Belfast Telegraph

Jobs hope for Whiterock site

Closure frees up economic potential

By Dan McGinn

ONE of the province's largest Army bases could be redeveloped to bring jobs into west Belfast, it emerged today.

ONE of the province's largest Army bases could be redeveloped to bring jobs into west Belfast, it emerged today.

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan announced the closure last night of Fort Whiterock.

Mr Flanagan said the decision to bulldoze the barracks was taken because of the reduced terrorist threat.

''The security situation continues to be kept under close scrutiny and further progress will depend on the operational assessment of the terrorist threat,'' he added.

Built in October 1979 on land commandeered from the IDB, the barracks earned the nickname 'Fort Apache' because of its location in the heart of republican west Belfast.

As one of the largest bases in Belfast, it housed hundreds of soldiers during the Troubles and played a key role in the fight against the paramilitaries.

The land will now be returned to the IDB and the demolition of the barracks will go out to tender.

An IDB spokesman welcomed the announcement that the twelve and a quarter acre site will be returned to them, but said it was too early to say how it would be used.

'Land for economic use in west Belfast is quite scarce and we are delighted to be getting this site back. We will be exploring a number of ways it can be used and welcome suggestions.'It is expected the 100 troops from the Staffordshire regiment currently in Fort Whiterock will be redeployed to the Maze.

Army sources described the closure of the installation as 'a very, very positive step'.

The move was welcomed by the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam who claimed it was further evidence of the Government's commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to achieve a more normal security environment.

Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews hoped its closure would provide a spur for the province's politicians in their bid to break the deadlock over decommissioning.

West Belfast SDLP Assemblyman Alex Attwood also described the move as significant, claiming the base's demolition would symbolise 'in the most public manner the changed environment in West Belfast and the attraction of the area for housing and investment.'

Belfast Telegraph


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