Save Our Barracks!

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Well, Shambo couldn’t be saved, but we are fast acquiring our own sacred cow in the unlikely form of a smallish patch of derelict land. This of course is the site of the now demolished Glen Road barracks. Having been put out to tender by the Department of Social Development, the plan is for an apartment complex to be built on the site. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think – West Belfast has an enormous housing list and tiny apartments are being built on every available scrap of spare ground. So how come the acres of coverage in the Andytown News, the black-and-white posters being plastered up all over Andytown decrying the “privatisation” of the barracks site, and the high-profile public meeting in the Felons Club the other night?

Actually, it gets curiouser and curiouser. When you look at who is mobilising against the “privatisation” of this little bit of land, most of them seem oddly familiar. In fact, most of them, or at least those most visible, appear to have insights into the thinking of either the Provos or the Socialist Workers Party, the latter wearing their People Before Profit hat. What is going on here?

The SWP, who are transparently obvious in everything they do, are easy to read. Their declared medium-term perspective is to get Andytown teenager Seán Mitchell elected to the council in two years’ time. They also have a ready-made template in the Rich Boy’s Save Our Seafront campaign in Kingstown, and have no doubt divined an opportunity to replicate it in the North with a Save Our Barracks campaign, which could raise the wee lad’s profile and propel him into City Hall. Lying behind that is an apparent assumption that they can muscle in on the Provos’ electoral base by, er, acting as factota to the Provos. Yeah, that’ll work. Who is writing the perspective these days? Elmer Fudd or Wile E Coyote?

The Provos are more difficult to read. They certainly have no ideological problem with privatisation or with development – after all, countryside czar Michelle Gildernew is promising to fix things so farmers can stick up bungalows wherever and whenever they feel like it. My instinct, and I have no concrete evidence of this, is that they may have had a favoured bid that wasn’t successful. This is based on the precedent of what happened when the Sticks sold the Suffolk Inn – the community was mobilised on a “Down with this sort of thing” basis, the winning bidder withdrew and the Sticks ended up selling the site at a knock-down price. That might not be the case here, but it’s a plausible scenario.

There are further, political benefits to a Save Our Barracks campaign. Encouraging small local campaigns against Executive decisions warms the cockles of Shinners who reckon that they should still be involved in some sort of radicalism. And it further enables pot shots at the Social Development minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, who is the only minister they are rude about these days. The great thing about this campaign, too, is that the Provos can supply some modest resources but don’t have to do anything themselves, not when some gormless lefty dopes are willing to do the campaigning for them.

How is this going to pan out? Well, the land is lying there doing nothing, and something is going to be built on it. There haven’t been, as far as I can see, firm proposals from the objectors as to an alternative development. The SWP’s usual reflex is to call for a kids’ playground or something similar, but let’s get real here. The traffic in the area – right on the junction of the Glen Road and Falls Road – rules out putting up any swings or a football field. A community centre is a non-starter, just because the area’s coming down with them already. And if there was a proposal for social housing, local residents would be the first to object, what with that area being all private housing.

There have been some ideas floating around not a million miles from the Provos. The ex-prisoners are still quite keen to get an interpretive centre, or something showcasing the area’s radical past, for the benefit of tourists. And then there’s the long-running proposal to stick up a hotel in the area, to accommodate the visitors to Féile. What’s most likely is that the site will eventually become a bar or restaurant, if it doesn’t become a hotel.

This will not please those campaigners who are adamant that a community project of some description should go up there. But, if we are to have a development that benefits the community, why not rebuild the barracks? The den of criminality that is West Belfast could use it. Or, to encapsulate the spirit of the new Norn Iron, why not a lap-dancing club? Or, for something really useful, the Church could buy the land and use it to provide car parking for visitors to the graveyard. Now that’s a plan I could get behind.

11 Comments

  1. Liam said,

    July 27, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    But what would happen to the beautiful wrought iron memorial to the Hunger Strikers? Here’s a picture of it. Somebody should demand that UNESCO steps in.

    Hunger strike wrought iron

  2. Gerry said,

    July 27, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Your recent post is somewhat humorous to say the least let me address the relevant humorous aspects of it if you will.
    Firstly you rightly mention that There is a huge housing waiting list in Belfast , but you failed to recognise or adhere to the fact that there are 600 empty houses in West Belfast unoccupied and also that these apartments will do nothing to stagnate the insanely expensive housing prices, in which Belfast has one of the highest average house prices in the UK. Another point which you erroneously failed to mention was that the DSD stated the sight was unfit for social housing .Mentioning the popular pejoratives such as traffic etc . By not mentioning these intrinsic points
    you purposely suggested that the campaign is opposed to houses/flats being built for people to live in, that is dangerously false.
    The whole focus off the campaign is to prevent public land being handed to a greedy private developer. You mention that there are several ideas for the land surfacing . However its important to point out that the Stop the Sell off Campaign (note not exclusively one group) wants the community to decide what they want built on their land through consultation with the DSD . So the campaign has no plans on what is to be built there so long as its not private and benefits the community and consultation is involved. And finally its is clear that you have an inherent hatred for the SWP and PBP .It seems rather childish when you claim that the SWP are mobilising against the privatisation . Firstly there are members of all left persuasions in the campaign surely you would have known that already . Also people were mobilised themselves, don’t you recall the 40 or so people who marched on Saturday 26th June, I think that was the date.
    You claim that the SWP are transparently obvious, maybe that’s a good thing maybe it claims that when private developers are creeping behind you then you know who to call. Maybe its because there is a consistent opposition to privatisation that you seem to recoil and all but demonise the campaign in your little blog.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 27, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Demonisation of the campaign? Hatred of the SWP? I think not.

    And I don’t think I implied that I was in favour of privatisation. But there has been little outcry over privatisation in general – I’m just interested in why there should be such a kick up over a small bit of derelict land that’s going to have something built on it one way or another.

  4. Worldbystorm said,

    July 27, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Great post splinteredsunrise, but man, it’s complex out there and the posturing you describe is very disheartening.

    Long term outcome?

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 28, 2007 at 10:10 am

    The long term outcome is that something is going to be built on the site. It may or may not be the apartment complex that’s proposed, and it may or may not have community involvement.

    Normally I’d be all for any movement against privatisation, but the public sector – 60% of the northern workforce – is under a lot of pressure. I’d rather see a fight over that than posturing over a little bit of land.

  6. ejh said,

    July 28, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Mmmm, but “they shouldn’t fight over that issue, they should over this issue instead” is not a great argument at the best of times and your posting does possibly run the risk of being unnecessarily negative about a campaign because it’s organised by people who aren’t your favourites.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 28, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    I see your point, and I’m not hostile to the campaign as such, but it’s just a small bit of spare ground. When I heard there was a campaign being launched with a lot of shouting about “privatisation”, I was genuinely startled. From the way the campaign is posing this, you would think a vital public resource was being handed over to the Church of Satan. It just strikes me either a total lack of proportion, or else there are some other agendas at work.

  8. Ciarán said,

    July 28, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    The campaign group is going to have its first proper meeting next week so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of turn-out it gets, not only from local residents but the politicos too. At the public meeting in the Felons there were plenty of party apparatchiks running about trying to find out who had organised the meeting, including SDLP and SF people. A few from the other far-left groups too.

    The SWP/PBP certainly did have its stamp on the meeting by getting Seán Mitchell on the panel, but when it came down to it I think he actually spoke well on the night.

    The question of privatisation is one that some feel can be used to help the campaign win. There are similar battles against private developers going on around West Belfast, but in these cases the land is already private. In the case of the Andytown Barracks site, the land is currently public and the basic demand is that there be a proper consultation process and that the community has full involvement in whatever decision is reached. In the end the community might go for some kind of private development, but at the very least they should have a say in what goes there, if anything at all. The old building certainly played a negative impact on their lives for 40 years; why can’t they desire to have something that might impact them positively for a change?

  9. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 28, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Well, I can see where I may have given the impression of being too negative. I’m afraid that the black-and-white posters, combined with a couple of the individuals involved, set off the cynic reflex. Where the SWP is concerned I think cynicism is usually justified, even if as you say the wee lad is articulate.

    I’m certainly not against a public consultation, and it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. A small victory is always worth having.

  10. August 11, 2007 at 11:34 am

    […] for, and indeed found, was coverage of the Save Our Barracks campaign, which we have previously covered here. I was confident we would find something, because the SWP can’t be involved in anything […]

  11. October 6, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    […] have on one or two past occasions been a bit flippant about the Save Our Barracks campaign in Andytown. It […]


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