Newry.ie

Ti Chulainn in Mullaghbawn has hosted a conference and exhibition on the militarisation Of South Armagh.

Entitled ‘Brexit: No Going Back’ those who attended the conference heard reflections from members of the South Armagh Demilitarisation Committee who twenty five years ago led a campaign to challenge the British government to end  their military occupation  and demilitarise the region. They also heard from members of the Border Communities Against Brexit (BCAB), who voiced their fears about the impact of Brexit on the area particularly if a ‘hard Border’ is imposed.

Mickey Brady, MP for Newry and Armagh visited the event and said "South Armagh is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. Towering mountains, rolling fields, rivers, loughs and picturesque villages, together with ancient monuments combine to produce an area of outstanding natural beauty, which should be a magnet for tourists and a joy to its inhabitants.

"It was all of these things until the British Government decided to impose a military occupation on a scale unheard of in this country since the 1920s. The British Army began fortifying hilltops and villages in the 1980s. The busiest helicopter base in Western Europe was established in Bessbrook, effectively cutting the village in half. Huge installations were built beside schools and churches, forcing the closure of one large primary school at Cloughouge  and prompting teachers across the county to publicly express their concerns for the welfare of their pupils — most notably in Forkhill where the installation's helicopter landing area is just yards from the school building.

Mr Brady continued "Information began to leak out about sinister surveillance activities in the area. Large communication masts were erected at every major and minor British Army installation in South Armagh amid growing fears for the health of people living near these bases.

"The 1990s brought hope to the people of South Armagh, who felt the ceasefires and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement would bring an end to the military occupation of the area. The British Government undertook to demilitarise the North.

"The reality, however, was very different.

"South Armagh  experienced an increase in helicopter overflights, British Army patrols and nuisance roadblocks.

Army activity in South Armagh in 2006. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Army activity in South Armagh in 2006. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"Installations were refortified and new, larger, communication masts erected. After the token removal of a small number of installations, the British Army and PSNI expanded their activities on the ground and in the air to unprecedented levels.

 “It was clear at that time  and unfortunately what has been all to common over the years since that the British government  were ignoring their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

"As a response at that time the South Armagh Demilitarisation Committee was set up and campaigned on the issue of the continued occupation of this part of Ireland.

"Along with other groups, it committee  to ending this intolerable situation and organised protests, rallies, conferences and produced documented evidence of the British Government's failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement in relation to demilitarisation."

Comparing the campaining to the present day MR Brady added "I have no doubt that the very same commitment and efforts exist at this present time as community led organisations such as Border Communities Against Brexit once again take on the night of the British establishment , united with others to highlight the opposition of most to Brexit and in particular a ‘hard’ Brexit. There really is no such thing as a good Brexit but we cannot allow the return of any type of a hard border to this area”.

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