My father, a conservative man without a bigoted bone in his body, didn’t like the British army. A brother of mine puts this down to a clash he had with a British officer and his wife, when the pair were billeted in our house for a time during WW2. Another sibling claims it had to do with ribald remarks some British soldiers directed at one of my sisters, then in her early teens. Whatever the reason, my father had no time for the uniformed figures that lived in the army camp across the river from us. That was decades ago. The camp is gone now but when I think of it, the shadow of my father’s hostility and the reasons for it remain.
I mention this because reports from the N Ireland audit office today say in so many words that the Stormont Executive were taken for a ride when they were handed back six former British army bases eight years ago. How so? OK, in some cases they had to pay for the transfer, but still – prime sites and all that.
Well you see, the the catch is, the British army left the soil contaminated with fuel spills, lead, asbestos and other harmful chemicals, and it slipped their minds to mention this when they were passing over the sites. To decontaminate Long Kesh the cost is over £8,000,000. To decontaminate the Fort George army base they figure it’ll cost somewhere between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000. The British MoD, a kindly body, has agreed to pay some of the cost, but it’s protected under the settlement from contaminations which it claims weren’t its fault.
Sounds like something from an Ibsen play, doesn’t it? The ground is taken over by the British, then years later given back with no mention of the fact that the place is now in a poisonous state that’ll take millions to detoxify. With Ibsen, the pollution of the water and landscape was symptomatic of the unhealthiness of the society. The British army have left us a costly and lasting reminder of what their presence here meant for us.
Did I say meant? Sorry, that was a slip, I should have said ‘means’ – there are still over 5,000 British troops still here. They haven’t gone away, you know.
The land related issues could be tested politically, or in court, I should think, but on the other issues (I’m taking a big risk here, Jude,!) – surely, every army of occupation, with the possible exception of the Americans in Germany after VE Day, has elicited those feelings of hostility, hurt, and resentment from local people? if so, what are you saying there, other than expressing those feelings again in the form they were felt by you, and by those close to you, which is good, in itself, but, doesn’t adding on the relatively mundane land issue leave the reader just a shade less responsive to the universality and power to elicit sympathy implicit in those memories of oppression that you recall at the beginning?
Michael – thanks for your thoughts and boy, you do write long, hard sentences. I’m not sure what you’re saying at the end – is it that by giving some contemporary facts after a childhood memory of the British Army, I’m weakening a stronger argument against an army that occupies? If that’s what you mean you may be right, but I thought my line/piece stood on its own merit. The fact that the British army left Irish land toxic seems to me a metaphor for something.
Jude a chara,any chance you could take “cool” of the tick list, not really sure when or why to tick it?
I’m afraid I’m so uncool I don’t have a clue how to control it. Or eliminate it.
The British army would not have been there in such numbers had the nationalists been able to defend themselves in 1969…unfortunately those nationalists then decided to shoot the people who had been sent to defend them as they had been brought up to detest anything British…Judes father passing on his hatred being a perfect example
Anyway that was nice of them…
Simplistic I know but sorta true
So the fact that we have to pay to clean up these bases essentially should be put at the door of the nationalists who decided to shoot their protectors back in 69
Screening debate Jude or censoring it….how would you define it?
Read Michael on the subject above, Anon 23:32. It’s a question of sensible precaution.