Northern Ireland

Larne detention centre plans spark concerns

A proposal to open Northern Ireland's first detention centre for illegal immigrants could get the go-ahead within weeks.

Planners are holding a final meeting with councillors and residents on Friday to discuss the plans for Larne.

Plans to extend Hope Street police station to accommodate up to 22 detainees have outraged residents and human rights activists.

However, those behind it say it is an improvement on the current situation.

Mike Golden of the UK Border Agency said: "At the moment we have to hold people in police cells.

"The accommodation and facilities we're talking about in Larne will be far more suitable for immigration offenders.

"It'll be a much better place for them to be in terms of recreation facilities and exercise facilities, association, better shower facilities.

"We don't like to detain people, we have to, and Larne gives us the option to make that as comfortable as we can before they're removed to their own countries."

The plan is to create a unit to hold adults for up to seven days using the custody suites already at the police station and an extension will be built on at the back of the site for showering, catering and exercise facilities.

It will mean additional fencing, extra security lights and more cameras and residents are worried about the impact on the area.

Privacy

SDLP councillor Danny O'Connor said people were concerned about their privacy.

"They're concerned that this police station is going to be re-fortified at a time when police stations across Northern Ireland have had the fortifications taken off them.

"This is Larne 2010, not Crossmaglen in 1970," he added.

Anna Morvern of the Refugee Action Group said there would be a "huge human cost" if the centre was opened.

"The immigration detention centres in Britain have become notorious, due to the desperation of the detainees inside them who have lost their freedom," she said.

Local people also told the BBC they are concerned about escapes, an increased crime rate and a drop in house prices as a direct result of the centre.