Kickham Barracks closure is unnecessary and ill-advised

If and when we ever regain our economic sovereignty we must ensure that we have an infrastructure to build up from again.

If and when we ever regain our economic sovereignty we must ensure that we have an infrastructure to build up from again.

It’s all very well meeting the targets set by our European paymasters but we must be ready for the day when they return to Brussels or Frankfurt and we are left to our own devices again.

That may be some way off just yet but the day must come. The hardships we are enduring right now cannot last forever. There must be light at the end of the tunnel to make what we are experiencing now at least bearable.

When that fateful day does come, a lot of businesses will have closed, a lot of jobs will have been lost, a lot of people will have left the country.

The building blocks for recovery will be greatly reduced so it’s vital that we retain as much as we can during this period of slash and burn.

And it’s an absolute shame that when that day does come that Kickham Barracks will no longer be a functioning army base in Clonmel.

When we start to pick ourselves up by the shoestrings again, a facility that has stood proud in the county town for 350 years will no longer be part of what we are.

It will have been sacrificed at the altar of cost-cutting expediency.

The disgrace is that the money saved by closing Kickham Barracks is a drop in the ocean of our overall debt - maybe a million or two here out of the tens of billions hanging around our neck.

Indeed the closure will actually cost money initially with the cost of transferring soldiers to Limerick.

So why the indecent haste to close down a part of what we are, a facility that is as much a part of Clonmel as the Main Guard, the Westgate, the Suir and the Comeraghs.

Cross-party political support, backed up by the army wives and business interests, lobbied Defence Minister Alan Shatter to keep the base open.

Reports from the meetings suggest that the Minister was not only dismissive but gave the impression that he had no intention of changing his mind.

Yet such lobbying can often yield results, at least a stay of execution.

But when the barracks closure came up at last week’s cabinet meeting, it was rubber-stamped without division. And with that decision ended a tradition and history in Clonmel dating back to 1650.

This wasn’t a loss-making enterprise that had to be shut down to protect taxpayers money.

This wasn’t a white elephant, a quango, an over-loaded department of the civil service that was costing more than it was worth.

This is an army base that has served the town, county and country proud..

It has provided peacekeepers to the Congo, Cyprus and the Lebanon. It has come to the rescue when homeowners were left stranded in the floods that so regularly hit Clonmel. It has made its magnificent property available to worthy causes in the town.

By next March that will all be lost.

The personal cost means that soldiers have to plan the round trip to Limerick or else consider moving home – a not very attractive proposition in the depressed housing market.

Local suppliers to the base will be hit as another major customer is closed to them

And what will become of the barracks itself? Will the government provide funding to maintain security and provide maintenance to prevent it becoming an eyesore and a magnet for anti-social behaviour?

How ironic would that be for an institution that stood for all that was best in the town for centuries

Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes says the decision won’t be changed and that it would be unfair on people to suggest that there was some hope of a reprieve.

That’s a sobering thought for all involved – the present soldiers based there, their wives who fear for their futures, the ex-servicemen who still meet regularly at the barracks, the many organisations in the town who have benefited from the army’s help in so many different ways.

Four barracks closures were announced last week but Clonmel’s will have the biggest impact with 200 soldiers involved – Castlebar for example has only fifteen who will be effected.

They may not be job losses but there’s a psychological element to the news. It’s a blow to the town’s standing, its status and its ability to fight back.

The closure and whatever money is saved won’t cause a ripple in the crippling debt faced by the country but locally it will lead to a tidal wave of anger, regret and resentment. It is a heavy price for the town to pay for the nation’s ills.