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11 February 1999 Edition

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Rally demands removal of spyposts

It was a bitterly cold day for a march but that didn't deter the thousand people who turned out last Sunday to march to Cloughogue Checkpoint outside Newry. Among them were sixty shirt-sleeved pikemen and women from County Wexford. These hardy souls were applauded as they lined up behind a parade of tractors and a mock lookout post at the head of the march.

The speakers at the rally included Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who commended the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee for organising the demonstration. He described it as ``another milestone in your long campaign for the complete demilitarisation of this part of our country''.

He went on: ``There is justifiable anger in this community that nine months on from the Good Friday Agreement the British government has done nothing substantial to begin the demilitarisation of South Armagh. Nine months on from the Agreement, four and half years on from the first IRA cessation, it is absolutely scandalous that the people of South Armagh still have to live under the shadow of five British barracks and over 30 spyposts, their lives disrupted by the relentless British military activity on land and in the air, 24 hours a day.

``It is a damning indictment of the military mindset which still dominates much of British policy in Ireland that this community again has to mobilise in peaceful protest against the repressive presence of the British Army.''

The crowd was also addressed by Kate Fearon of the Women's Coalition. She said she was there as part of her party's number one priority, to urge the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. ``The security arrangements here are a symbol of our past,'' she said. ``This area is not realising the fruits of the Good Friday Agreement. The spyposts are barriers to realising the true potential of this area.'' She said the problems could only be addressed by the full implementation of the Agreement.

Kate Fearon's contribution was warmly applauded. She has lived all her life in the area near Cloughoghue Checkpoint but was publicly condemned by both the UUP and the DUP for speaking at the rally.

Bernard Moffat, Secretary General of the Celtic League, pledged his group's support to the Farmers and Residents Committee. ``We have worked in Wales and Scotland with local groups campaigning against airborne pollution from low-flying aircraft. There is a causal link between health problems and the pollution from these aircraft, including helicopters. There is also evidence of a link between health problems and the use of electronic equipment from British military bases. We will do all we can to help you rid this beautiful countryside of these bloody nuisances.''

Support was also given to the campaign by Council Chairman Brendan Curran on behalf of Newry and Mourne Council. He spoke of the support from throughout the Council area for the removal of the spyposts. A message of support also came from Mícheál O'Donnell, Chairman of Louth County Council.

Declan Fearon, Chairman of the Farmers and Residents Committee, pointed out that South Armagh was the most militarised area in Western Europe. ``In an area of less than ten miles radius there are thirty spyposts and five military bases. There are 3,000 troops and RUC assigned to that area. That is one for every eight people in South Armagh. It is time for that to change.''

Declan Fearon then brought the event to an end by introducing ``a little piece of theatre'' and with that two tractors demolished the mock spypost to the cheers of the crowd.


In a radius of less than ten miles there are ten hilltop forts with thirty spyposts, and five British Army/RUC bases. Almost 3000 British soldiers and RUC are assigned to South Armagh. That's one for every eight people - men, women and children.
Official British figures show that far from demilitarising the British government is actually re-militarising. In the last twelve months they have spent £21.415 million on rebuilding their bases throughout the Six Counties. In the next twelve months they plan to spend over twice that - £54.696 million.
A Chinook flying for one hour costs the equivalent of a nurse's wages for four months. For a Lynx helicopter it is just over two hours. Official figures show that 30,000 helicopter flying hours were recorded last year. That would pay the annual salary of approximately six thousand nurses.
Tens of thousands of animals have been killed in South Armagh by low-flying helicopters over the years. In one year alone over 38,000 animals - chickens, sheep and cattle - were killed. Just 18 months ago a farmer lost 4,900 chickens in one incident when a helicopter hovered over his sheds.

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