THE LABOUR Party’s Willie Penrose has resigned from Government over his opposition to the closure of Mullingar’s Columb barracks in his Westmeath constituency.
In a statement, Mr Penrose highlighted his "unstinting opposition" to the decision to close Columb Barracks.
"I fully appreciate that difficult decisions have to be made by the Government if we are to get out of the economic mess in which we have found ourselves, but I was not prepared to stand over a decision that was not backed up by the facts and figures.
"I understand and appreciate that significant efforts were made by my Labour colleagues in Government, who fully understood the depths of my feelings in this regard, to resolve this matter, but to no avail."
The barracks will close in March 2012.
Three others are also being closed in Cavan, Castlebar, Co Mayo and Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he understood why Mr Penrose quit.
"Following his decision, he has informed me that it is his intention to resign from Government. That's a decision I very much regret," he said.
"He's a very good colleague.
“Somebody who has worked hard for the Labour Party both nationally and in his constituency.
"I understand his decision... but the Government has to make decisions which are in the best interests of the country."
It is understood, Mr Penrose, who is a barrister, will meet with family and friends later today in Mullingar with opposition to the closure of the barracks growing.
Many local councillors are also said to be considering resigning from the party over the issue.
Cllr Michael Dollard, the Labour leader on Westmeath County Council, told local radio this morning he would resign from the party if the Government ignored the views of Deputy Penrose.
About 1,000 people protested in Mullingar last month, over fears that the barracks would be closed.
Mr Penrose told the rally that ‘‘Mullingar's 200-year military history could not be sacrificed for a proposal which does not stand up to scrutiny".
And he had added: "Decisions should be based on evidence, on rationality and as to whether they make economic sense for the whole of society, not for just one department or organ of State."
In September, he told another meeting of soldiers' families that closing Columb Barracks would be an act of "crass stupidity".
According to his website, Mr Penrose entered politics at the age of 13 when he became Labour branch secretary in his home town of Ballynacargy.
He was first elected to the Dail in November 1992 and he was re-elected in the 1997, 2002 and 2007 general elections.
Since being elected for Labour in the so-called "Spring tide" of 1992, Mr Penrose continued to be a poll-topper for Labour and prior to his election the party had not had a seat in Westmeath since 1927.
In 2002, Mr Penrose was a candidate for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.
Although he was part of a joint ticket with Pat Rabbitte, who won the leadership comfortably, he was narrowly defeated for the job by Liz McManus.