| 12.2°C Dublin

Army barracks back in the firing line as closures threatened

THREE Irish Army barracks are on a proposed 'hit list' for closure as part of Government cutbacks in the defence sector.

The list is understood to be under consideration by Defence Minister Alan Shatter and senior advisers as they seek ways to cope with reduced budgets.

Last night Mr Shatter was adamant that no decision had yet been made by the Government in relation to the future of any military installation.

The three barracks understood to have been included in the list are in Mullingar, Cavan and Clonmel.

Housing Minister Willie Penrose was last night left isolated after no other Cabinet minister came forward to support him in his opposition to the closure of Columb Barracks in Mullingar, which is in his constituency.

Mr Shatter told the Irish Independent last night that he was anxious to ensure, as far as possible, that the Government was not forced by budget constraints to introduce a substantial reduction in the number of personnel in the Defence Forces.

Since it reached a peak of 15,000 in 1981, the strength of the Defence Forces has been decreasing to a current level of 9,500.

However, senior officers and the military representative associations have warned that any further cuts in personnel could jeopardise their ability to fulfil all of their duties at home and overseas.

Military top brass previously compiled a list of barracks that could be shut down when a previous government began its downsizing programme.

But, for political reasons and opposition from local groups, only half were eventually closed.

In the 2008 Budget, the closure of Longford and Monaghan barracks, Rockhill in Letterkenny, Lifford military post and St Bricin's Hospital, Dublin, was announced.

So far, sales of surplus defence property have netted about €84m.

Mr Penrose said the Defence Forces had an abysmal record in trying to dispose of property and accused army chiefs of "crass stupidity" in the proposal to close the barracks.

But the minister was left red-faced when government and military sources pointed out the Defence Forces had no say in the sale of properties, which was the responsibility of the Department of Defence and the Office of Public Works.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said nothing was discussed at Cabinet about military barracks' closures.

Irish Independent