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Monday, 13 December, 1999, 21:22 GMT
Security hitch for DUP ministers

Nigel Dodds (left) and Peter Robinson (right): Hampered delivery Nigel Dodds (left) and Peter Robinson (right): Hampered delivery

Northern Ireland's two anti-agreement ministers have reacted angrily to what they allege was an official attempt to stop them visiting south Armagh.

Plans by Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party to tour south Armagh, visiting the sites of republican attacks, were hindered when they were denied a police escort.

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The Assembly ministers were also told that an army helicopter, which they said was to have ferried them to the strongly republican town of Forkhill on Monday, had been withdrawn.

The army said neither Mr Dodds' nor Mr Robinson's responsibility within the Executive lay in the area of security and "it would be inappropriate to provide them with military transport".

The Royal Ulster Constabulary said when it was discovered the ministers were not travelling by helicopter "there was insufficient time to make alternative arrangements".

An RUC spokesman said "Mr Robinson and Mr Dodds chose to leave the police vehicle provided for their protection and chose to travel by other means".


But Mr Robinson accused the Northern Ireland Office of trying to twart their visit.

He said: "It is an absolute scandal that the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding would allow two ministers to be in South Armagh in such a way that denied them the right to protect themselves, having taken away any protection that the law enforcement agencies would provide."

Peter Robinson boycotted the North-South Council meeting Peter Robinson: I would rather talk to victims
Mr Robinson said had he known in advance that he would be denied security protection he would have carried his own personal protection weapon for the visit.

The two members of the Stormont executive were boycotting Monday's first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh City.

The council made up of members of the Irish cabinet and the new Northern Ireland Executive discussed the work of the six new cross border implementation bodies and a further six areas of co-operation.

The DUP ministers object to the council because they see it as paving the way towards a united Ireland. They had arranged instead to visit victims of IRA violence elsewhere in the same county.

Mr Robinson said: "If I had the choice of sitting down with those who speak for the perpetrators of violence or sitting down with the victims of violence, I prefer to be with the victims."

'Lack of security'

The two ministers eventually embarked on their tour of south Armagh but without their usual security escorts.

The developments emphasised the lack of security in south Armagh, Mr Robinson said.

"The Royal Ulster Constabulary, who will accompany me anywhere else in Northern Ireland, are not allowed to go into that area and are not accompanying me.

"They are under clear instructions they are not to go with me to Forkhill," he said.

The ministers' itinerary included visits to Newtownhamilton, the scene of a republican car bomb explosion a year ago, to the scene of the Kingsmill massacre, where ten Protestant workmen were shot dead while on their return home from work in 1976, and to Tullyallen, where five people were murdered in 1975.

They were driven by members of the Markethill-based victims' support group, Families Acting For Innocent Relatives (FAIR).

They also met members of the Northern Ireland Victims Together group.

The ministers said they did not hold events against the ordinary rank and file members of the Army and RUC.

The victims group drove them to the Forkhill military base where they were admitted to present a hamper to security personnel inside.

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See also:
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