6 April 2000 Edition
Protesters break into spyposts
Over 200 protesters breached security at the British Army spy post above Jonesboro in South Armagh, on Sunday 2 April.
The protesters cut through wire and entered the post, where they were confronted by a dozen armed British soldiers, some carrying batons and plastic bullet guns. One British Army officer ordered the protesters to leave. His demand, however, was ignored by the crowd.
Inside the post, Assembly member Conor Murphy, Louth County Councillor Arthur Morgan and Newry and Mourne Councillor Packie McDonald addressed the crowd as the British soldiers looked on and helicopters hovered overhead.
Murphy accused the British Army of using the people of South Armagh as ``lab rats'' for training exercises and branded the current levels of activity in the area as ``blatantly provocative'', while demanding immediate demilitarisation as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Murphy said that the British Army had increased their activity in recent weeks to ``unprecedented levels''. He said his office was receiving reports every day of abuse and harassment from increased numbers of patrols and checkpoints.
``In particular,'' he said, ``helicopters have swooped down over a number of cars travelling in South Armagh in a blatant attempt to scare the occupants. One woman contacted me about a helicopter hovering feet above her driveway. The soldiers in the helicopter were able to look into her living room.''
British military activity is now so high in South Armagh that the British Army press office was forced to admit last week that their activity is higher now than it was before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
``I have never known British military activity to be so high. It is deliberately provocative and I think it is no coincidence that it is happening in the wake of Irish government calls for demilitarisation in South Armagh. The British Army response to Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowan is to increase rather than decrease their activity.'' said Murphy.
``Our protest is to show that the people of South Armagh want this military presence to end. This has been a dignified, determined protest and there will be more in the future.''
Murphy also said it was clear that since Sinn Fein's last protest at the spy post in 1995, it had been extended to twice the size. ``The British military appear to have no intention of scaling down their activity. On the contrary, they appear to be digging in. Their contribution to the peace process has been entirely negative.''
Sangar ransacked by angry residents
Fermanagh residents, angry at the increasing British Army activity on the border, dismantled a British watch tower during a protest near Roslea on Sunday 2 April.
The protesters partially demolished the British Army base at Annaghmartin near Roslea, and a number of military documents were removed. Graffiti was sprayed on the perimeter wall and windows were smashed. Infra-red cameras and other surveillance equipment were also taken from the building.
A spokesperson for Farmers and Residents against Military Bases, Brian McCaffrey, said: ``All the indications from inside the base are that British troops regularly use it and that right up to the protest the equipment was monitoring a large area around Roslea village. The British Army has a cheek to claim this is `wanton damage' by `vandals', considering the decades of damage their regiments and equipment have inflicted on local people's lives.
``Nationalists in Fermanagh are angry and frustrated at the British government's refusal to remove the border installations. The constant stream of foot patrols and helicopters, and the behaviour of the RUC in areas like Roslea and Newtownbutler, have done little to instil confidence in the peace process. It seems a little one-sided while the British Army still wages war on border nationalist communities.''
More RUC porkies
The one certainty of the past 30 years is that you ignore the RUC press office and its version of any event that takes place in relation to the nationalist community.
Likewise, on Saturday 1 April, when the RUC said that over 200 people tried to force entry into Springfield Road RUC barracks during a Sinn Féin protest and that Assembly member Sue Ramsey was arrested ``during clashes'', you take it with a large dose of salt.
The RUC claimed that on Saturday, a protest outside Springfield Road, which began with between 20 and 30 people, ended up with about 200 people in attendance and that their officers, ``prevented a forced entry'' into the barracks and deserved ``praise for their restraint''.
In the past couple of weeks, there has been speculation that Springfield Barracks is closing down, so as part of Saturday's protest, demonstrators painted Tricolours on the outside walls.
They also advertised the barracks in white paint: For Sale to the highest bidder.
None of this activity was anything other than peaceful.
Then, someone produced a ladder and decided to paint out the windows on the sangar overlooking the front gate of the barracks. It was while this was happening that the RUC arrived in jeeps and the ladder disappeared.
The demonstrators, whose numbers never exceeded 50, (although shoppers and passers by stopped to watch) decided to bring the protest to a halt.
But rather than allow the protester to peacefully disperse, and using their usual heavy handed and aggressive tactics, the RUC grabbed one woman demonstrator and tried to arrest her.
Up to six RUC officers dragged the woman towards a jeep. Some of the protesters went to her aid and it was then that the RUC turned their attentions on Sue Ramsey, a Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast.
In their enthusiasm to arrest an elected representative, the RUC struck several people. Sinn Féin Deputy Mayor Marie Moore was struck on the face and arm, while at least one other woman was also hit.
Predictably, the establishment media ran with the RUC version of events. The Irish News went even further, claiming that the crowd demanded the ``destruction'' of the base!!
In truth, a good natured and peaceful demonstration turned nasty when the RUC attacked a number of women under the pretence of arresting them for ``criminal damage''.