South Tipperary’s Fine Gael TD was told in no uncertain terms to ‘get up off his arse and start fighting for Tipperary’ when Clonmel Borough Council discussed the closure threat to Kickham Barracks.
The blunt call came from Cllr Niall Dennehy, who said the one government TD in the county represents the whole constituency.
Councillors, concerned that the closure decision will not be an independent one, have agreed to write to President Mary McAleese asking her to assure the decision will not be taken because of where government ministers are based.
During last week’s meeting Cllr Dennehy said: “This is going to be a decision based on where ministers are located.” He went on to say that earlier this year the people in Kilkenny had been very afraid their army barracks was to close, but are not afraid at all now.
Mayor Darren Ryan agreed to write to President Mary McAleese, with the backing of councillors.
The matter was initially raised by Cllr Pat English, who said he had been contacted by people with serious concerns about the threat to Kickham Barracks. “We have to support our local barracks. It’s been here since 1640 and is worth E4/E5million to the local economy. “As a council we should do everything in our power to ensure it stays in Clonmel.”
He said an undertaking was given to Cllr Siobhan Ambrose by the last Minister for Defence to meet a deputation from the council and he urged that meeting now take place in the near future.
Mayor Ryan said a petition signed while Cllr Ambrose was mayor had been forwarded to the Minster for Defence. He added that a letter he had sent to the minister requesting a meeting had not even been acknowledged.
“There is an onus on every one of us to put the shoulder to the wheel,” he said. He said he had been told the decision is part of an overall cost review but he could not find out of that is underway, ongoing or completed.
A commitment to keeping the barracks open was given during the general election campaign, Cllr Pat English said. “It would be a total shame if Labour were to celebrate the foundation of the Labour party in this building and if either St Michael’s or the barracks is closed.”
Cllr Siobhan Ambrose said that the Minister for Defence had been due to address the PDFORRA conference last week but cancelled, in what she said was a “hugely unusual” move and she said it “set alarm bells ringing.”
She told her colleagues that she had been told the earliest available meeting with the Minster would be in November.
Cllr Joe Leahy recalled all the times those stationed in Kickham Barracks supported the town, especially in times of flooding. “It would have been a different story if they had to come from Kilkenny or Dungarvan,” he said.
Cllr Richie Molloy said it would be “crazy” to close the barracks. He said it was up to each individual around the council table to lobby in support of the barracks. “It’s down to who shouts the loudest now.”
Cllr Billy Shoer said there would be a loss of E6 million to the town if Clonmel lost St Michael’s and the army barracks but the saving to the government will only be hundreds of thousands, not millions. The loss of E6 million is something this town can’t sustain, he said.
Cllr Brian O’Donnell said first the hospital and now the barracks - “this is an attack on the whole establishment of South Tipperary.”
There has been a lot of investment in the barracks and it includes listed buildings, Cllr Helena McGee pointed out. “Where ministers are placed seems to be where the power is.”
Cllr Gabrielle Egan said it was a personal matter for her as her daughter’s partner is a soldier who is about to go to Lebanon but doesn’t know where he will be stationed when he comes back. “We need to get behind the barracks,” she said. “The OPW will come along in 50 years to renovate it. It should be kept the way it is.