Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Disputed firing range won't close, says MoD

The Army said it has no plans to close its firing range at Magilligan amid concerns raised over the impact the facility is having on local tourism.

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O hOisin has now called for the army training camp to be shut down.

He said large sections of Lough Foyle and its shoreline were being designated out of bounds for fishermen, local people and tourists to facilitate shooting and rocket targeting exercises.

Mr O hOisin (below) said that the sand dunes and surrounding areas at Benone had been designated a special area of conservation and should be protected.

“There are three to four miles of the beach that are out of bounds while these manoeuvres are being carried out,” he said.

“This is a real disincentive to any tourism, when you step off the ferry from Greencastle to Magilligan to the sound of gunfire.

“There are also access issues for the local fishing community.

“And it is possible that the prison may go here at some point and we need to be looking at a long-term strategy and tourism will be a major part of that.”

Mr O hOisin also called for measures to be speeded up to deal with raw sewage leaking into the lough from the area.

A military spokesman said the area was clearly signposted.

He said the armed forces did not use the beach for firing but did erect red flags along part of the shore as a precautionary measure to warn the public.

“There has been a firing range there from the Napoleonic Wars. There are no plans to close it,” he said.

“There is a radar at the edge of Magilligan training area to alert the guys to shipping that might be in the estuary.

“They wouldn’t conduct any firing if it was in the range of any boats.”

The army spokesman denied claims by Mr O hOisin that foreign Nato forces have trained in the area.

The SDLP has also called for the closure of the firing range.

East Derry MLA John Dallat has said the Ministry of Defence is “putting gun lovers before tourism” and said there is no practical need for the range.

“The MoD has a training camp at Ballykinler which is more than adequate for its needs,” he said.

“It has no reason to retain the facility at Magilligan — which is nothing more than a hobby facility — that continues to get priority over tourism, the only growth industry we have in the area.”

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