Military presence is putting strain on school kids, learning
By Jim Dee/Irish Times
Monday, December 15, 2003

FORKHILL, Northern Ireland - Holding the attention of fidgety
elementary school kids is tough at the best of times. But try doing
it amid the roar of low-flying helicopters as armed men can be seen
outside classroom windows.

"British army foot patrols are still passing this school
daily, sometimes cutting through school grounds,'' said Ciaran
Mackin, principal of St. Oliver Plunkett school, a circa 1848
building that's had an army/police base next door since the 1970s.

"Army helicopters still fly overhead. On any given day, we
could have in the region of 25 to 30 flights - from 8 in the morning
to 3 in theafternoon. The most we've ever had is 42,'' said Mackin,
who oversees 120 children ages, aged 4 to 11. ``It eats into
teaching time. When a helicopter flies overhead we have to stop
teaching and wait until it passes.''

British army demilitarization moves were part of a plan to
revive the stalled peace process that unraveled in October when pro-
British unionists rejected the Irish Republican Army's biggest-ever
disarmament act.

It would have seen the 57 British bases now in the Connecticut-
sized North reduced to 14 by the end of 2005, and the 14,000 troops
garrisoned here cut to 5,000. When the peace process began 10 years
ago there were 105 bases and 18,000 troops.

Army foot patrolling has stopped in most of Northern Ireland,
but not in border areas like Forkhill in south Armagh, a region the
police and army claim is a stronghold of anti-peace-pact IRA rebels
of the so-called "Real IRA.''

There has never been a dissident IRA attack recorded in

A British Army spokeswoman said patrols have been increased
recently in Forkhill because a new battalion of soldiers was getting
used to the area.

She noted that the Tievecrum army post was removed from a
hillside facing the village last May, and that army statistics show
chopper activity in south Armagh had fallen 31 percent since 1998's
Good Friday peace accord.

"There are many individuals who do not want the British army
in Northern Ireland,'' she added. ``But what we're doing, we're
doing because we're required to be here. We do endeavor to try and
minimize disruption upon the civilian community as much as

Mackin claimed last May's scrapping of Tievecrum was offset by
a subsequent extension of spy towers at the base next to his school.
''There has to be demilitarization right across the board,'' he
said. ``People think that once you use the word 'demilitarization'
you're coming from a political grouping. And that is not the case. I
represent the children from this school.

"And if a child here is being disadvantaged compared to a
child in Belfast or Bangor, that imbalance needs to be addressed,''
he said. "All I'm asking for is an environment where they can learn
and develop on a par with their peers. It's as simple as that. This
is a story of the peace process which is not being told.''

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?