Barracks closure ‘would cost Clonmel €10m’

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

The new campaign group fighting to save Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks from closure will be drawing up a plan of action over the next fews days after more than 300 people thronged a public meeting in the town in support of the cause.

The public meeting in Hearns Hotel heard from PDFORRA’s general secretary Gerry Rooney that closing the barracks made no economic sense with the costs associated with shutting it down outweighing the estimated E200,000 savings per annum.

And he estimated the closure would be the equivalent of the closure of two factories in Clonmel, costing the town’s economy E10m through loss of wages and loss of spending on supplies, food and other purchases by the barracks.

In the wake of the meeting, a cross party deputation of senior South Tipperary politicians along with a representative of the Save Kickham Barracks Action Group has been arranged to meet Justice & Defence Minister Alan Shatter in Dublin next Thursday, (October 20) to put their case for the retention of the barracks.

And a new Save Kickham Barracks petition has been launched and will be available for signing in local businesses and public buildings throughout Clonmel and elsewhere in the county.

The Action Group, founded by wives and partners of soldiers based at Kickham Barracks, plans to submit the petition to the Minister for Justice & Defence as part of their campaign of action and its members have appealed to the people of South Tipperary to sign it.

Catherine Kennedy of the Save Kickham Barracks Action Group said they were thrilled and shocked at the huge turnout at the public meeting at Hearn’s Hotel on Monday night. It showed the people of Clonmel do want to save the barracks.

She warned that the closure of Kickham Barracks would be one the “darkest days” Clonmel would ever see economically and socially.

The public meeting, chaired by ten members of the newly formed action group, was addressed by South Tipperary’s three TDs, Tom Hayes, Seamus Healy and Mattie McGrath along with Senators Denis Landy and Labhras O’Murchu, Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Darren Ryan, his predecessor Cllr Siobhan Ambrose and Co. Council Chairman Cllr Michael Fitzgerald, who all pledged their full support for the campaign and promised to do all in their power to keep the barracks open.

PDFORRA General Secretary Gerry Rooney told the meeting he couldn’t see closing Kickham Barracks achieving any savings for the Government and instead he believed it would incur extra costs on the State.

He outlined it was estimated the closure would save E200,000 per annum but the Defence Forces would have to extend a barracks elsewhere to accommodate the redeployed soldiers. Documents he was privy to showed this would cost E4m.

On top of this, the State would have security costs associated with maintaining the closed barracks, the sites of which were unlikely to be sold over the next decade.

Mr Rooney said there were alternatives. The Defence Forces headquarters were currently divided across five locations with Defence Forces chiefs and civil servants travelling between the sites and more services could be located in existing barracks like Kickham such as the Civil Defence, the Red Cross and Irish Aid stores.

Mr Rooney also highlighted the extra financial strain closing the barracks would place on army families, who had already suffered a 20% cut in their income due to pay cuts, the pension levy and increased taxes, and were also dealing with mortgage interest rate hikes.

He estimated that the closure would cost soldiers families an extra E3000 a year in terms of travel and other expenses.

Mr Rooney pointed out that the report on which the government was basing its proposals to close more barracks was outdates and that the Department of Defence had alerady closed ten barracks around the country since it was published in the early 1990s.

Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Darren Ryan outlined to the public meeting Clonmel Borough Council’s decision to write to President Mary McAleese as Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces requesting she ensure that whatever review of army barracks was being undertaken be a very open and independent process and was not based on where government ministers are located.

He said the Borough Council was 100% behind the Save Kickham Barracks campaign and pointed out that there wasn’t a family in Clonmel that didn’t have some connection to the barracks.