Robinson decision to refuse Forkhill Barracks regeneration project funding will be challenged
Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy has said the decision by Finance Minister Peter Robinson not to allocate money to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to purchase the former British military Forkhill Barracks site for a community led rural regeneration initiative was a major blow for the area.
He also said that he could not understand why the Department of Social Development, which was involved with the project from the outset, only raised objections to the purchase at the eleventh hour.
Mr Murphy said:
"I agreed with the assessments of Agricultural Minister Michelle Gildernew that the project would help to significantly reduce rural poverty and promote social inclusion in the area.
"It was the intention of the Forkhill Regeneration Group to regenerate the site into a rural economic and social hub.
"A range of integrated services such as local enterprise units; light industrial units; community space; and childcare facilities; all of which have been identified as being much needed in the area would be provided. Social housing had also been proposed, and I am aware that DARD had been working with the Housing Executive on that aspect."
Expressing anger at what he described as a 'political' decision taken by the Minister to satisfy demands of some members of the Assembly Agricultural Committee not to fund the south Armagh rural regeneration project, Slieve Gullion Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Flynn said that the community were entitled to answers from both DFP and DSD, and he expected that the decision to refuse the funding would be challenged.
Cllr Flynn said:
"This project needed the DARD to fund and be the lead agency for the community led project. Now Peter Robinson has refused to deliver the monies. Some Assembly Agricultural Committee members have been trying to thwart the hard work of the regeneration Group and the Community as they moved this project forward for a long time.
"Ultimately many will view this as a political decision against the south Armagh community.
"There has been full support from Newry and Mourne Council for the development of this major community led project. As a matter of urgency we must now very publicly show the Finance Minister that he has made a wrong decision and denied our community the opportunity to provide social and economic growth in an area that has been neglected.
"This military base for years has dominated and suffocated the Forkhill village. It is only right that it comes back into the hands of the community, not to a private developer."
The south Armagh Sinn Fein Councillor said that he had called for an urgent meeting of the Council and all the agencies involved to discuss the situation.
"We should also be offering whatever practical support we can to the Regeneration Group and the local community as they challenge this decision to refuse them funding." ENDS