Weapons: made in Ulster

Observations on arms. By <strong>John Ofarrell</strong>

Outside sceptical unionist circles, there has been much righteous jubilation at the long-awaited destruction of the IRA's arsenal. Brendan Behan, an IRA veteran of the 1940s, said that "the terrorist is the one with the small bomb"; now it seems the IRA has no bombs at all.

It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that this leaves Northern Ireland weapons-free. For one, as we know, there are the loyalist paramilitaries, who have shown no inclination to surrender any arms and claim they need to be equipped to fight dissident republican groups such as the Continuity IRA. That is not, in fact, what they use their guns for: according to the government's ceasefire monitors, the Ulster Volunteer Force alone has been responsible for 30 murders since 1998, and all but one of their victims have been Protestants.

Less well known, however, is Northern Ireland's growing role in the manufacture of weapons. The UK is the second-largest arms exporter on earth, and since the ceasefires of a decade ago a steadily increasing slice of that trade has been based in Northern Ireland. Many of the firms involved have benefited from taxpayers' largesse through the Invest Northern Ireland agency.

They include Raytheon (military software for Tomahawk and Patriot missiles), John Huddleston Engineering (missile and helicopter components) and Spirent (software for the US air force), not to mention the long-established Belfast firms of Shorts Missile Systems and its aerospace affiliate.

Last spring local peace groups launched a campaign against such investment. "Almost £900,000 of EU peace and reconciliation money was allocated, through Invest Northern Ireland, to Thales Air Defence [the former Shorts], a company producing and developing missiles," complained the Peace People. "Is this what so many have struggled for - 'peace' in a Northern Ireland making money from exporting violence?"

In Derry, local campaigners have been spray-painting walls with the catchy slogan "Palestine burns, Raytheon earns". The world's third-largest arms manufacturer, Raytheon set up in the city in 1999, a project defended by the then local MP and Nobel Peace Prizewinner, John Hume. Although its Derry operation is not manufacturing missiles, its role includes work for the British Ministry of Defence and developing e-commerce software.

Raytheon's clients include Israel, which has bought and used its TOW anti-tank missile, which has been fired at Palestinian refugee camps, causing widespread death and injury and destroying many homes. Raytheon also makes the JSOW cluster bomb, carrying BLU-97 bomblets, as used in Iraq. Its website shows that the Derry centre is working on ASTOR, an "airborne radar surveillance programme", funded by the MoD to the tune of £800m.

"The people of Derry do not want their city to be associated with the evil arms trade," says Jim Keys of the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign. "Raytheon came here as part of the peace dividend, so we are exchanging peace at home for war abroad."

This article first appeared in the 03 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: our fatal blunder