Thursday, 15 January 2009

Why Mountpottinger must go!

For years now Sinn Féin in East Belfast has been campaigning for the dismantling of Mountpottinger Barracks in the Short Strand.

The campaign has been carried out under the banner of ‘HOMES NOT FORTS’. This slogan is very relevant to a community with growing numbers languishing on the Housing waiting list.

Here, in the heart of a residential area, we have a notorious, militarised fort, with an even worse history, taking up precious space for community use.

The history of the base is well known, RUC men emerged from it to murder young men on the streets of our Parish, its arsenal doors were thrown open to Loyalist Paramilitaries and of course on the 27th of June 1970, when the parish came under sustained and relentless attack, the doors of the barracks remained firmly shut to a people pleading for help.

Under its ‘watchful’ eye, countless innocent people were murdered by sectarian gangs.

That’s one aspect to the Mountpottinger, the others, are very practical reasons why this facility is not needed.

In one year, between April 2006 and April 2007 over £120,000 was spent in maintaining the barracks; £92,000 of which went on hiring private security guards to sit within the base because most of the time no one would be there. Only one part time neighbourhood team, consisting of 1 sergeant and 4 constables is based there and on top of this between June 2007 and June 2008 a mere 16 people actually used Mountpottinger. Of course within the new economic climate it defies belief how anyone can justify this facility remaining! (Although Robin Newton of the DUP tries his darndest!)

Even Hugh Orde has said the base is a waste of money and that it must go, he even stated clearly that his officers didn’t want to work in the type of conditions that a base like Mountpottinger provided.

So here we are, with an upcoming DPP consultation into the future of the Mount taking place next month I am hopeful that politicians and community reps from across the East will join with us in trying to achieve a decent policing service for all of our people.

Mountpottinger is a relic of the past, a symbol of everything that was wrong with policing here in the North; Sinn Féin are about moving beyond that, not just for the people of the Short Strand but for the people of Dee Street and Lord Street, of the Hollywood Road and Dundonald. The old notions expressed by people like our MLA Robin Newton are relics in themselves also; Robin seems to cling to the old DUP notion of ‘let’s put a ring of steel around the Short Strand’.

Those days are over Robin.

What he needs to do is reflect upon the sterling cross community work taking place on the ground, work that is trying to provide a safer environment for everyone and realise that the notions of old have no place in an East Belfast that is moving on.

Mountpottinger must go for a wide variation of reasons, not least the hurt and pain it has inflicted upon the community who live under its shadow, but as we struggle in East Belfast, for further funding for our community and youth sector, as we struggle to have policing resources properly utilised, Mountpottinger stands, as it has always done, a block to progress, but this time a block to everyone in East Belfast.

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