Coiste push for A’town barracks hostel revamp

Ex-prisoners’ group Coiste na nIarchimí stepped up their campaign to acquire the Andersonstown barracks this week after the official closure of the Glen Road site.
The group, who have successfully spear-headed the Irish Political Tours initiative as part of their work with ex-republican prisoners, aim to claim the barracks as a hostel for international travellers given the ever-increasing popularity of West Belfast as a mecca for culture and political history.
Now entering its third year, the Irish Political Tours have facilitated thousands of visitors from as far afield as North America, Norway and Palestine, and, says Coiste na nIarchimí spokesperson Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín, accommodation within West Belfast for these international visitors would bring enormous economic opportunities to Lower Andersonstown and, indeed, West Belfast as a whole.
“We have been running this Political Tours initiative since March 2003 and in that time we have facilitated international visitors in pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes and local shops, and it’s important that if visitors are learning about West Belfast that they are also able to stay in west Belfast,” said Caomhín
“West Belfast is often seen as a case study of conflict and conflict resolution, and those studying Irish politics, Irish history, peace and conflict or, indeed, anything to do with Ireland, are very interested in coming here.
“Bradford University come every year, Washington University have visited. We’re soon to have Indiana University for the third time in 18 months, Ohio are due in a few months. The tours have been extremely successful and are set to remain so.”
Offering full itineraries for the international groups, the Political Tours project facilitates meetings with community groups, political representatives from both the unionist and nationalist backgrounds, tours of both republican and loyalist areas, and aims to tailor each visit for the specific needs of each group.
And in obtaining Andersonstown barracks, adds Caoimhín, “we will not only be in a position to provide political tours, but be able to accommodate the tourists in an old RUC barracks, which would be an amazing boost to the whole project.
“The fact that such a building could belong to the ex-prisoner community would most certainly contribute to the international interest in staying in such accommodation.”
Currently being forced to arrange accommodation for those involved in the political tours in the south of the city, Coiste, who provide vital employment for the ex-prisoner community who make up one in ten of the adult population of West Belfast, say they plan to make an application to acquire the site as soon it is offered to the private sector.
“We have the support of many of the community organisations and we are the only group to have put forward a proposal for the future of the site,” says Caoimhín.
“Andersonstown Barracks has been in operation for the last thirty or forty years and no one has ever been employed in it. No-one there ever spent a penny in the local shops or in the local restaurants and pubs, and now it is time for the site to be put to positive use.
“We want something that is going to have economic spin-offs for the community, and something that is owned by the community.” And, adds Caoimhín, the acquisition of Andersonstown barracks will be “the first positive use for the site which has cast a dark shadow over the people of West Belfast for too long.”

Journalist:: Ciara McGuigan

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