Army barracks face closure in savage Budget cutbacks
Published 06/10/2008 | 00:00
A new round of army barrack closures is under consideration by the Government as part of the savage cutbacks in next week's Budget.
Each government department has been told by senior finance officials to prepare for wider than expected cuts because of the continuing collapse in tax revenues.
Defence Minister Willie O'Dea and his senior advisers have already been fighting a rearguard action to prevent a delay in the planned purchase of three new ships for the Naval Service.
But it now seems that government ministers will have to grapple with the political "hot potato" of shutting down military barracks to find the savings demanded by the Department of Finance.
Fianna Fail backbenchers were up in arms when the last series of closures was agreed by the government in 1999.
In advance of the government's new white paper on defence, the then Defence Minister Michael Smith announced that six barracks -- Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy; Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Cork; Devoy Barracks, Naas; Magee Barracks, Kildare; Castleblayney Barracks and Clancy Barracks, Islandbridge, Dublin -- were earmarked for sale.
Despite months of criticism of the locations, Mr Smith pressed ahead, but he made it clear later that he did not intend to shut down any more barracks.
"I have done my stint, I closed six," he said at the time.
Since then, barrack closures have been avoided but they are now back on the table as a possible option because of the need to achieve savings on a scale that has not been experienced in the past decade.
International consultants Price Waterhouse, who provided the Government with the ammunition to reduce the strength of the Defence Forces from 12,700 to 10,500, envisaged that the drop in personnel would be accompanied by the closure of 17 barracks.
Senior military officers indicated at the time that they were prepared to settle for slightly over half of that number if it meant that other vital areas would not be affected by the cuts. Similar concerns are expected to be expressed in the run-up to the Budget that if the politicians do not agree to get rid of property deemed surplus to requirements, savings will have to be found elsewhere.
It is likely, however, that the closures would be confined to a small number of properties including the military hospital, St Bricin's, which is located in Dublin's north city.
St Bricin's will be replaced by new medical facilities at the Defence Forces Training Centre at the Curragh.
A barracks based in the Border region could also be on the list as military requirements have been scaled down there as a result of the Northern peace process.
Last month, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley highlighted the reduced need for military deployment along the Border and called on the department to take a fresh look at the payment of special border allowances to the troops.
Failure to grasp the political nettle will result in crucial areas, such as the renewal of equipment, being badly affected by cutbacks in the coming year.
Military equipment suffers from a very heavy attrition rate in areas like Chad and if the Defence Forces are deployed on new missions in the next couple of years, new equipment will have to be purchased.
However, Taoiseach Brian Cowen spelled out the Government's attitude last week when he said it would make the necessary decisions, "no matter how unpalatable".