British forces gear up in South Armagh
The degree of militarisation in South Armagh is a cause of great anger
among nationalists and republicans in thqat area. It appears to many
that the British forces are using the peace process to strengthen
their presence in an area where, during the war, their movements were
severely limited, such was the strength of and support for the IRA in
the area. Here, Toni Carragher, secretary and PRO of the South Armagh
Farmers and Residents Committee, discusses the current situation.
The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, which was formed in
September 1997, has been actively campaigning to have South Armagh
demilitarised following the IRA ceasefire on 20 July 1997.
The people of South Armagh firmly believe that the British government,
through the device of the Good Friday Agreement, has, purposely,
excluded their community further. A total of 98.8% of the people of
South Armagh voted ``YES'' in response to the signing of the Good Friday
Agreement. The British government has clearly said ``NO'' to our
community with regards to demilitarisation.
On 22 December 1999, Peter Mandelson issued a document entitled,
``Security-Return to Normality''. (The full text of Mandelson's
statement can be obtained on http://www.nio.gov.uk/991222a-nio.htm We
would ask the reader to view it in its entirety).
In relation to this document, we take this opportunity to make the
following points: Since the ceasefire of 1997, the level of British
Army and RUC members deployed in South Armagh has increased by 75%.
Helicopter activity, the stopping and searching of the people of our
community, both young and old, by the British Army/RUC is now at an
all time high.
On 4 November 1999, the RUC disclosed that in mid-October, they had
``discovered'' files containing personal information on over 300
Catholics from South Armagh and Belfast in the Stoneyford Orange Hall
in Co. Antrim. These files, which had been compiled by both the RUC
and the British Army, were handed over to loyalist death squads.
Collusion between the securocrats and loyalists is still prevalent
today. It is believed by our community that with the extra heavy
deployment of so-called security in the South Armagh area, they used
this period to gather more information, hence putting Catholic lives
Despite Peter Mandelson's assessment, Bessbrook still remains the most
heavily fortified military base in Western Europe. The Bessbrook base,
which services the five joint British Army/RUC barracks and the 33
look-out posts in South Armagh, still remains. Refurbishment of these
barracks and look-out posts, together with the addition of extra
surveillance and infra-red cameras is continuous. Property belonging
to private home and land owners is still held by the British Army/RUC.
All of this and much more is not compatible with the Good Friday
The most disturbing part of Peter Mandelson's document is item 9,
which clearly states that the British Government does not intend
fulfilling its part in the Good Friday Agreement. It is quite clear to
us that the securocrats intend to remain steadfast in South Armagh, an
area where they have spent £79 million in the last 12 months alone. We
as a committee have stated many times that the securocrats are using
South Armagh as a military training ground.
Just as important is the existence of the RUC. It must be made clear
to all that the RUC have never and will never be acceptable to the
nationalist/republican people of the North of Ireland as a whole.
We question if Tony Blair and the British government are controlling
the securocrats or rather are the securocrats controlling Tony Blair
and the British government?
Mandelson's statement readily refers to a ``threat to peace''. The only
threat to the Peace Process is the continued unwarranted presence of
the British Army and the RUC in South Armagh.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, will
accompany Declan Fearon and Toni Carragher of the South Armagh Farmers
and Residents Committee to present submissions from the people of
South Armagh to Peter Mandelson on Thursday, 13 January, at Castle
Secretary and PRO
The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee