Decision on closing barracks put off until after presidential election
THE Government is to postpone the planned closure of army barracks until after the presidential election to spare a junior minister's blushes.
Labour Junior Minister Willie Penrose had proclaimed that closing the army barracks in Mullingar would be "crass stupidity and economic lunacy".
The Irish Independent understands the Government has now decided to postpone any decision on the future of the barracks until after the election on October 27.
A government spokesman has confirmed that the decision on closures is part of the comprehensive spending review being carried out ahead of December's Budget.
It is widely expected in military circles that a number of barracks, including Mullingar, will be closed as part of the cutbacks in the Budget.
Mr Penrose said yesterday that he was unaware of any postponement of the decision on the future of the barracks.
"We'll fight the thing and argue it. It's just a matter of trying to argue the toss. There'll obviously be counter-arguments," he said.
Mr Penrose was attending meetings in Cork yesterday as Junior Housing Minister. He said he would not be present for a vote on a private members' motion brought by Fianna Fail calling on the Government to guarantee the future of all army barracks.
But he backed the Government's counter-motion to take "further difficult and unpopular decisions to restore the public finances".
A protest march is being organised in Mullingar on Saturday to save the barracks -- which houses 200 army personnel and 20 civilian staff. Their wages are worth an estimated €8m to the local economy.
Local Labour town councillor Patrick Collins said it was a big issue because Mullingar was a very strong military town.
"There are families in every street and housing estate that have some connection with the military either directly or indirectly," he said.
In the Dail this week, Justice Minister Alan Shatter refused to give any assurance that the 200-year-old barracks would be spared.
"The Exchequer is under extreme pressure and no amount of bluff and bluster will bridge the yawning gap between the Government's income and current expenditure," he said.