Down GAA centre proposal for former army barracks a 'game changer'
THE potential development of the former army barracks in Ballykinlar into a Centre of Excellence for Down GAA will be a "game changer" for the sport in the county, it has been claimed.
Senior officials from Down GAA are currently in negotiations with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) about acquiring the land at the Abercorn Barracks.
The last battalion resident at the site moved out in 2014, leaving behind 199 empty homes on the land.
Since 2014, the barracks have been used for training by the emergency services, with around 55 security guards still employed there.
In November last year, the MoD said that Ballykinlar was to be sold off by 2018 as part of cost-cutting measures.
The MoD said in February that it would be demolishing the homes, despite calls for them to be converted into social housing.
It is unclear how much of the land Down GAA is looking to secure, but the MoD has previously said that access to the base's training facilities would have to be maintained.
A Down GAA county committee meeting last week saw approval secured for "advanced negotiations" on the "proposal of a lease for development".
Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard said that if completed the project would "nurture and sustain Gaelic games for generations to come".
He said: "Bearing in mind that this will be a multi-million pound development, the construction phase alone will be a welcome economic investment; as with any construction project, for every £1 invested there is £4 spin-off for the local economy.
"There is no doubt that when operational, this world-class sporting complex will create...a significant boost for the local hospitality, retail and activity tourism sectors in east Down.
"Even at this early development stage only a fool would impose boundaries on what may be possible in the future....Down GAA's vision for this complex may yet again take the world of GAA to a whole new level."
DUP South Down MLA Jim Wells however said he was disappointed about the GAA proposal, saying it will "not lead to much in the way of employment opportunities in the area".
Mr Wells told The News Letter: "The loss of the full-time battalion was a great blow to the community and employment in the area, because Ballykinlar was the second largest employer in Down district.
"I always thought it would have been the excellent venue for the PSNI college, particularly with the huge problems that the Cookstown site at Desertcreat had. I thought that was the long-term, sustainable future."
Built in 1901, the barracks housed internees during the War of Independence and was used by the UDR during the Troubles.
An IRA van bomb killed two soldiers and destroyed buildings in 1974.