Symbol of Ulster's Troubles is razed

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The Independent Online
THE BIG wrecking cranes are busy at Fort Whiterock in west Belfast, slowly, methodically and with permission doing what the IRA tried so hard to do for so many years: razing the army outpost.

By summer there should be nothing left except level ground and a couple of disused buildings to mark the spot where for two decades soldiers ate, slept and led a perilous existence on the edge of Western Europe's most dangerous districts.

Fort Whiterock has since 1979 been perched on the lower slopes of the Black Mountain, overlooking the Falls and the rest of west Belfast, the sentries in its hi-tech turrets on the lookout for attack. Its soldiers have been sent out into the dangerous streets of Ballymurphy, New Barnsley and Turf Lodge, where numbers of them were killed and injured. It was a patrolling base, a heavily fortified installation nestling near the republican estates.

Its closure is a result of the Good Friday Agreement, which envisages a gradual rundown of security if the republican and loyalist ceasefires hold. The IRA may show no sign of decommissioning its weapons, but the military presence is being gently wound down.

But there are still plenty of big army and RUC bases in Northern Ireland. While Fort Whiterock is being dismantled, the Army says other patrolling bases are available to it. Routine patrolling is now pretty much confined to some border difficult areas: troops are no longer generally seen in Belfast and elsewhere.

Demolition of such a base is a lengthy business, for large amounts of concrete and metal were needed to keep the IRA at bay. When The Independent visited six years ago, most of its four-and-a-half acres were protected by a superstructure consisting of miles of protective scaffolding to fend off mortars and other projectiles. Yesterday most of this had been reduced to heaps of struts and girders waiting to be carted away.

Only a few military traces remain: a poster warning "Keep your eyes peeled"; a King's Own Scottish Borderers logo; a flaking picture of a lion painted by a Highland regiment.

The cranes will soon be demolishing the mess area, where the canteen was crisscrossed with brick walls to limit casualties from bomb blasts. Then will go the spartan accommodation blocks where men slept six to a noisy room, the rooms branching off long, echoing corridors.

Those corridors were yesterday irresistibly reminiscent, in their concrete walls and institutional paint, of another security installation, the Maze prison. It too is heading for closure as the prisoners, like the troops, are being sent home, in the hope that this time the Troubles really are ending.