15 January 2006

Fortified remains

Sunday Life

Cops reject bid to remove stations anti-terror measures

15 January 2006

The threat from dissident republicans is so high that cops say they can't continue dismantling security measures at a Co Down police station.

Police have said they cannot agree to scaling down or removing blast walls surrounding the base, in Downpatrick.

The SDLP has been pressing to have the fortifications removed, but during a meeting with the divisional commander, Superintendent Ralph Taggart, they were told it would not be safe nor wise.

The station - in Irish Street - had the unique distinction during the Troubles of being the only one in Ulster with rocket caging over the main streets surrounding it as a counter-measure against IRA mortar attacks.

After the second IRA ceasefire in 1996, the caging was removed.

But now - 10 years later - attempts to have other measures taken down have been rebuffed.

Peter Craig, the former SDLP chairman of Down District Council, who led a delegation of councillors to meet Supt Taggart, said: "We pressed hard to have the blast wall in Irish Street taken down.

"It has been there too long. We want to get traffic moving and get Downpatrick normalised.

"He informed us this would not be possible as there is still a threat.

"It is disappointing - but we have to accept that his intelligence is telling him that there is still a threat to life."

The wall - specially designed to throw any blast outwards - was built out into the middle of the street as part of a series of intricate measures in 1990 at the same time as the IRA killed Patsy Gillespie, in Londonderry, in a so-called 'human bomb' attack.

The measures including the erection of the rocket caging and the acquisition of nearby shops.

But the base continued to be a regular IRA target, and was the scene of its last major bomb-attack before its August 1994 ceasefire.

In recent years, dissident republicans, who have a strong presence in the Ballyhornan and Castlewellan areas, have launched attacks on the base in 2002, and on stations in nearby Ardglass and Castlewellan.

These two sub-stations have since closed.

The long-term plan is to replace the existing Downpatrick station on a new site by 2010.

slnews@belfast telegraph.co.uk

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