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An important day for Northern Ireland...

| 15:36 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Hi there,

It's Madeleine Morris here, standing in for Ros.

We're off air now - but please carry on posting your comments here.

It's a momentous day for Northern Ireland today. The British Army is ceasing operations there at midnight tonight after 38 years. Its presence in Northern Ireland was one of the biggest symbols of "The Troubles", as the conflict there was known. But as the power in Northern Ireland has slowly ebbed from gunmen to politicians and social activists, the Army's role has been diminishing. And today it will finish.

So, we're going to hear from veterans of the conflict - former soldiers, an ex-IRA gunman who spent 18 years in prison, plus plenty of locals who can tell us their stories of the Troubles. We'd love to get both your questions and comments on email or live on the programme. And if you think the situation in Northern Ireland has resonance for where you live, we'd love to hear that too.

Speak to you at 1700GMT

Madeleine

It's Alex here, taking over from Madeleine to write the blog while we're live on air. We're eager to hear your questions and comments on the big story today - British troops leaving Northern Ireland after 38 years.

We talk to guests in the BBC Belfast studio - Michael Patterson, a former Northern Irish policeman who lost limbs in an attack which killed his colleagues and who now works as a pyschologist, and Anthony McIntyre, who spent years in the notorious Maze prison.
We also speak to ex-British soldier Chris, who served in Northern Ireland, about his experiences there.

And we also hear from listeners around the world...


Margaret in Western Australia writes:
"The troops pulling out of Northern Ireland is the end of an era, I was a mere 5 year old when they rolled into West Belfast. I remember the curfew - when they set up barracks in the Royal Victoria Hospital Broadway, my sister & I watched the meat wagons fill our street through the parlour window. My life up until I moved to Australia had british soldiers in its daily routine."

Chris in Spain writes
"I was with the 2nd. Batt Grenider guards,when we were sent out to N Irland, July 1969. We were told it was only for 2/3 weeks 8months later I came home , only to be sent back 7 times up until 1973 when I came out."

We're joined by Tommy McKearney, a hunger striker who also served time in the Maze prison. He says it will take some time before normal relations can resume in Northern Ireland, but that there is not the same amount of tension and violence that there used to be.

Ted, a caller from Dorset in England, was born in Belfast in 1927 and came to the UK in 1942. He says he remembers the utter unfairness of how work was distributed in Northern Ireland. As a Catholic, he says he found it difficult to get work in Belfast because of his religion.

Martin, a caller from Scotland says he shudders to hear the polarised views on the programme. He says he comes from a sectarian city, Glasgow, but that people manage to get on there.

Mark in Belfast says things are better than when he moved to Belfast in 1984, but that there is still a way to go. He asks Michael how the people of Northern Ireland should go forward in terms of forgiveness.

Michael says he doesn't forgive the people who hurt him but he has put it behind him and gone forward with his life.

Virginia, a caller from Oregon in the US says she lived in Northern Ireland in 1978 and became a convinced Republican. She says she could understand how people in the IRA could use violence. She says she wants to know how reconciliation is going on the ground in Belfast.

Ron in the US writes in:
"My wife and I visited County Armagh and Belfast in 2002, and were treated with respect and courtesy, and had no fears for our personal safety. We were taken aback to notice the siege mentality in the city centers after 6 p.m. Nonetheless, we will be back, unafraid and happily visiting my beautiful homeland."

We talk to some Belfast residents in central Belfast via satellite phone, and hear from a cab driver in New York, Tom, who is listening to World Have Your Say via satellite radio in his taxi and called the programme.

Patrick from Dublin says it's great to see the British troops going home - they should never have been here in the first place.

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