‘Crossmaglen base closure political not strategic’ claim

The closure of Crossmaglen PSNI station would be a “political decision” rather than a strategic one, a unionist councillor in south Armagh has claimed.

By Mark Rainey
Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 5:29 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 6:50 pm
Crossmaglen PSNI station - Google image
Crossmaglen PSNI station - Google image

If a proposal before the NI Policing Board is accepted, the high-security base on the Cullaville Road will be dismantled with the police response managed from Newtownhamilton.

As well as increasing the sense of post-Troubles normality in the village, the closure would boost the PSNI’s budget by saving on the running costs.

However, Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said the proposal, if ratified, would leave Newtownhamilton as the “only remaining policing facility” in south Armagh which would be “a very retrograde step indeed”.

A report in the Newry Democrat suggests such an arrangement will result in more police on the beat and “no more high powered/high velocity arms on show by police officers in the area”.

In December 2019, Chief Constable Simon Byrne was widely criticised for posing for Christmas Day photographs outside the station with officers carrying semi-automatic rifles.

Cllr Taylor said “In a recent meeting with the Chief Constable I expressed my fears that the review of policing in south Armagh would result in political decisions not strategic ones. The proposed closure of Crossmaglen police station was exactly what I had in mind.”

The Slieve Gullion representative added: “It is no secret that South Armagh already has a major problem with organised criminal gangs involved in a range of illegal activity such as fuel smuggling. Only last week we saw a major seizure of an estimated 11 tonnes of loose tobacco and 1.6 million suspected counterfeit branded cigarettes worth an estimated £8.3 million in lost duty and taxes.

“The public in the wider Newry & Armagh area needs to be reassured that the police are on the ground in the local area and are able to deliver a policing service in this community equal to any other part of Northern Ireland.

“I know that unionists in this area will be alarmed and concerned at the news as reported so far, and it is now vital that the facts are put into the public domain as soon as possible.”

• The proposed closure of Crossmaglen police station has been branded “disgraceful” by terror victims and condemned as a “political decision” – not a strategic one.

One victims’ group has accused Chief Constable Simon Byrne of closing the Cullaville Road base to “appease” republicans.

Mr Byrne and his senior team briefed the NI Policing Board on Monday with findings and recommendations of the PSNI’s review of policing in south Armagh.

Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said the proposed closure in an area with a major organised crime problem was a “very retrograde step,” while the Families Acting for Innocent Victims (FAIR) group said: “This is despicable and a real insult to the victims who still have not seen any form of justice for the murders of their loved ones in this ‘murder triangle’.

Innocent Victims United (IVU) spokesman Kenny Donaldson has also expressed concern.

He said: “There needs to be full transparency around any move to close Crossmaglen police station, on what security basis and/or rationale would such a move be directed?

“It is important that there is proper consultation with all who would stand to be impacted by any potential closure, whatever decision is ultimately taken cannot smell of abdication of the legitimate policing service – the PSNI”.

Mr Donaldson added: “Whilst it does require acknowledging that policing methods must be constantly reviewed and adapted where appropriate, it is the case that Crossmaglen police station has particular symbolism within an area of Northern Ireland which suffered greatly from terrorism and other Troubles-related violence.

Mr Donaldson added: “The PSNI speak of ‘policing by consent,’ which is intended to be the basis of the relationship between policing and the community.

“This is absolutely laudable, and where we want to be, but we still need to be very careful that this does not become policing by clearance from others.”

The spokeswoman for the FAIR group has questioned whether the relatives of those murdered in the south Armagh are likely to be consulted.

“I have rooms filled with victims families as a result of the activities of the IRA against our security forces and their ethnic cleansing of Protestants in south Armagh during the period known as ‘The Troubles’”, she said.

“To remove a police station in an area where 20 police officers and soldiers were murdered – this is a most unwelcome announcement and made without any duty of care for the victims who live in that area,” the spokeswoman added.

However, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said that the proposed changes to policing offered a “great opportunity” for the people of south Armagh.

Speaking to the Newry Democrat, Mr McNulty said: “I very much welcome that the local communities will have an input on how policing is carried out in their areas.”

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