Ballykinler barracks 'could close in 2016'

BALLYKINLER Army barracks, one of the best-equipped Army barracks in the UK, may be closed in 2016, Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

The DUP MP said that MoD sources had told him that the barracks' future was in jeopardy and that the base could be downgraded to a training camp.

However, the MoD insisted that no "firm decision" had been taken about the barracks' future.

Mr Donaldson said: "Sources inside the MOD have indicated to me that the future of Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler will be put under review once 2 Rifles leave the base in 2015/2016.

"This, despite the fact that the base has seen major renovation work carried out recently costing millions of pounds and contains some 290 Army married quarters. The MoD will have serious questions to answer over this situation.”

The MoD website describes Abercorn Barracks as “one of the British Army’s best-equipped camps with most riflemen in individual rooms and top-grade quarters for married soldiers”.

Mr Donaldson said that the barracks, which have been there for more than a century, were also a major employer for local people and would be a loss to the area.

But he said that, more importantly, “continual MoD cutbacks” were damaging the capacity of the Armed Forces to properly function.

“Over recent days much of the focus of the media has been on whether or not we have enough helicopters to enable us to fulfil our military obligations in Afghanistan, but the issues are much wider than that: at almost every level of the Armed Forces we see inadequate provision being made for our brave service personnel.”

Assemblyman Jim Wells said that an employee at the camp had approached him with concerns about the camp’s future.

“The person who approached me said that a senior Army officer from Thiepval Barracks came in June and briefed the wives of soldiers who are in Afghanistan that their husbands’ regiment, 2 Rifles, will leave Ballykinlar in 2015 or 2016 and that due to costs they will not be replaced,” said Mr Wells.

“He said that rumours about the camp’s future are rife among the 25 civil servants who work there.”

But an MoD spokesman said that no “firm decisions” had been taken about the base’s future.

“Speculation that 2 Rifles are to move from Ballykinler is just exactly that,” he said.

“The Defence Estate is reviewed continuously to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Armed Forces now, and in the future.

“No firm decisions have been made regarding the future basing requirements at Abercorn Barracks.“

Meanwhile, Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown yesterday insisted that he believed there were “without doubt” sufficient resources for current British military operations in Afghanistan.

The minister issued a “clarification” after he told The Daily Telegraph that there was “definitely” a need for more helicopters for British troops fighting the Taliban.

He said in a statement: “On the issue of helicopters in Afghanistan, I was making the point - as the Prime Minister and commanders on the ground have also done - that while there are without doubt sufficient resources in place for current operations, we should always do what we can to make more available on the front line.”