The battle to save Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks was lost yesterday (Tuesday) with the Cabinet deciding to close it by mid-March next year along with three other army barracks around the country.
The decision has been greeted with universal condemnation by South Tipperary’s political leaders, the Army Wifes & Partners Committee, founded last month by soldiers’ families worried about the barrack’s future, and Clonmel Chamber. Defence Forces top brass have been accused of giving “inaccurate and incomplete” advice to the Minister for Justice & Defence Alan Shatter and concerns have been voiced about what will happen the barracks site, which is close to the town centre. There are fears it could become a target for vandalism and anti-social behaviour as has happened the closed Kildare Barracks.
Independent TD Seamus Healy has called on the Oireachtas members from the government parties, Deputy Tom Hayes and Senator Denis Landy; and the Fine Gael and Labour councillors in the county to urgently intervene to have the decision reversed. But Deputy Tom Hayes said the decision wouldn’t be reversed and they would only be fooling people to bring them down that road.
The Cabinet’s decision to shutdown Kickham Barracks has come despite revelations that its closure and transfer of Defence Forces personnel based there to Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick could cost up to €5.75m. A confidential barracks consolidation report shows short term costs of the transfer would amount to €250,000 but longer term costs including the refurbishment and extension of Sarsfield Barracks would amount to €5.5m.
The other barracks to be closed are Mullingar, Castlebar and Cavan.
Kickham Barracks closure will bring an end to 350 years of military presence in the town and it’s estimated it will cost the local economy €10m through loss of wages and loss of spending on supplies, food and other purchases by the 200 Defences Forces personnel based at the barracks.
PDFORRA has previously warned that shutting down Kickham Barracks would be the equivalent of Clonmel losing two factories.
Eleanor Prout, of the Army Wives & Partners Committee, said the decision was devastating news for army families, who had fought very hard to try and keep the barracks open.
“It doesn’t make sense to close it. The facts and figures don’t add up. It’s a ridiculous decision and devastating for the families. In the current economic climate, how can people sell their houses and relocate,” she said. “Clonmel has lost the longest serving employer in the town and it’s so unfair for the troops overseas that they don’t know where they will be going when they return. It’s disgraceful that the men and women in the barracks heard about the decision first through the media and they weren’t briefed on it before the decision was officially announced. I want to thank the Army Wives & Partners Committee for all the work they have put into this.”
Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan branded the decision as an “insult to democracy”.
“I am disappointed the Labour Party is one of the parties in government that has taken the decision but it does not lead me to question my position in the party. I understand some of my colleagues in Mullingar are questioning their position in the party but at present I am not,” he said.
Mayor Ryan said he would be writing to party leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to ask him to try and reverse the decision.
Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said he was incredibly disappointed and angry with the decision and criticised the military leadership for providing poor advice to the Minister on the matter, as well as a lack of consultation with army personnel on the ground.
“All of the Oireachtas members in South Tipperary, regardless of party affiliation or political differences, have been working closely on this issue as it is something we all feel very passionate about.” Deputy Hayes said.
“Having worked with the army families, we managed to meet with Minister Shatter twice on this issue. We felt that we had been given ample opportunity to put our case across, and were hopeful that our advice would be taken on board. However, what has become clear to all of us is that this is a strategic decision by the Department of Defence, and has nothing to do with the financial state of this country.
“I understand that the Minister for Defence can only go along with the advice given to him by senior military personnel, but it is my belief that this advice has been inaccurate and incomplete.
“It’s a sad state of affairs that the top brass in the military have been pedalling these closures on a financial argument that is so obviously flawed. I was also disappointed with the Chief of Staff, who refused to even consider a meeting with Oireachtas members on this matter.
Deputy Hayes called on the Defence Forces to look at any transfer applications sympathetically. Many serving members and their families will be unwilling to commute to their newly assigned barracks, and consideration should be given to any transfer requests made by them.
He also said every effort should be made to ensure the site doesn’t lie idle.
“We have seen in the past that unsecured empty barracks have become a centre for anti-social behaviour. It is my belief that this site should be used for the benefit of Clonmel and South Tipperary.
“There have been a number of suggestions for the site, including a foreign language school for Chinese students wishing to learn English overseas. I would certainly be open to these ideas as they also offer important financial benefits to the local economy. “
Deputy Seamus Healy, who called on government party public representatives to do all they could to reverse the closure, slammed the Cabinet decision as “outrageous and flawed” and a huge attack on soldiers and their families, as well as on Clonmel and South Tipperary. He said the knock-on affect in the town would be further job losses and business closures.
Soldiers and their families would have to uproot to Limerick but would find themselves trapped in a situation where many with mortgages and who were in negative equity would be unable to sell their homes and would be forced to either retire early or travel up and down to Limerick at an annual cost of €3,000.
The closure of Kickham Barracks, taken with the proposal to close St. Michael’s Hospital and the transfer of the VEC from South Tipperary, “represented an unacceptable attack on the town and county”, which Deputy Healy said had now been abandoned by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.
Labour MEP Phil Prendergast said the decision was a backward step that did not serve the needs of Clonmel and South Tipperary, which had been hit with one disadvantage after another.
Deputy Mattie McGrath said it was a disaster for the county and a shameful way to treat people who had served their country at home and abroad.
He feared now that the site would be abandoned and would be an eyesore for years to come.
“The barracks in Kildare that was closed a few years ago looks like something from a warzone now, it’s just left there and is open to all kinds of anti-social behaviour,” said Deputy McGrath.
Clonmel Chamber President Tina Mulhearne said the clsoure would seriously affect the local economy.
“Kickham Barracks is a significant local employer with the annual wage bill estimated at approximately ten million euro. Furthermore, the thirty or so local companies that provide services and products to the barracks will also be affected by such a move” she said.
“Similar moves in the past have shown not to be cost effective and have actually ended up costing the state more money. If the stated aim is to save money then this is not the best means by which to approach it. We would ask the Minister to reconsider his decision” Ms Mulhearne added.