Is upgrading work at a former British Army base in South Armagh a sign of a hardening of the border ahead of Brexit?
That’s the question that Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú is seeking the answer to after he raised the issue of work activity on Forkhill Mountain with Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee TD, in Leinster House on June 11.
The Louth TD visited the remote mountain-top site on Forkhill Mountain ahead of his contribution in Leinster House during a debate about Brexit. He was joined by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representative, Cllr. Declan Murphy.
Mr Ó Murchú said he had been prompted to go to the site after receiving ‘worrying’ reports from people who live in the area about large scale activity on the mountaintop the previous week.
He said that what he saw on the mountain corroborated what he had been told by concerned residents.
Mr Ó Murchú said: “Forkhill Mountain is just half a mile from the border. It was previously the site of a major military installation for the British Army and they officially left in 2006.
“However, the helipad and other remnants of their time at this outpost remain. What I saw on Thursday was a heavily fortified area, which contained a massive mast, with a number of satellite dishes on it, along with six sizable steel container-style structures, some of which emit loud whirring noises. Telecommunications infrastructure, at least one sizable camera, has been maintained and upgraded and major works have taken place recently.
“This was all surrounded with high grade steel fencing, with barbed wire at the top. It is sited right at the peak of Forkill Mountain, which gives unrivalled and uninterrupted views right over Dundalk, Ravensdale and all the way to Carlingford Lough.
Locals have told Mr Ó Murchú that on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week (June 3, 4 and 5 2020), numerous vehicles and huge amount of personnel were on the site including 5/6 Police cars and a further 6/7 ‘civilian’ vans.
“In addition, there was a Bogmaster vehicle brought up the mountain.
“The last similar sized operation on the site happened at the end of October 2019 and it has been reported that there are regular smaller visits three or four times a month. During some operations helicopters have been used to carry equipment and personnel to the site.”
Mr Ó Murchú said “locals have previously been told the equipment was for
ambulance and fire service communications, but there are fears this is not the case.
“There were also reports that the PSNI admitted that British army engineers were involved in the October operation.”
The Sinn Féin TD raised the issue in Leinster House on Thursday with Minister McEntee, and asked her to contact the British government to get clarity on these operations.
“We welcome the fact that the Irish Government have stated that they are, and have been, committed to ensuring the border community is protected and no border infrastructure is developed.
“However, there is a low level of trust among the people of North Louth and South Armagh that the British government would keep their word on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish Protocol.
“The people of the border area need certainty from both Governments that no border infrastructure hard or soft will be erected.”