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Gun-fire greets cruise passengers 13.09.10

by Linda McGrory

CRUISE ship passengers on a recent visit to Greencastle had to endure the 'threatening' sound of gun-fire volleys from a military firing range where British troops train for combat in Afghanistan.
The incident happened as the 'Princess Daphne', carrying 550 passengers and crew, dropped anchor at the mouth of Lough Foyle, a short, cross-border channel between Greencastle and Magilligan Point, Co Derry.
James McLaughlin, who lives near Greencastle harbour, said the noise of gun-fire from the Magilligan Point firing range was 'deafening' as passengers were taken ashore at Greencastle, for day excursions throughout the region, on September 3.
“If I were on a cruise liner anchored off the coast of Israel or Gaza and I heard similar sounds, I would be very reluctant to go ashore,” said Mr McLaughlin.
The local man said that, in the interests of tourism, the British Army should be asked to refrain from target practise when cruise ships are anchored in Lough Foyle.
Princess Daphne leaving Greencastle.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson said Magilligan had a "fully-operational firing range" and that live rounds were used in target practise by troops training for “rest of world operations”, namely, combat in Afghanistan. He said every effort was made to limit disruption to the general population..
"There isn't firing practise every single day and training times vary from week to week," said the spokesperson.
He said the firing range was operated “within the strictest of safety protocols” while the Army also had personnel assigned to monitoring safety on the beach and offshore, during target practise.
Red flags are raised at the military camp to alert the public to day-time target practise while hazard lights are used at night.
The spokesperson said the MoD was amenable to any approach expressing concern about activities at the base. Anyone with a complaint, including local cruise organisers, could make their case through the MoD’s NI civil rep.
“We would consider any approach made, on its own merits. We endeavour to cause as little disruption as possible to the general populace,” said the spokesperson.
The Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau which is involved in a multi-agency drive to promote a cruise tourism industry for the region, declined to comment on the issue.
However, SDLP MLA John Dallat, said he would continue his push for the closure of Magilligan military base saying its presence conflicted with attempts to promote the region as a tourism destination.
“This is a tourism area, on both sides of the border, with huge development potential. The presence of troops training for war does not sit comfortably with that kind of environment.
“Both the Government in Dublin and the Northern Ireland Assembly should talk to each other with a view to persuading the British Army to take all their trappings of war back to England,” said Mr Dallat. He said the Magilligan base was surplus to requirements because the MoD already had a firing range at Ballykinler in Co Down.
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