Driving wind and rain didn’t keep supporters of Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks from the streets of the town on Saturday afternoon when several hundred people brought the town centre to a standstill to show their opposition to any plan for closing the barracks.
Led by the wives and partners of serving soldiers, retired soldiers and politicians from counties Tipperary and Waterford, the march came just days after the Save Kickham Barracks group met directly with Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter.
“Don’t kick ‘em out of Kickham’ was the message shouted from outside the town hall, combined with the demand that the minister come to Clonmel and visit Kickham Barracks.
There was a strong call to the minister not to be led in his decision making by advisors and senior figures in the defence forces.
Government deputy Tom Hayes admitted he left last Thursday’s meeting with the minister “worried” because he believes the minister is listening too closely to his advisors. The Fine Gael TD gave a commitment to Saturday’s crowd that he “will leave no stone unturned to make sure he (Minister Shatter) knows, and the Taoiseach knows, there is no saving in closing Kickham Barracks.
“In my opinion not alone would the minister want to open his eyes to the people advising him but it is high time the chief of staff comes and tells the people of Clonmel why they are proposing cuts that will save such a small amount.”
Deputy Hayes encouraged people to write to the minister and the army chief of staff. “We will fight to the bitter end against this crazy decision.”
Kickham Barracks is a part of the tradition and heritage of Clonmel, Mayor Darren Ryan said, giving a commitment to “use the office of the mayor to ensure the minister is left in no doubt we will not accept any downgrading or closure of Kickham Barracks.”
He said the meeting with the minister did not go as they wanted it to go but they did get an assurance that no decision has been made. Mayor Ryan asked the minister to come to Clonmel, an invitation he has not yet accepted.
Carrick on Suir Mayor Patsy Fitzgerald assured the crowd that Carrick on Suir Town Council fully support the efforts to prevent the closure of the barracks. It has provided great support to the people of Carrick, he said, and the council will also write to the minister reinforcing the view.
Senator Denis Landy reiterated the economic arguments for closing Kickham Baracks don’t stand up, a point he made during the deputation. Speaking on Saturday, he said he told the minister plenty of other ways to save money in the defence forces without closing barracks.
Deputy Seamus Healy said closure will have a huge affect on South Tipperary. “There will be more job losses, more shop closures, more people in the dole queues, more cost to the state of social welfare.” He said closing Kickham Barracks to save money was “cutting off our nose to spite our face.”
Cllr Siobhan Ambrose said she did not want Minister Shatter to be the only Minister for Defence not to visit Kickham Barracks. “I want him to come and meet the families here, and hear what they have to say.”
Cllr Pat Fitzgerald, of Waterford County Council, explained his grandfather trained in Kickham Barracks before fighting in World War 1, and was based there as a member of the Free State army. He thanked the barracks for all its help to the people of county Waterford. He described the atmosphere in the homes of some of the families connected with the barracks, at the moment, as “akin to wake houses.”
Fr Billy Meehan also declared his support for the campaign, saying it was not just an army site in Clonmel, but much more with a huge community involvement. “Give the young people of our country an opportunity to train and remain in our country,” he said of the retention of the barracks.
Catherine Kennedy, of the Save Kickham Barracks group, thanked all those who supported the march and helped to organise it. She urged people to sign a petition in support of the barracks. The group have stressed that this closure threat is very real and a decision could be made as early as next week.
Clonmel Chamber CEO, Brian Cleary, was part of the delegation that met with Minister Shatter. “While savings need to be made there are methods of finding efficiencies that will enable Clonmel and other barracks to remain open, all that it takes is a deeper investigation into the day to day costs of the Irish army,” he said.
Speaking after the deputation, Deputy Hayes commented: “What became clear during the meeting is that the Minister is relying heavily on advice from senior figures in the Defence Forces. Now I am not an expert in military operations, but I believe it’s time for these advisors to lead by example rather than force the closure of a barracks that plays such a pivotal financial role to a local economy.”
Saturday’s speakers praised the ladies of the Save Kickham Barracks group for the part they played in the deputation.