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2 May 2002 Edition

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Clogher - Tyrone's militarised zone

Sinn Féin in Clogher, County Tyrone, has produced a report detailing the continuing large scale and oppressive military occupation of the area


This document has come about as the result of years of frustration by the nationalist people of the Clogher Valley at the endless military presence in our midst as we try to live our lives. There has been a constant military presence in this area for over 30 years and with the advent of the peace process we all believed that we would no longer see British military camp, jeeps, foot patrols, helicopters, survillence cameras in our area for much longer. But seven years into a peace process not one thing has changed for the people of Clogher. The new sense of hope that we as a community were about to see a return to some sort of normality is continually dashed by the heavy presence of military might which daily weighs down on our community.

Surely the people of our area have suffered enough hardship throughout the last 30 years at the hands of these people. The question on everybody's lips is: are we going to be forced to have to live like this forever? What does the continued military presence say about British intentions towards the current peace process and the nationalist people of this area? Is the Clogher Valley being used as a military training ground?

A PICTURE OF THE CLOGHER VALLEY



County Tyrone has for long been one of the most militarised parts of Western Europe and within its boundaries Clogher stands as the most militarised zone.

Given that this is such a small area, it is hard to imagine how intrusive this massive military presence is on the everyday life of those of us who live there. Aside from the visual and audible presence of the army base, the helicopters, the patrols, searching our cars, tractors etc, we believe that the greatest invasion of all is on our freedom from the harassing presence of a military machine.


Socio-Economic problems

From an economic viewpoint, it is virtually impossible to attract any inward investment to the area or create jobs. Instead, we have a militarised zone which business people studiously avoid. It has been the experience of a haulage firm in Co Fermanagh that they are safer going to Enniskillen from Belfast via Omagh and bypassing Clogher because of the level of checkpoints and patrolling in the area. Taxis from Ballygawley and Co Monaghan refuse fares from this area rather than waste time being held at checkpoints. As statistics will show, we are subjected to at least one checkpoint or patrol every day.


Farming

Traditionally, the small family farms supplied an income for most people who live here but they above all other have suffered more than most at the hands of the British government.

Many farmers have lost livestock and have given up on trying to keep their fencing in order. This has resulted from a variety of actions by the military - helicopters constantly land on farmlands causing startled livestock to stampede through fencing and barbed wire, thus resulting in the animals being horrifically injured. In other instances, large foot patrols of British Army and RUC personnel will cut fencing rather than open a gate to exit farms. This allows the cattle and sheep access to the public highway, when all too often, road traffic accidents occur. The farmer is left defenceless against charges of permitting the accident to happen if he cannot prove that the military damaged his fencing.

The spread of Tuberculosis and Brucellosis is rampant in the Clogher area, and can only be attributed to the constant foot patrolling and helicopter hopping from farm to farm. 2,019 herds are restricted in the Co Tyrone area, representing 28% of the total herds restricted in the Six Counties, and a large number of these are in the Clogher Valley. The British Army and RUC ignore guidelines set out by the Department of Agriculture that act as a prevention to the spread of the diseases.



Tourism

There is no such thing as tourism in the Clogher Valley. This is a disgrace given that the area is among the most beautiful and historic places in Ireland. The true potential for tourism will not be realised until all of the British/RUC military paraphernalia in the form of the military camp, constant patrols and helicopter activity is permanently removed. Many visitors from the USA and Europe have remarked how the military base stands out as an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful area, it stares down at people as they drive along the main Belfast - Enniskillen road. All efforts to imbue life into the tourism industry have been thwarted by the unwanted and unwarranted military occupation.


Schoolchildren

The number of patrols and constant visual presence of an army base have an effect on children's lives, particularly when attending school. Ths includes helicopter noise, British troops and RUC peering through the classroom windows, coupled with foot patrolling through the school grounds when children are at play. Children travelling to St McCartan's school, either by bus or car, are subjected to vehicle checkpoints, being stopped and searched daily. It was the experience of one set of primary schoolchildren a few years ago for British soldiers to board the small bus with automatic assault rifles and search through a school cook's shopping bags while the children sat petrified in their seats.

Health issues

In August 1997, a report found that neurologic deficits could develop when exposed to fuel fumes as a result of long term aircraft/helicopter activity. We in this area have been subjected to daily flights for just under 30 years. Experts in the field have informed us that land currently occupied by the British Army/RUC shall be rendered totally useless due to years of seepage of radiation into the ground. We feel justified in questioning the consequences in years to come.


Conclusion

All of these issues are totally ignored by the British government. They continue to justify their position, saying that there is still a threat from "dissident republicans". The reality is that there has never ever been one single dissident republican action within 18 miles of Clogher. The only 'incident', so to speak, was the shooting dead of a young Catholic by an off duty RIR British soldier late last year in Fivemiletown, eight miles away. The peace process offered all our people the chance to live a normal life, the nationalist people in this area to a man voted for the Good Friday Agreement. But seven years later, we are still getting our noses rubbed in it by a vindictive and ever present military force and the question on everybody's lips is why? There is no valid explanation for this presence in a small rural community and it only leads people to question the real intentions of the British towards the process and the nationalist population. We deserve and expect nothing short of a full military removal from the Clogher Valley immediately, this presence is something that should never have been brought to bear on our community.

In order to illustrate to constant presence in our midst as we try to go to work, bring children up and live normal lives, people in the area kept a log of patrols in our area. It averages out at 1 or 2 patrols or military manoeuvres a day. The log was kept from August until March 2002. At best it reflects about 40-50% of all overt military presence in the area and 0% of all covert military activity. Note that all military activity took place within the encircled area on the map displayed, just five miles by four miles.


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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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