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Stormont ministers may reject Omagh military base offered as a gift

By Noel McAdam

Stormont ministers could be set to reject a former military base offered as a gift to the Executive.

The massive site at St Lucia barracks in Omagh had been earmarked for housing and potential retail, and was seen by local politicians as a potential lifeline for the town.

But First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are concerned the five-acre location could become a drain on scarce Government resources.

And an Ulster Unionist MLA fears the site might not end up under Executive ownership.

"I would hate to see this potential financial goldmine for Omagh rejected," Ross Hussey told the Belfast Telegraph.

Four years after it closed in 2007, the site transferred to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister as part of the Hillsborough Agreement.

But then there was a legal row over ownership of the historic barracks building at the core of the site, which has been resolved.

Now the issue is over the cost of transferring or maintaining the historic barracks building. An OFMDFM statement said: "Our officials have been engaged in discussions with organisations that have an interest in potential future uses of the St Lucia site, including Omagh District Council and the Department for Social Development.

"The intent of transferring the sites under the Hillsborough Agreement was to provide additional resources to the Executive and for the benefit of people here.

"Officials are investigating the potential costs that would be incurred by the Executive, if the historic barracks was to be transferred. In the current financial climate, we need to ensure that ownership of this part of the site would not place an unnecessary drain on the Executive's resources."

Mr Hussey, who has tabled Assembly questions on the issue, said: "I am very concerned that the current economic climate could mean that the St Lucia Barracks site might not be released to the NI Executive.

"I have been warned unofficially that the department has always been reluctant to take ownership of this site.

"The county hall site clearly has a potential to be resited into the barracks. In addition there are ample car parking facilities on the former military site, and with the beautiful historical backdrop, the potential for weddings and other events can also be seen.

"A catering establishment on site and the various proposals already developed by the former Omagh District Council to, for example, cobble the square and use it for outdoor markets opens up more possibilities.

"The historical significance, the military connections for many Irish, and indeed British and Commonwealth and American citizens, can again be used to create a military archive and study centre.

"These are just a few ideas, but I would hate to see this potential financial goldmine for Omagh rejected because we are not Belfast -centred or on the the right side of the Bann."

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