Historic fort axes staff a week after centenary

Grey Point Fort in County Down
Grey Point Fort in County Down

A week after it hosted centenary celebrations to mark the beginning of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, it has emerged that one historic landmark is cutting its staff.

It was revealed yesterday that Grey Point Fort in north Down is among the attractions which are losing agency employees due to the wave of cutbacks currently rippling through Stormont departments.

Grey Point Fort in County Down

Grey Point Fort in County Down

The Department of the Environment (DoE) said it has put a contingency plan in place to attempt to maintain service levels.

However, one local historian wondered whether the move could spell a longer-term squeeze.

The move came to light eight days after Mark H Durkan, the DoE minister, attended a huge ceremony at Grey Point Fort to mark the beginning of British-German hostilities 100 years ago.

Asked how many staff are affected, the DoE said: “We will have no choice but to release some temporary seasonal staff but actual numbers have still to be finalised.”

Grey Point Fort in County Down

Grey Point Fort in County Down

Robin Masefield, a 62-year-old historian from Helen’s Bay, and ex-head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, said: “I’d say it’s most unfortunate, not least in the timing.

“Just last week we had a visit from the DoE minister and Jeffrey Donaldson (chairman of the Northern Ireland Co-ordinating Committee for the Centenary Commemorations of the First World War), and over 500 people attended at that time to witness the firing of one of the guns – a unique commemoration.

“And then the following week we learn staff are going to be cut off.”

The 1907-built fort was manned by the Antrim Royal Garrison Artillery during World War One, and Mr Masefield said it is “the best preserved coastal battery in the UK”.

He added: “The big question is whether it’s a temporary measure due to wider government financial constraints arising out of the (June) monitoring round, or whether this is going to be a long-term cutback.”

The fort is cared for by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), part of the DoE.

In response to questions about job losses at it, the department said: “Owing to the recent Executive decision to cut budgets, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has had no choice but to release a number of temporary agency staff earlier than planned.

“The majority of these temporary staff were taken on for the summer months at a number of the NIEA visitor attractions. However, the NIEA is putting in place contingency measures to maintain service levels as much as practicable at these visitor facilities.

“This should allow the people of Northern Ireland and tourists to continue to enjoy them over the remaining peak period.”