Department closes army base - then rents new property!

Government decision slammed as ‘hypocrisy’

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

The Department of Defence’s decision to seek a rental property to accommodate Reserve Defence Forces (RDF) training in Clonmel has been branded as one of the ‘biggest displays of hypocrisy’ by Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan while members of the Army Wives and Partners group said that ‘Alan Shatter will go down in Clonmel’s history as the Cromwell of the 21st century’ before adding: “But at least Cromwell visited Clonmel.”

Kickham Barracks is the headquarters for the RDF in Ireland as well as the 1st Southern Brigade Reserve, and is home to the 31st Reserve Cavalry Squadron.

But on March 31, when the barracks closes after 350 years in the town, the RDF will no longer remain on the grounds. While RDF headquarters will move to Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny and the 1st Southern Brigade Reserve will transfer to Collins Baracks in Cork, the 31st Reserve Cavalry Squadron will have to transfer to rented premises somewhere in Clonmel.

Last week’s advertisements placed in regional papers in Clonmel, Cavan, Mullingar and Castlebar, seeking tenders for suitable locations to relocate the RDF units to, once the barracks in each of these areas has been closed, has struck a nerve with people in those communities who simply cannot understand how the Department could oversee the closure of a barracks, in order to save money, and then sanction the rental of premises for the RDF.

“This is the biggest act of hypocrisy that we have seen in recent times, given the fact that they are closing Kickham Barracks on a cost-saving basis,” said Mayor Ryan.

“Now the Department are saying that they have the money to pay for rent for the RDF, and when I say that, I mean no disrespect to the RDF who do excellent work,” he said.

A statement from the Department said that arrangements to provide alternative accommodation outside of the barracks was the most appropriate approach because ‘it is simply not cost effective to keep a full barracks open to cater for a Reserve Unit’. It also said that this is not an unusual course of action to take, as many RDF training locations around the country, are not within the barracks campus. Currently the Department has 10 permanent and 30 part-time rental properties in place throughout the country for RDF training.

“This is consistent with how the Department handled barrack closures in the past, which has proved very successful. The situation in relation to the rentals will be kept under ongoing review pending the outcome of the Value for Money Review of the Reserve.” It also said that it intended to dispose of the barracks in full as soon as possible and discussions have taken place with a number of parties in this regard. The Department was unable to comment on how much money it would be prepared to spend renting a premises, due to the tendering process.

But Mayor Ryan said that he was led to believe initially that the RDF would remain in a section of Kickham Barracks and said that it made no sense whatsoever to move the unit out and pay additional money for rent.

“I am hugely disappointed at the hypocrisy, there is nothing to stop the Department from cordoning off a section of the barracks, it would be very easy to allocate an area,” he said.

Catherine Kennedy, speaking on behalf of the Army Wives and Partners said they were initially shocked when they heard of the Department’s plans.

“But then we realised that we weren’t really surprised because if they had done a feasibility report, all these things would have been identified.

“Every budget has been cut, so where are they getting the money to rent a premises?”

She said that based on research they had carried out, contacting various private companies, they estimated that it would cost the Department approximately €20 per hour for one security guard to privately secure Kickham Barracks. According to Ms. Kennedy ten soldiers would receive €520 between them, after tax, as part of their 24-hour duty at the barracks.

“This just doesn’t make sense at all,” she said.

Clonmel-based auctioneer John Stokes said that as a taxpayer firstly, he would rather see the Department use a section of Kickham Barracks rather than pay out what he estimated to be in the region of €30,000 per year renting a property.

“As a tax payer, I think that they have the ideal premises there already, a purpose built site, and they could use a part of that purpose-built building,” said Mr. Stokes.

Based on the newspaper advertisement which sought, a 325 sq m warehouse and other rooms varying in size from 20 to 30 to 60 sq m, Mr. Stokes said that as far as he knows, there is no site suitable in the Clonmel area that would satisfy these RDF training requirements.

“My opinion is there is nothing similar in Clonmel, the only place would be in an industrial park, but I don’t think that would be suitable for the RDF,” he said.

Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said that until such time as an alternative found for the use of Kickham Barracks, the RDF should remain there.

“They have a premises already there in Clonmel, and I will say that to Shatter as well,” he said.

“This is typical Department stuff, they don’t know about cost-cutting. We are living in an era of cost-saving and this is a terribly bad example.

Commenting on the Department’s statement that it ‘intended to dispose of the barracks’ as soon as possible, Deputy Hayes said that Kickham Barracks will not sell in this climate and the RDF should remain in-situ until an alternative is found,

Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused the Department of adding insult to injury.

“This is absolutely outrageous, they had perfectly good accommodation which they chose to close and now they are adding insult to injury by seeking new accommodation to rent,” he said.

He said that it is nonsensical that the Government would close properties that they own and then seek to rent alternative premises at an extra cost to the State.

“I raised the matter of the Reserve Defence Forces maintaining a base in Clonmel with the Minister back in December but no answer was given and it seems as though the RDF was an afterthought and that they did not consider their accommodation requirements when making their decision to close the Barracks,” he said.