29 October 1998 Edition

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Return of stolen land

The announcement of the decision to close Fort Jericho, the British Army base on the Springfield Road in West Belfast, has been greeted as ``long overdue'' by Sinn Fein President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams. Adams called for ``the British government toimmediately publish an `overall strategy' dealing with demilitarisation, as it is committed to doing as a result of the Good Friday Agreement''.

Adams also pointed out that; ``The closure of this base will be largely irrelevant to nationalists living in the greater Ballymurphy, Moyard, New Barnsley, Dermott Hill, the Whiterock and the Turf Lodge areas. It must be set against the recent construction of a multi-million pound new RUC/British Army barracks within sight of this base.''

The new barracks is the single largest barracks in Western Europe and was controversially built against the back drop of the IRA cessations of 1994 and 1997.

Adams also said; ``The British Army stole this land from the local community and forced the closure of the industrial enterprise site which had previously occupied it. Local people lost their jobs.''

Initially the site had housed the Whiterock Industrial Estate (WIE) with community businesses initiatives pioneered by community activists Frank Cahill and Fr Des Wilson.

Adams has called for the ``decontamination and return of this land to the people of the area for industrial development''.

The need for an outdoor pursuits activity centre or a Black Mountain environmental centre have also been previously raised by local community activists. Other uses such as a people's archive as promoted by Fr Des or a comprehensive arts resource centre have also been suggested.

Des Wilson is now calling for bondholders who bought a stake in the land when the WIE was on it to establish their ownership and is asking, ``Did the British army pay any rent during their occupation; is the British Army required by law to return the site in the condition they got it; is any compensation due; and do the trustees of the land still have power over the use and disposal of the land.''

Meanwhile the announcement of the closure of the barracks has prompted Sinn Fein Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, to call for the closure of the Girdwood Army Barracks on the Antrim Road in North Belfast.

Kelly said, ``The people of North Belfast are eagerly anticipating similar demilitarisation in this part of the city''

He added: ``North Belfast is an area of great social need. The lack of public housing is an issue which needs addressing. The Girdwood site could be developed in a number of different ways, the area is in desperate need of major social and economic regeneration.''

An Phoblacht
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