Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
78. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for the future development of the Curragh military camp; the capital funding allocated for this purpose in each of the coming five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56533/21]
We are all aware of the historic importance and significant of the Curragh military camp, presumably none more so than the Acting Chairman, Deputy Berry. I want to ask the Minister to set out his plans for the development of this important national facility, including the capital allocations and the specifics of what he proposes to do.
I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to do this because an impression is sometimes given that we are doing nothing on the Curragh Camp and nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to outline to the House the scale of investment activity being targeted at improving the Defence Forces built infrastructure as set out in the five-year plan published in January 2020. The programme provides a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe. The allocation of €37 million for maintaining and improving the building stock in 2021 was the highest allocation since 2008. This level of provision will be increased in 2022 to accelerate the already successful delivery of the programme.
The future development of the Defence Forces training centre is prioritised in the infrastructure plan. In recent years, we have seen the completion of: a new high security ammunition depot; modernised accommodation in Pearse and Plunkett Barracks; and a recently completed new electronic target range. These improvements in the training centre were all recently completed at a combined cost of more than €17.5 million. Notwithstanding the impact of Covid and Brexit on building projects throughout the country, I am pleased to advise the Deputy that progress on implementing the five-year plan continues apace and I anticipate the commencement on-site of the following projects in the Curragh Camp in 2022: a new cadet school, contract to be awarded shortly; a new barrack services engineering store; a new purpose-built communication and information services facility; and provision of a new Army ranger wing headquarters. These projects represent a further investment of in excess of €16.5 million in the Curragh Camp alone for next year.
In addition, work in 2022 will also focus on developing a new military college auditorium, a new bonded warehouse building, and an upgrade of the new medical school. I am aware of the criticisms that have been made on the quality of the building stock in the training centre. However, based on what I have just outlined, I am sure the Deputy will acknowledge that this represents a significant investment, even though there is much more to do.
I thank the Minister for his reply as he needs to set out exactly what he is intending to do. If I understand the reply correctly, the Government expects to spend €16.5 million on the Curragh Camp in 2022. I know that in the other House the Minister previously described the Curragh Camp as the flagship of our military establishment and while many people will agree with him on that, there are issues. There are 43 derelict buildings in the Curragh Camp. What is his plan for those? If a camp has 43 derelict buildings, that does not give the impression of a flagship camp. There are still accommodation problems for enlisted personnel. In a previous question that my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, asked of the Minister, he replied that it was a matter for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The Minister and his officials had not met the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage or his officials on accommodation issues for enlisted personnel at that time. Have his officials met the officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage since then? What are his plans to ensure that adequate accommodation is provided for all enlisted personnel in the Curragh Camp?
I visited the Curragh Camp again last week for the commissioning of 29 officers into the Reserve Defence Forces, which was a super event. It is true that when driving around the camp there is too much dereliction. I have said that to our officials and we need to address that over time. The Deputy is a former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and he knows that projects like this cannot be completed overnight. We need to have a medium-term plan for the Curragh Camp, which upgrades the facility and rightly gives the impression when driving through that it is effectively the flagship training facility for the Defence Forces. That is what we will do over time. Next year, we will spend €16.5 million and we have spent €17.5 million in recent years. We are carrying out multiple projects to deal with the quality of infrastructure in the Curragh Camp and to deal with some of the buildings that are unused.
I welcome the Minister's assurances on this but he will accept that the public image when visiting a camp is important and the fact that there are 43 derelict buildings is not acceptable. That should be prioritised. The important new developments he outlined to the House are significant and important ,but the basics are more important. This includes providing adequate showering facilities for all personnel. The old adage of relating to a fur coat and no underwear comes to mind. We need to ensure we provide adequate housing and showering facilities for our enlisted personnel. I would like the Minister to state that this would be prioritised in the development plan going forward.
I also want to ask him about the promised secondary school on the site. Apparently there are still legal difficulties with the transfer of title of same.
Is the Department in negotiations with the Department of Education in that regard and when will that be resolved?
I will certainly come back to the Deputy on where it is.
With regard to accommodation, I visited the modernised, upgraded facilities at the Curragh and the new ones are excellent. We will continue to invest in upgrading and improving accommodation for everybody at the Curragh. Of course, we have to continue to do that. If there is substandard accommodation, we have to make sure that is part of the phased capital expenditure that we have. However, with expenditure of €17.5 million in the past couple of years and €16.5 million next year, if we keep up that level in the Curragh each year, we can make dramatic change there to upgrade and modernise buildings. That is ultimately what we are trying to do.
In terms of long-term housing considerations, we have moved away from a large number of people having their housing needs delivered through the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. That policy was changed many years ago - long before I came along.
There are issues regarding overholders whom, of course, we need to work with to make sure that housing needs are met but, at the same time, everybody is treated fairly. I understand that there have been conversations with Kildare County Council on that. I can check the status of that for Deputy Howlin, if he wants.
While I acknowledge the investment in capital infrastructure, and it is long overdue and desperately needed, there is one concern that I want to flag with the Minister. It specifically relates to a new development at the Curragh Camp - Pearse Mess. I am looking at these plans as I speak. I am bewildered, after all the conversations that have taken place about the need to increase female participation in the Defence Forces, why there is such a disproportionately low number of facilities, not only bathroom facilities but changing facilities, in this mess. I do not profess or hold any claim to be an engineer but I struggle to understand how a female is meant to get to these places without having to physically leave the building and come around the other side. Not only that, and this is what is really disappointing, based on these plans, there is no capability to extend those facilities without cutting off access to the male section of that unit.
I do not have the plans in front of me. With respect, I cannot respond to that. However, I will happily look at them. What I can say for sure is that there is a concerted effort to try to attract more women into the Defence Forces. We have a lot of work to do in that regard because women currently are far too small a percentage of our overall Defence Forces. That needs to be factored into any investment plans that we have. This has to be a welcoming place for women to work in a respected way. If there are issues that the Deputy has concerns about, I will certainly look into them. I do not have engineering designs in front of me and it is difficult for me to comment.
It is acknowledged that the current level of 6% of female participation needs to be worked on. Any moves to encourage females into participation, regardless of what campaign that may be, has to be reflected in the built infrastructure where we will ask these people to work and to spend a significant portion of their time. That simply is not evident here.
I have no issue with passing these plans over to the Minister, but they are publicly available. This is not secret information. The plans are out on www.etenders.gov.ie.
This is not good enough. This cannot be allowed to happen again. If it is possible to change these plans I would strongly recommend that that is given due consideration but this should never be seen again on any plans for the Defence Forces.