Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan has written to Minister Alan Shatter and his party leader Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore insisting the decision to close Kickham Barracks be reversed but he has refused to follow the lead of his former colleague Cllr Gabrielle Egan and resign from the Labour Party.
These letters along with a resolution to examine the feasibility study that formed the basis for the Government’s decision to close the barracks to see if there was anyway an alternative solution could be proposed were the key actions the Borough Council agreed to pursue at a special Council meeting convened last Wednesday following the announcement of the closure.
While the Mayor proposed writing to Minister Shatter and the Tanaiste and sent off the request for the feasibility study before the Borough Council meeting, he said he had been informed by representatives in the Dail that the decision was irreversible.
The Council, on the proposal of Cllr Richie Molloy, also agreed to contact the Kickham Barracks Army Wives & Partners Committee and asked it to consider staging another protest march to give the people of Clonmel an opportunity to show their anger at the closure.
The Committee has decided against staging another march but does plan to organise a community event where the people of Clonmel will have an opportunity to show their solidarity with the soldiers of Kickham Barracks.
Meanwhile, the Mayor also agreed to write to the mayors of the other towns affected by barrack closures, Mullingar, Cavan and Castlebar to see if there was any united action they could take.
Councillors at the special meeting were unanimous in voicing deep disappointment at the decision citing the huge economic and social impact for the town and the army families involved with most condemning the closure and questioning its economic wisdom.
The Mayor and Fine Gael Cllrs Joe Leahy and Denis Dunne came under pressure from Workers & Unemployment Action Group councillors to “take a stand” and resign from their respective parties over the controversial Cabinet decision.
WUAG Cllr Teresa Ryan commended Cllr Egan for “voting with her feet” and urged the mayor to follow suit as Clonmel was “under siege” from the Government and being targeted for “unfair savage attacks” with the closure of South Tipperary VEC, St Michael’s Acute Psychiatric Unit and now the barracks. Her colleagues Cllr Helena McGee, Brian O’Donnell, Pat English and Billy Shoer stepped up the pressure and appealed to Cllrs Leahy and Dunne as well as the mayor to also walk away from their parties. Cllr English even proposed that coaltion party councillors in all the towns affected by barrack closures resign.
Mayor Ryan responded one could take the “very populist route” and jump ship but he would not be resigning from the Labour Party. The only way he could put pressure on the people in Labour was by being a member of the party.
He said he wouldn’t take criticism (from WUAG councillors) that he hadn’t done anything for the campaign to save Kickham Barracks. He had done whatever was asked of him by the campaign committee and used his office to the best of his ability.
Cllr Leahy said he didn’t see any reason on this earth why he should resign, while Cllr Dunne said he hadn’t any intention of resigning from the party under which he was elected to represent the people of Clonmel.
Cllr Richie Molloy supported the Mayor’s stance and appealed to councillors to “stand together” rather than squabbling.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail Cllr Siobhan Ambrose questioned why James Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny was not closed given that it was closer to The Curragh than Clonmel and wondered was it a political decision to keep it open, referring to the fact it was in Minister Phil Hogan’s constituency. She said the feasibility study may present them with cost efficiencies that could be achieved at the barracks or other option to enable the barracks remain open.
The five WUAG councillors heaped condemnation on the Fine Gael/Labour coalition for closing the barracks and other cutbacks to hit Clonmel with Cllr Shoer comparing Minister Shatter to “Margaret Thatcher” while Cllr McGree pointed out that the Government was recently able to find €700m to pay “greedy bank bondholders” while the soldiers gone out to the Lebanon didn’t know what they were coming back to.
Cllr Leahy said personally his heart went out to the army families and the barracks had been an excellent servant of the town but they had to realise the financial state of the country and that we are in the middle of one of the worst recessions to hit the country.
They were in a changing world and very changed Ireland, he said. It was at least some solace that the soldiers hadn’t lost their job and he pointed out that when he was in the Garda Siochana you were transferred at the flick of a biro because that was what you signed up for.
“I am well aware people can’t sell houses in this day and age of negative equity but at the end of the day we are where we are. The decision has been made. It’s regrettable that it’s not reversible,” he said.