Ballykinlar base ruled out as Syrian refugee camp
Military top brass have ruled out using Ballykinlar Army base as a camp for Syrian refugees.
The sprawling base in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains between Newcastle and Downpatrick had been proposed as the ideal location for emergency accommodation for refugee families fleeing the conflict in their native country.
Newry, Mourne and Down District council had written to the Ministry of Defence to ask bosses to consider housing refugees temporarily at the camp.
The base is used as a main training hub for the PSNI and the Army, and had been mentioned as a potential location for the new fire and prison service training college but it has been without a permanent army regiment since last year after the 2 Rifles Regiment transferred to Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.
It was the first time the historic barracks had been without its own regiment since the Napoleonic Wars and prompted speculation that it faced closure.
It had been mooted as the site for a new police and fire college which had originally been zoned for Desertcreat in Co. Tyrone, but which was mothballed because of spiralling costs.
It is understood Ballykinlar remains an option should the project be revived.
It had been thought the government was supportive of the idea of utilising the base but it was Army bosses who blocked the notion claiming the facility was still central to the military’s training strategy.
The news will come as a disappointment to supporters who point to significant accommodation on the site much of which is vacant since the number of military personnel has been reduced.
“There is a lot of accommodation there that is sitting idle,” said Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke. “It is still in good order, so why should we not put up some of these refugee families on a temporary basis?
“This response from the MoD is very disappointing.
“It would only be on a temporary basis, as we would like to eventually see them integrated into the community.’’
An MoD spokesman said the camp remained a “strategic site’’ for training purposes.
“Military personnel in Northern Ireland are currently providing a great deal of international support across the world including peacekeeping in Cyprus as well as commitments to UN committed troops from Malawi and the training of rangers in Gabon to step up anti-poaching,’’ said a spokesman.
“With required pre-deployment training deploying personnel and of course, recruits training for the various regular and reserve battalions, Ballykinlar remains a heavily utilised training area.”
All political parties are agreed about the need to accommodate fleeing refugees, this week Deputy First Minister
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the region was committed to helping resolve the global humanitarian crisis and wanted to “extend the hand of friendship” to those who were suffering.
An initial group of between 50 and 100 displaced people will be accommodated in Northern Ireland in the coming months with others arriving in phases.
During Question Time at the Assembly, Mr McGuinness said he had been “comforted and pleased” at the level of cross party support for the move.
“We believe this proposal would clearly demonstrate that we have the capacity and maturity as a society to react positively to a humanitarian crisis and extend the hand of friendship to those who are suffering.
In doing so, we want to send a very powerful message about our support for Syrian refugees and our commitment to assisting with this global issue.”