intention".

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A soldier detonates a controlled explosion on a border road
The new strategy is meant to reduce IRA gun-running



In Context
By 19 October, nine roads had already been repaired by local people.

But the UK's official policy of cratering border roads was not only resented by local communities.

Off the record it was also criticised by senior British army officers and senior figures within the British Government.

Disputed roads marked by the British army for destruction caused frequent stand-offs between British and Republic of Ireland soldiers.

By the late 1970s it was generally accepted that the policy was not a success and it was largely abandoned.

In 1971 the situation in Northern Ireland was rapidly deteriorating. Some 174 people died that year in Troubles related violence.

There were 11,800 British Army personnel in Northern Ireland. That number was to double in 1972.

Stories From 13 Oct


 
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