Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

5:00 pm

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, for attending in person on this matter. When decentralisation was first announced, Newbridge was one of the towns identified as suitable. It was expected that part of the Department of Defence would move there. I had argued for many years that Defence Forces headquarters should be located in the Curragh or close to it, as that was the most logical place for them.

Considerable progress has been made with regard to identifying sites. I understand Newbridge was about the third most popular area for relocation of civil servants. That is understandable as it has a good educational structure, good infrastructure and mainline rail. One of the largest shopping centres outside of Dublin is due to open in the town shortly. Newbridge has excellent facilities for people who want to work there.

A site was identified close to the railway station. It is owned by Kildare County Council and used by the local soccer club, Newbridge Town AFC. The soccer club has no particular difficulties about being relocated if somewhere suitable can be found. However, negotiations seem to be interminable. They have gone on and on. I raised the issue with the county council in September and also with the Office of Public Works. As is frequently the case in these situations, we seem to have a pass the parcel situation between both offices. I want to get to the bottom of the issue and want the Minister to inform me whether the site has been identified, what progress has been made on acquiring the site and what further progress has been made.

I understand there were also two reserve sites within the general area of the town. It seems to have taken so long to get the first site into play, that we should, perhaps, think of moving on the other sites. There is some degree of impatience among the townspeople. The chamber of commerce and other bodies have expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progress. I understand also that 300 jobs will be relocated to the Curragh and that a site has been identified at the entrance to the Curragh. Ultimately, 1,500 civil servants will relocate to County Kildare. People from the Department of Finance will move to Athy and Kildare town. Naas and other centres will benefit from decentralisation.

I support the policy of decentralisation. It will be good for the country and the people and will relieve much of the pressure on Dublin. I hope the Minister can give some good news on progress as Newbridge was identified for fast-tracking of the decentralisation programme. I suppose the thing that frequently strikes me about the State's negotiations on property is that the delays which seem to be so prevalent when property is being transferred in the public sector would not be tolerated for a moment in the private sector. Many deals would fall through if such delays were to happen in the private sector. Decisions need to be made as soon as possible so that we can move on. We need to do everything we can to ensure that the personnel in the Department of Defence who have expressed a willingness to move to Newbridge can be facilitated.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Dardis for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The Government decision on decentralisation, which was announced by the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, in his Budget Statement on 3 December 2003, provides for the transfer of Dublin-based Civil Service staff of the Department of Defence to Newbridge, County Kildare.

The Office of Public Works has identified a suitable site in Newbridge for the new departmental headquarters, but negotiations on the acquisition of the site have not yet been completed, unfortunately. It is not possible to give a firm date for the move, therefore, although I can say that every effort is being made to expedite the process. Given the nature of the Department's work, it is important that a self-contained and secure campus is obtained. Having said that, and bearing in mind that a site has yet to be acquired, it is imperative that the specific requirements relating to the building are not compromised just to meet the original stated deadline. The acquisition of the site is the constraint that is most likely to delay the relocation of the Department to Newbridge. I understand that the Office of Public Works is making every effort to achieve a successful outcome. I can inform Senator Dardis that I understand it will not be necessary to fall back on one of the alternative sites. I think we will be able to make progress with the site that has been identified in Newbridge. The preparation of the Department's requirements for the design, build and tender process is nearing completion.

The number of staff to be relocated to Newbridge is 202, including some top level posts which were not advertised on the Central Applications Facility. Some 385 personnel, of whom 59 are serving in the Department at present, have volunteered to relocate to Newbridge. That means a staff turnover of 71% will be necessary to fill the remaining 143 vacancies in Newbridge. As the decentralisation of the Department of Defence to Newbridge is heavily oversubscribed, there will be no difficulty in getting the required number of people to transfer to the Department. The main constraint to securing and placing all staff within the proposed timeframe will be the difficulties which will arise when individual members of staff are moving between Departments. Such difficulties will be handled by the Department on a case-by-case basis as they arise. It is expected that 60% of the staff moving to Newbridge will be in place by the end of 2006 and 90% of them will be in place by the end of 2007.

The offices of the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff operations and deputy chief of staff support will be located in the Department of Defence building in Newbridge. Approximately 40 military personnel will move to Newbridge. As Senator Dardis said, the other elements of the headquarters of the Defence Forces will be located in the Curragh. I refer, for example, to administrative support, communications and transport. Approximately 470 military personnel will be based at the new headquarters of the Defence Forces in the Curragh, the proposed site of which has been selected. Outline drawings of the new headquarters are being prepared by the Office of Public Works. The notification of planning will be issued by the OPW to Kildare County Council when the drawings have been received, in accordance with the Planning and Development Act 2001. In this regard, an initial meeting has already taken place involving the county council, the OPW and the Defence Forces. It is estimated that construction will commence in the third quarter of 2006 and will take approximately 18 months to complete.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply.