A Donegal councillor says the OPW needs to “stop insulting the intelligence of people” over its plans for a site on the Lifford/Strabane border.
Sinn Féin’s Gary Doherty made his remarks as the Office of Public Works reiterated its position that it has no plans to develop the land it cleared last year.
The reassertion comes despite comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that some checks on goods and live animals may need to take place “near” the Irish border in a no-deal Brexit.
It is nine months since pre-fab buildings previously occupied by the Department of Social Welfare were cleared from the land located right on the border between Lifford and Strabane.
The clearance operation gave rise to speculation the site was being put on stand-by for use as a customs posts should Britain crash out of the European Union without a deal.
But a spokesperson for the Office of Public Works said again this week that it has no plans “at the minute” for the now vacant site.
The OPW said it has had the plot leased from Donegal County Council since 1963 and on a 150 year rental agreement. It refused to say how much the empty space is costing the public purse but added the amount it pays to the council each year is a “peppercorn rent”.
The department said the decision to remove the pre-fab buildings was taken on the grounds of health and safety and with the backing of Donegal County Council. As it stands, there are no plans to redevelop it.
“The OPW made the decision to demolish the building, as it was structurally unsound,” said a spokesperson.
“Donegal County Council granted planning for the demolition. The OPW do not have any plans for the site at the minute.”
But Councillor Gary Doherty said he found it too much of a coincidence that the buildings previously on the land were razed at the same time the Brexit process was gathering speed.
“It seems to me that the Irish government and state agencies did not want to admit the reality of the situation that in the event of a no deal Brexit, there would have been some form of checks on the border.
“They are now starting to admit it and it can’t simply be a coincidence that as a hard border looks more likely, this site at the main border crossing between Donegal and Tyrone is suddenly being made ready for development.”
Gary Doherty said that no one, least of all his party, wanted to see checks along the border. But as that scenario edges closer it is obvious that the border is being readied for customs posts.
“Let’s call a spade a spade here and not be insulting the intelligence of those who live along the border. People can see the nose in front of their face in terms of what is happening,” Councillor Doherty added.