DUP MP defends Ballykelly sale

An aerial view of the enormous former Shackleton Barracks in County Londonderry

An aerial view of the enormous former Shackleton Barracks in County Londonderry

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has defended the use of ministerial powers by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to sell an enormous military base to a private sector firm for just £1 million.

The use of ministerial powers by the former first minister and current deputy first minister to first acquire in 2011 and later sell the vast, 600-acre Shackleton Barracks in County Londonderry last year emerged this week after an Assembly question from UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt.

A former WWII airfield later used by the army during the Troubles, the site was gifted to the NI Executive by the MOD in 2011.

Last year, it was sold to the Newry-based MJM Group, who plan to use the site’s vast and mostly intact airfield to fit out luxury private aircraft. The firm say they will create at least 100 jobs, potentially increasing to 1,000.

The site will also be used to house a new Department of Agriculture headquarters, due for construction to be built by 2018 in a move that will see hundreds of public sector jobs move to Londonderry.

However, the sale of the Shackleton site has come in for fierce criticism from both the UUP and TUV over the price paid for such a vast plot of land. Fresh criticism over the use of ministerial powers by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness and the lack of a business case for the sale has also followed from the UUP.

However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell, whose East Londonderry constituency is home to the former military installation, has launched a strident defence. He said the Executive were right to conduct the sale in the way they did rather than have the site remain dormant at a cost to the public purse through significant maintenance costs.

“If standing on ceremony for a business case was going to cost 1,000 jobs, I would be certain the public would say ‘deliver the jobs’,” he said.

“The problem, which opponents have consistently failed to grasp or understand, is that the site has remained empty and unused every day since it was handed over. If that wasn’t bad enough, there is a compounding issue in that it is costing us, the taxpayer, half a million pounds each year to maintain.”

Mr Campbell also said the price paid by MJM was much better than the “derisory” offers when a sale was first mooted five years ago.