6 January 2000 Edition

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South Armagh community gets cross-border support

BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA

A delegation from the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, which campaigns for an end to British militarisation, made a presentation at the monthly meeting of Monaghan County Council on Tuesday, 4 January.

The delegation consisted of SAFRC Chairperson Declan Fearon and Secretary Toni Carragher. They were welcomed to the Council by Chairperson Brendan Hughes. Declan Fearon thanked Sinn Féin Councillor Noel Keelan, who sponsored the motion for the Council to receive the delegation.

Fearon described graphically the reality of life for residents in the most heavily militarised area in the Six Counties. He said that those living close to British military spyposts suffered most and face ``relentless disruption of home life''. Lands continue to be occupied by British troops and buildings, foot and motorised patrols are mounted daily, livestock is damaged and the din of helicopters is constant in the skies over South Armagh. A particular cause of anger to residents is low helicopter overflights during religious services, especially funerals.

The SAFRC chairperson urged the Council to make a public statement of support for their demands and to seek a meeting on the issue with British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson.

Fearon also encouraged the representatives of the political parties present to lobby their respective leaderships to press the issue with the British government.

SAFRC Secretary Toni Carragher said it appeared the British government was maintaining its strong presence in South Armagh largely for training purposes. She stated that the people of the area were extremely concerned that ongoing dismantling and minor reductions in British military presence taking place in other areas was not mirrored in South Armagh. This is something the community will not accept.

Brendan Hughes voiced Council support for a normalisation of life in South Armagh. Declan Fearon thanked the Council members for their attention and paid tribute to Council member and Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín ÓCaoláin, who had organised opportunities for delegations from the SAFRC to meet Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews.

Declan expressed disappointment at the failure of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to fulfill his promise to visit South Armagh and urged that he would do so. The delegation received warm applause from most County Council members in attendance.

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