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8 April 1999 Edition

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Crossmaglen - Doubts over British land pledge

The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC) has reacted with skepticism to the British government's announcement that the British army is to give back to Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club the land they took from it to extend the army's base.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Armagh Conor Murphy, meanwhile, has called on the British government to pay compensation to the club for the occupation of the grounds.

The announcement, which was made by Secretary of State Mo Mowlam on Saturday 3 April, said that ``the RUC chief constable and the British general officer commanding have reviewed the position of the Crossmaglen base in the light of the threat level'' and have advised her they intend to return the land within the base belonging to the GAA club ``as soon as practicable''. The land was requisitioned by the RUC and British army under the Emergency Provisions Act in 1974. Speaking about the occupation of the Rangers grounds, GAA President Joe McDonagh said the occupation by the crown forces of Crossmaglen Rangers' grounds ``and the associated harassment and disruption for over a quarter of a century has been a source of deep-felt injustice and resentment by GAA members countrywide but in Crossmaglen and Armagh in particular''.

And while many establishment political figures are now using the British government's decision to call for an end to the GAA's ban on crown forces personnel playing Gaelic games and are holding the gesture up as one of the benefits of the peace process, Toni Carragher of SAFRC pointed out that the British statement only says they intend to return the land ``as soon as practicable''.

Carragher said: ``If they had honestly intended vacating the grounds, their statement should have stipulated an exact date, not using the careful wording `as soon as practicable'. This is only a fudging of words''. She pointed out that similar announcements have been made in the past regarding military installations in the area but have never been fully carried out.

The fact that the British statement is also being viewed as a major concession to Republicans in some circles is also misleading. Carragher points out that the move be seen in the context of the ongoing militarisation of the area by the British Army and the RUC: ``From August 1997 to July 1998, £76 million was spent on building new barracks throughout the North of Ireland and on refurbishing and expanding the lookout posts in South Armagh. From July 1998 to July of this year a further £59 million will have been spent. Twelve months from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, demilitarisation, which is part of the Agreement, has not been implemented. In fact, quite the contrary, given the millions of pounds being spent, the situation speaks for itself.''
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