Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Army Barracks Closures: Motion
''That Seanad Éireann:
— recognises that Army barracks are an integral part of the local economy in the towns in which they are based;
— affirms and supports the crucial role that soldiers and their families play in the fabric of the local communities where they are stationed;
— acknowledges the consolidation of Army barracks in recent years due to the changed security situation in Northern Ireland and the consequent reinvestment of funds to fully modernise the Defence Forces;
— notes with deep concern reports of the imminent closure of a number of barracks across Ireland such as the Dún Uí Néill Barracks, Cavan, Columb Barracks, Mullingar, Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny and the Military Barracks, Castlebar;
— opposes the closure of Dún Uí Néill Barracks, Cavan, Columb Barracks, Mullingar, Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny, the Military Barracks, Castlebar, and any further Army barracks across the country;
— condemns the Minister for Defence's refusal to rule out the closure of any Army barracks throughout the country, regardless of its integral role in the local area;
— further recognises that towns throughout the country are under immense pressure due to the current economic climate and need to be supported;
— further acknowledges investment into the infrastructure of Army barracks across Ireland in recent years;
— confirms that as a result of previous consolidation and investment no further Army barrack closures are necessary; and
— opposes the gradual closure of further Army barracks through a reduction of personnel numbers stationed in them.''.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe. Will the senior Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, be in attendance? This is an important matter not only for the people of Dún Uí Néill in Cavan, but also for the four other barracks mentioned in the motion. If he will not be present, I would like to know why he is not in the Chamber. I am disappointed that he is not in the Chamber for the beginning of this debate as he regularly attends when he deals with his briefs in the Departments of Justice and Equality and Defence. I would like to see the Minister here before the end of the debate.
The Fianna Fáil Senators tabled this motion to highlight the imminent danger to the future of five Army barracks throughout the country, in Clonmel, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Castlebar and Dún Uí Néill in my home town of Cavan. The personnel based in these barracks and their families, as well as those serving overseas - 22 whom come from the Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan - are in limbo. They do not know what the future holds. The Fianna Fáil defence spokesman in the Dáil, Deputy Dara Calleary, along with Deputies Brendan Smith and Robert Troy, have been attempting to obtain information about proposed Army barracks closures from the Minister since April. I raised this issue on a number of occasions in the Seanad, including during an Adjournment debate on 27 September. The reply from the Minister has been the same reply on every occasion and on 27 September he stated:
As of now, no decision has been made by the Government on the future of Cavan barracks or any other military installation. The issue of the closure of barracks no longer required for operational reasons to effect necessary savings will, however, be considered shortly by Government.
The Army personnel based in these five towns and the communities they serve believe that a decision has been made to close the five barracks. We are asking the Minister to come clean and to tell us what is going on. The alleged logic behind these proposed closures is that they are a fundamental requirement for improving military effectiveness and efficiency and that, overall, the move will save money. No effectiveness or efficiency will be achieved and no savings will be made by closing these barracks. Some €25 million will be lost to the towns' economies. In Cavan, €3 million will be lost to the town and the surrounding villages. Some €30 million must be provided to accommodate the relocation of the troops. In addition, travel and other expenses must be paid to personnel who are forced to move locations as far away as 120 km from their homes. It is important not to forget the human cost of this relocation.
The Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, has been a model of public sector reform and modernisation over the past 15 years. The report by Mr. Colm McCarthy, referred to as the an bord snip nua report, found that the Defence Forces was the only part of the public sector that decreased its numbers during the era of the Celtic tiger. It did much more than this; it invested the savings generated in better equipment, facilities and training. The key to this achievement was the 2000 White Paper on defence produced by the former Minister, Michael Smith. The paper set out a ten year programme of changes and improvements in reforms, including a programme of barracks closures that were implemented in 1998. As a consequence of the modernisation, Irish troops were the match of any others serving on UN mandated peace support operations.
We were able to send over a 1,600 troops per year for most of the past decade to protect and assist some of the most vulnerable people on this planet. We took increasing leadership roles in these missions and supplied particular expertise and logistics in ordnance disposal. We took the command in the UUP support mission in Chad to assist and aid refugees fleeing the terror in Darfur. Troops from every barracks in the country were trained and equipped to the highest standards and serve regular six months to is of duties on overseas missions.
At a time of almost full employment, a life in the Defence Forces was still seen as a good career choice. Recruitment campaigns were oversubscribed. We now have a highly professional and well-equipped defence organisation. While the individual commitment and loyalty is the same, it is smaller, leaner and more efficient than it was 20 years ago.
In 2008, four Border posts - in Monaghan, Longford, Lifford and Letterkenny - were closed and personnel transferred to Dundalk, Cavan, Athlone, Finner and Mullingar. This was achieved under the stewardship of the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea. As he pointed out at the time, closing these barracks was part of the peace dividend but also a consequence of there being sufficient capacity and accommodation in other barracks to receive the additional troops. The Defence Forces have done everything that was asked of them and more. Why then is the Minister, Deputy Shatter, coming back for more? Why is he contemplating barracks closures and further reductions in numbers which will undo the progress made in the last decade? Why is he targeting and victimising the one area of the entire public sector that has been reformed, modernised and downsized? Is it the Minister's intention to reduce the size of our Defence Forces? The barracks closures being considered do not make sense on any level.
When does the Minister propose to transfer the troops? Where does he propose to transfer those stationed in Mullingar, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Cavan and Castlebar? Where is the spare capacity in the remaining barracks? We know from the last round of closures that they are operating close to capacity. To close these barracks and permanently transfer 600 or 700 troops would require a considerable capital investment in additional facilities in Athlone, Finner, Dundalk, Limerick and even Dublin. How does the Minister propose to secure the funding to provide this additional capacity?
Is it the case that the Minister's true intention is not to provide additional facilities, as part of a hidden plan to reduce Army numbers even further? Many of us in this House, and many people in my home county, suspect this is the real agenda. It is not so much a plan for closing barracks as it is a tactic to reduce numbers in the Defence Forces. Has the Department done the figures on the additional facilities and accommodation that will be required? Has it calculated the allowances due to the personnel being transferred? Has the Minister or the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, visited any of the barracks earmarked for closure, or any barracks at all, since their appointment? What is the balance in 2012 and 2013 between the costs involved in shutting down these posts and the economy-of-scale savings that would be made in reduced telephone, fuel costs and so on?
Has the Minister considered the hardship these closures will impose on the families concerned? Is it not the case that these barracks have been identified by the top brass in the military in order to have all their personnel close by, thus making life easier for themselves? Why are the seven barracks in operation in the Curragh being maintained? Why is the number of generals and colonels being increased while the number of ordinary soldiers is reduced? The wages of one Army general would run Dún Uí Neill barracks in Cavan town for 12 months. That facility is the only purpose built military barracks to be constructed since the foundation of the State. It is also the most economical barracks to run, costing only €200,000 per year. Why is it being considered for closure? It makes no sense either on economic or security grounds and would leave the entire Border from Donegal to Dundalk without any military personnel. It is strategically located and vitally important to the security of the State. While the Minister, Deputy Shatter, likes to list the EU, IMF and other abbreviations, I would counter that by pointing to the abbreviations RIRA and CIRA. The latter represent a greater threat to the security of this State than anything represented by the abbreviations the Minister likes to employ whenever he is questioned as to when he will tell us the truth about what is going on.
This issue is of serious concern to my party. It is of serious concern to the communities in the five towns concerned. Sixteen people, comprising members of PDFORRA together with partners and children of some of the 130 personnel serving in Dún Uí Neill barracks in Cavan and the other towns, are in the Visitors Gallery this evening. The limbo they are in is no joke and they demand answers. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, for attending the debate, but I wish to know why the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is absent. Is the issue not serious enough to warrant his presence in the Chamber?
I second the motion and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. This is one of the most important debates that will take place in this House. The way in which the motion is crafted is an indication of the responsibility shown by this side of the House in this matter. We are seeking not to score points but to bring forward the views of those affected and to reflect the emotion this issue inspires. It is regrettable that we are currently in a limbo on this matter. Moreover, this limbo has been ongoing for an exceptionally long period.
Senator Wilson outlined the main issues regarding the five barracks in question. I recently attended a meeting in Clonmel together with my colleague, Senator Denis Landy, and other Oireachtas Members. The hotel in which the meeting took place was full to capacity, with crowds spilling onto the street. What particularly struck me was the tone of the meeting. It was in no way confrontational and there was no partisanship in terms of whether one was on the side of the Government or against it. Senator Landy will testify to that. I have seldom seen, at a meeting of this kind, such unity among the different political parties. There was also unity among the different sections of the community.
Kickham barracks in Clonmel is named for the great Irish patriot, Charles J. Kickham. The barracks is associated with a long tradition in the town which has always been upheld with pride and loyalty. Members of the Defence Forces could not speak at the meeting, but their partners and members of the community spoke about this pride and loyalty and their grievance that it is not being appreciated. This is a case where no economic argument is being put forward. Moreover, I have some doubt about the pressure that is apparently coming from Europe. I am not too clear where it comes into the picture - perhaps the Minister of State will enlighten us in this regard. Although no economic saving will arise from the closure of the barracks, a costing has been put on the loss to Clonmel, and it amounts to €10 million. In reality the loss will be even greater.
Along with the other speakers I welcome the delegation because it shows the interest, emotion and concern this issue generates.
The members of the Defence Forces have brought huge credit to this country. Any time I travelled abroad I found that Ireland has very few enemies abroad internationally. I am sure the Cathaoirleach found that also. There are a number of reasons for that. First, we never colonised any other country. Second, our religious orders did so much to promote education and health care, which is important. One of the main reasons, however, is the peacekeeping carried out by our Defence Forces which often resulted in loss of life. It was not easy for the members of the Defence Forces to go abroad on peacekeeping missions and leave their families behind but it was a major kudo for Ireland wherever one went.
Regardless of the way we handle this issue, unless it is brought quickly to a positive conclusion the message that will go abroad will be that we did not appreciate what the Defence Forces did. They secure this State but whenever we faced challenges or pressures, whether it was flooding, tragedies or whatever, Clonmel being a specific case, it was always the Defence Forces that came out to help the civilian population. Likewise, they came out to help during strikes by providing transport and so on. The Defence Forces are central to the community and if any of the five barracks is closed - I refer to the one in Clonmel but it affects the others - we will end up with a derelict site because if it is expected that this building, Kickham barracks, will attract an offer similar to one that might have been made during the Celtic tiger period, it will not happen. It will be left derelict and will be a reminder to us of the wrong we did in this particular case. Also, the families of the Defence Forces will be exceptionally disrupted having to move elsewhere, with the cost factor involved in that.
Try as we could at that meeting in Clonmel we could not identify a single saving that will occur as a result of this measure. I hope the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will come to Clonmel because a strong point was put forward by several speakers at the meeting that if the Minister, Deputy Shatter, came to Clonmel, and the other four sites, he might go away with a different view. He will not see it merely as a numerical equation. He will see it in a human, service and tradition context. Any saving to be made, and we cannot see it, will be minuscule but the damage it would do to the morale of the Defence Forces and to the towns which hosted those Defence Forces over the years will not be easily remedied in the future. I agree with Senator Wilson and ask that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, would visit each of the towns in question and have consultation, just as he would have in other circumstances, with the people involved and put their minds at ease also.
This measure will be a poor reflection on the man after whom the barracks is named and the patriots who gave us our freedom, and likewise for the other towns. We should not tinker with the Defence Forces and we will not be doing a good day's work if we do so. If the Minister, Deputy Shatter, does not come into the House I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will tell him about the emotion generated over this issue. It is like no other debate that has taken place in this House and we are reflecting that back to the Minister. If no decision has been made let that be known. If a decision has been made, do not implement that decision until such time as there is consultation with all the parties involved. Putting down the motion will have done a great service to everyone involved. It was not to score political points but to do what is right by the State, the Defence Forces and their families, and the towns that have hosted the barracks over the years.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after ''That'' and substitute the following:
— notes that the previous Government recognised the substantial benefits for the Defence Forces of barrack consolidation by implementing two separate programmes involving the closure of ten barracks throughout the country;
— accepts that the estimates for Defence for 2011, decided upon by the previous Government, necessitate a reduction in the strength of the Defence Forces and other substantial economies;
— acknowledges that the previous Government's carelessness and complacency in managing the economy has caused an extremely difficult economic situation and that the reduced resources that are available to the Defence Forces must now be prioritised to ensure their operational capability both at home and overseas is not put at risk;
— accepts that Government must make difficult choices in the national interest and deplores the glaring inconsistency of opposing necessary decisions on barrack consolidation for short-term political advantage;
— supports the Government's comprehensive plans to tackle the economic crisis and notes that these plans are now bearing fruit; and
— accepts that reform and reorganisation of the public service including the effective use of State assets is a key element of these plans."
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, who is more than capable of handling this matter. I have no doubt he will speak for his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, as well. I welcome also Councillor Walsh and the good people of Cavan who are present.
Unfortunately, there is a basic dishonesty in the motion put forward by the Members opposite because of the policies their party in government pursued and the position they handed over to the current Government. Their sheer brass necks take the biscuit. They are shying away from the national interest in their motion.
Our amendment notes their Government's decision to recognise the substantial benefits for the Defence Forces of barrack consolidation by implementing two separate programmes involving the closure of ten barracks throughout the country. It accepts that the Estimates for the Defence Forces for 2011, decided upon by the previous Government, necessitate a reduction in the strength of the Defence Forces and other substantial economies but I understand, and I am sure the Minister of State will elaborate further, that no redundancies are envisaged in any proposal that may emerge. Our amendment acknowledges that the previous Government's carelessness and complacency in managing the economy caused an extremely difficult situation for the country and reduced the resources available to the Defence Forces and because of that the Defence Forces must now be prioritised to ensure their operational capacity both at home and overseas. We cannot afford to put that at risk.
Our Government must make difficult choices in the national interest and we deplore the glaring inconsistency of opposing necessary decisions on barrack consolidation for short-term gain. Our amendment supports the Government's comprehensive plans to tackle the economic crisis and notes that those plans are now bearing fruit. It accepts that reform and reorganisation of the public service, including the effective use of State assets, is a key element of those plans.
The motion is at odds with the policies and decisions the party of the Members opposite took throughout its term in government. They implemented two programmes of barracks closures, closing ten in total. Their White Paper on Defence envisaged consolidation and a smaller number of barracks locations. The programme they laid out is necessary to maximise the effectiveness of the Defence Forces.
I will leave that to the Minister. I will not say what is and is not complete. We are in a very difficult position which we refer to here daily. It is for Government to decide on the effective use of resources and maximising the resources available but there is no sense in maintaining barracks where there is no operational requirement if that is the view of the Government. I understand Senator Wilson is primarily concerned with Cavan and Senator Ó Murchú with Clonmel. Other members are concerned about Mullingar. These seem to be the three places in the news. I know the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter is meeting deputations from these three locations. I do not know what decision may be taken but we must be concerned about the good and practical use of the limited resources available. This is a matter for Government decision.
The White Paper that was handed over by the then Government-----
Sinn Féin had sought to seek to amend the original Fianna Fáil motion to include the closure of Garda stations and to deal with some of the terminology and the loose language, that could be seen to undermine the arguments and fails to reflect the situation in the North.
I deplore the amendment put forward by the Government parties. I take offence to the line which mentions the opposition to these decisions for "short-term political advantage". How dare the Government condemn anyone or any group for standing shoulder to shoulder with their local communities, for representing their friends, colleagues and neighbours, like the people in the Visitors Gallery. I went to school with the families of soldiers. I socialise and play sport with them. The Opposition are not the members playing politics with people's lives under the pretext that it is the final diktat of the troika. The Dáil debate on this issue was dominated by the narrative that Ireland has no choice, which is completely and totally untrue. The Government is free to adjust the terms of the bailout agreement on the condition that the final outcome remains the fiscal adjustment to which the agreement commits Ireland. Was it not the Minister's party that campaigned and was elected on a mandate of "we will renegotiate" and "we will get a better deal"? This amendment is really true to form. It is an abdication of responsibility. At what stage will the Government take responsibility for what it is doing? It looks unlikely that it will take responsibility for budget decisions. It seems to be a Government that promises much, even though it has an overwhelming mandate to deliver change, and delivers little. It offers excuses, as we have seen from Senator Coghlan's exchange with Senator Wilson.
The Government is blaming Fianna Fáil for its failed policies, but that can only get it so far. It cannot pretend to be something different when implementing the policies of the previous Government.
On the question of costs and savings, there is no economic gain to be made by closing barracks. There would be immediate costs involved in transferring and redeploying the troops currently based in the barracks. There is no spare capacity in other locations. Closing the barracks would likely involve building and updating facilities. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe last week stated in the Dáil:
This is purely a parochial game which simultaneously ignores the national requirement. The Government will not continue the Fianna Fáil habit of wasting taxpayers' money. Rather, its aim is to use that money to get the best possible return for the country as a whole.
What does the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin have to say about his comprehensive spending review, when one looks at the cost of paying extra travelling allowances to approximately 600 people for up to nine months; the substantial capital investments that will be needed in other barracks to accommodate those who are dislocated or the substantial security and maintenance bill for the closed sites? That does not sound like savings to me or the best possible return for the country, not least when the reality is that there will be no financial gain from any potential sale of a closed barracks in the present property market. Will the Minister respond to that or tweet me a response?.
In the vicinity of the Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan, the recession in the private sector has left its mark with empty retail sites littered the length of the Dublin Road. Now the Government wants to close the state-of-the-art facility, hitting the area a final knockout blow. As we have already heard, the cost to Cavan town and county is estimated to be €3 million per annum as this money will be taken out of circulation. We have to look at the personal cost to people if these barracks are closed. On foot of the closure of the Monaghan barracks and the earlier closures of Cootehill and Castleblayney barracks, Dun Ui Neill barracks became home to many of those displaced members of the Defence Forces and a further displacement of these soldiers and their families, with all that this entails, is grossly unfair and may force some soldiers to leave. Is the dole queue going to be their only future? What will a serving member who is already in negative equity do? The soldiers bought homes in these towns for record high prices during the boom. Will they and their families be bailed out? These serving soldiers have given service to individuals and their community, struggling to deal with the variety of challenges. The value of the Army's civil support role was not appreciated until very recently when we experienced the severe weather conditions of the last few winters and the Army helped to keep the emergency services in action. What was Deputy Shatter's response last week in the Dáil? He said "...the implication of this motion is that we should conduct the comprehensive review of expenditure on the basis that the taxpayer should continue to invest in something that is not required".
Does that make any sense to anybody? Yes Minister, it is required. It is the responsibility of the Minister to employ dynamic and constructive thinking to ensure their roles are of value to the State. Shutting the barracks is not the answer. The ruse of savings, no alternatives and appeasing the troika will not wash.
Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Molann Sinn Féin leasú ar an rún chun áird a tharraingt ar an gceist a bhaineann le stáisiúin na ngardaí agus ar na cainteanna atá a siúil faoi dhúnadh chuid acu. Although we agree in principle with the motion, we thought it was imperative to draw attention to the fact that there is a danger that the Garda stations in rural areas will be closed down and that up to 200 Garda stations could be pinpointed and the chief superintendents in each region have been asked to look at which stations should be closed down. That is happening in all areas across the county. I know from being at meetings locally in Connemara, that places like Letterfrack, Rosmuc, Carna and so on are being looked at. There is a deep unease about this for different reasons. One of the reasons cited for the possible closure of these Garda stations is the fact there is such a low level of crime. Surely the measure of success of these Garda stations is that there is such a low level of crime in these areas.
Absolutely, we believe the Minister in question is looking at rationalisation across the whole of his Department and it is important to look at the motion in that context. This is being done in the context, as my colleague Senator Kathryn Reilly said,of cutbacks. In a couple of weeks time, the Government will hand over €700 million of taxpayers' money. The people would much prefer that the money be spent on services, such as the barracks and the Garda stations. The GRA said to close down Garda stations would have a profound effect not only on the community but on their members' ability to do their job. I am sure the Army would say exactly the same thing. There is a great fear among the community about the level of policing and the number of Garda. It is such an important service that it needs to be reinvested in. The local Garda station is an imperative in an area, no more than the backup it would get from the Army. We argue that these cuts should not be brought in and the Minister should reconsider. Everything that can be done to keep these essential services like the Garda and the Army in the local community should be done. The time of an economic cutback is not the time to make cuts of these sorts. Our fear of what would happen in rural areas is that if one loses the presence of these essential services, there will be a significant increase in criminal activity. The mere presence of positive community policing, for example, has a much better deterrent effect than not having a service in an area.
Is ar an bhunús sin atá muid ag moladh gur cóir go mbeadh an dá rud seo ceangailte. Go deimhin, oibríonn an dá eagraíocht seo, An Airm agus An Garda Síochána, go dlúth lena chéile. Tá siad ann lenár muintir agus ár bpobal a chosaint agus le déanamh cinnte gur féidir linn bun seirbhísí pobail a chur ar fáil, ar nós seirbhís ó gardaí áitiúla le pas a dheimhniú agus mar sin de. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach go dtabharfar tacaíocht dá leithéíd.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe. I wish to share time with Senator Landy and Senator Heffernan. They will have two minutes each. I will also give two minutes to the Opposition Members, so they can explain why Lifford barracks-----
If I had the time, I would get them to explain to the people of Cavan, some of whom are in the Gallery, why the Army barracks in Lifford was closed. I lived beside that barracks for eight years. They could also explain why the barracks in Letterkenny was closed and why the then Minister, Deputy Willie O'Dea, refused to come to Donegal to negotiate with or speak to any member of the Army or members of the public in Donegal. When I was a member of Donegal County Council every councillor opposed the closure of Lifford and Letterkenny barracks, but Deputy Willie O'Dea would not even acknowledge the invitation of Deputy Dinny McGinley to the county and he was thrown out of the House.
I am anxious to have an explanation of why Lifford and Letterkenny barracks were closed. They were integral parts of their communities for a long time but they are now derelict. Perhaps Senator Wilson will explain that.
Second, I wish to remind Sinn Féin of something. I was living with my family next door to Lifford Army barracks in 1985 when the IRA set off a bomb in the street. It blew in my windows and most of the windows in the Army barracks. Sinn Féin would not condemn the incident. The glass blew into the house and almost hit my baby. Sinn Féin now has the gall, and the people of Cavan should realise this, to say it wants the Army barracks kept open. It tried to blow up the barracks in Lifford. I was young and had a young family and the IRA set off a bomb beside the bridge in Lifford on a lovely summer morning in 1985. The Senator is too young to remember, which is a pity because I remember it as if it happened yesterday. My spouse remembers it as well. A lovely morning was destroyed by people who are the Senator's friends.
The Senator need not deny them or try to deny them. Do not come into this House to say that the Army barracks throughout the country should be kept open when your organisation spent 25 or 30 years attempting to blow them up and close them down. Do not fool the people of Cavan or try to fool us that the IRA wants to keep Army barracks open. The IRA wanted to close them.
The military wing of Sinn Féin almost blew up the Army barracks in Lifford. I lived next door to the barracks and I remember it well. It is a pity the Senator is not my age, because she would have a different attitude towards her former colleagues, as I have.
I welcome the Minister of State. I listened with interest to the contributions from Opposition Members. They were difficult to swallow at times. In 1998, Castleblayney military post, Clancy Barracks in Dublin, Devoy Barracks in Naas, Fitzgerald Camp in Fermoy, Magee Barracks in Kildare and Murphy Barracks in Ballincollig were closed. Ten years later, in 2008, Rockhill House in Letterkenny, Lifford military post, Connolly Barracks in Longford and Monaghan military post were closed. Ten barracks have been closed since 1998 under Fianna Fáil's watch.
Magee Barracks was a 200-soldier garrison in the heart of Kildare town. The barracks was closed by the then Minister for Defence, former Deputy Michael Smith, along with five others. This was at the height of the boom. The closure has cost more in security and maintenance than any saving that was made. It is now no longer an outpost for soldiers but a haven for anti-social behaviour, drinking, drug taking and arson. A huge opportunity was lost by that Government to provide housing, community facilities, a school, playground and so forth in the centre of Kildare town. I did not hear any of the Fianna Fáil representatives making a case for Magee Barracks or any of the others at the time. Yet here we are this evening debating this motion in Private Members' time, with Fianna Fáil Members shedding crocodile tears before any decision has been made. Who are they trying to fool with these antics? Then we hear the Sinn Féin Members empathising with soldiers and gardaí. Come on, lads.
This appears to be a shift in tactics on the part of the Opposition, particularly Fianna Fáil. A few weeks ago I noticed two Fianna Fáil Deputies marching shoulder to shoulder with the accident and emergency nurses in Limerick. Those two Deputies had done nothing in six years to help alleviate the problem there. There they were, however, as bold as brass as they marched up and down the road with the nurses. This motion and that type of behaviour are just not credible. I certainly will not support the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. I served with his uncle Tony, a former councillor in Carrick-on-Suir, for many years. I also welcome the group in the Gallery representing the Army spouses, particularly Councillor Patricia Walsh, who is a good friend of mine. She is married to a Carrick-on-Suir man, who is also a very good friend. She took a good name with her to Cavan.
I will speak about Clonmel Barracks. I am probably unique in this House in that I served in Clonmel Barracks. I was a member of the FCA for a number of years and was seconded to the Army for a short period in 1979 to 1980 when the barracks was depleted of many personnel due to the mission in Lebanon. I have an innate knowledge of how the barracks in Clonmel works, and today we have the opportunity to discuss this. I assure the people in the Gallery and Members of the Opposition that the horse has not yet bolted from the stable. This issue is only at discussion level and no decision has been made. I am here to prove to the Minister that this would not be a good decision. I will support the Government's amendment, on the basis that it will prolong the discussion on this matter.
At 12.30 p.m. tomorrow, I will be part of a deputation from Clonmel that will meet with the Minister to discuss this issue. The Minister has allocated an hour and a half for the meeting. We have a very strong case. I am aware that deputations from Cavan and Mullingar are also arriving here tomorrow. We intend to convince the Minister that this would not be a good move. I will deal with some of the cost issues. The projected cost savings are approximately €1.1 million or between €200,000 and €300,000 per barracks. This is being examined in a comprehensive spending review. It will have to be a critical and robust analysis on a cost-benefit basis; it cannot be done in any other way. It will have to be subject to objective analysis when it is completed. If it is proven that it would not save money, the idea should be consigned to the dustbin.
Senator Reilly mentioned the cost of travelling from Clonmel to Limerick. I do not know whether the Senator meant that soldiers should not get the payment but they are entitled to receive it for nine months. The cost of that will be between €200,000 and €250,000 for the nine months. The cost of securing the barracks in Clonmel will be between €150,000 and €200,000.
I ask the Chair for some latitude as I wish to make some further points. The cost of providing extra accommodation in the barracks in Limerick for personnel who will move to Limerick could be approximately €3 million. I refer to the cost associated with those who will leave the Army. Some will not be entitled to full pensions because they do not have the required service and they will have to claim social welfare payments because there are no jobs for them. This could cost up to €500,000 per annum and all of this will be done to make a saving of €250,000 in Clonmel. The figures do not add up. I disagree with the figure put forward by Senator Wilson regarding the cost to the local economy because we have scoped it and it will be agreed by the chamber of commerce locally. It will be approximately €5 million and it will be a massive loss to the economy of Clonmel and south Tipperary. When the spending review is completed, the Minister will not close the barracks.
I agree with Senator Wilson that the Minister has gone to the top brass and asked them to find savings. The easiest thing to do is close the four barracks. All the top brass are based in the Curragh and they do not particularly care about other sites.
Sinn Féin is saying the Government will pay out €700 million in two weeks as a result of the bailout. Amnesia has returned to the Chamber. I remind Sinn Féin Members that their party voted in favour of the bailout.
Do not come to the House paying platitudes to those in the Visitors' Gallery who are distressed and concerned about this issue. There is money there because Sinn Féin voted for it. Its members should be honest with people; I have been honest with people.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I hope he will convey the issues raised by myself and other Senators to the Minister for Justice and Equality. He is capable of giving us answers when he replies and I would like him to be given due respect.
I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Defence who is unable to be present but he has addressed the issue on a number of occasions, including in the Lower House a few weeks ago. I am aware that he will meet Senator Landy and others and he is giving his time generously to meet delegations from the areas that people think are affected. I assure the House that no decision has been made on this issue.
When I read the motion, I could not help but reflect that the resilience of Fianna Fáil is a wonder to behold. The party's historic defeat in the recent general election would have caused lesser mortals to pause and reflect. Its members still trudge blindly down the well worn path of trying to be all things to all men and that is what has them where they are today.
It simply has not registered with them that the electorate saw through their bluff last February and comprehensively rejected the outmoded form of politics in which they engaged. People want the truth, not bluster; they want effective action, not platitudes.
The motion is completely at odds with the policy pursued by Fianna Fáil in government; it is mischievous and it is scare mongering of the worst type. It does nothing to help the Defence Forces and causes unnecessary worry to members of the force and their families. When in government, the party implemented two programmes of barrack closures and it closed ten barracks in all. I have no hesitation in giving Fianna Fáil credit for this; it was one of the few good decisions it made. What is the difference now, apart from the fact that the Government is facing the worst possible financial mess, inherited from the Fianna Fáil Government led by former Deputies Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen?
To put the motion in perspective, let us consider Fianna Fáil's contrasting approach when in government. In July 1998, the then Government announced the closure of six barracks, which I will list in case Senator Wilson has forgotten: Ballincollig and Fermoy Barracks, County Cork; Devoy and Magee Barracks, County Kildare; Castleblayney Barracks, County Monaghan; and Clancy Barracks, Dublin. This resulted in the relocation of 880 personnel. In the context of the 2009 budget, the then Government also announced the closure of four barracks: Monaghan, Lifford, Longford and Rockhill House, Letterkenny. When I debate issues in the Lower House, I always wonder whether the people opposite are suffering from magnesia in some way.
If I was them, I would go away and think about this. Have they forgotten what happened when they were in government not so long ago?
Fianna Fáil closed four barracks, which is only two years ago.
The closure of barracks in 2009 resulted in the relocation of 595 personnel. St. Bricin's Hospital in Dublin was also closed by a Fianna Fáil Government. The closure of the four barracks has been achieved and the consolidation of St. Bricin's is linked to the provision of modern medical facilities within the existing departmental property portfolio and will take time to implement. While the closure of the barracks and the sale of the properties has provided funding for investment, it was never the sole driving factor for the consolidation of defence infrastructure. The primary driver for the re-organisation of barracks and personnel redeployment is the efficient and effective delivery of military capabilities.
Since 1998, a total of €84.98 million has been realised from the disposal of six of the barracks that have been closed. Agreement in principle has been reached to dispose of two more of these. Notwithstanding the extremely depressed state of the property market, it appears that the round of barrack closures effected by Fianna Fáil in 2009 will ultimately yield less than €5 million. The consolidation of barracks into a smaller number of locations was a key objective of the previous Government's White Paper on Defence and it was recommended in many reports. It remains a key objective of the ongoing defence modernisation programme to maximise the effectiveness of the Defence Forces.
There are few opportunities to trim down spending on the Defence Forces without impacting on front-line delivery of services. It is self-evident that concentrating personnel in fewer locations provides the potential to protect essential collective training and to reduce unnecessary overheads in terms of barrack management, administration, maintenance and security. It also affords the Minister for Defence the possibility of maintaining the Defence Forces at their current level of approximately 9,500. That is a priority for this Government and the Minister has put this on the record on numerous occasions. It is his responsibility to ensure that taxpayer resources allocated to his Department are used in the most efficient way and, similarly, that the assets at our disposal are not wasted. Does Fianna Fáil understand the phrase "not wasted"? The party was well used to wasting money in government. Whatever Fianna Fáil might say, we are discussing the use of limited resources effectively and productively to ensure we get the best return for the taxpayer. Fianna Fáil never thought of the taxpayer or workers going to their jobs day in, day out who spent their money wisely. It was happy enough to be flaithiúlach with their money over a long number of years.
Given our grim financial state thanks to the failure of Fianna Fail to capitalise on the gains made during the Celtic tiger years, the Government is faced with making many hard and tough decisions across the public sector. The Department of Defence is no different in this regard. We have been forced into a position of making hard and difficult decisions and we cannot stand still. We have to make the hard decisions sooner rather than later if we are to get out of the current economic climate. No decision has yet been made, as the Minister has indicated clearly on numerous occasions.
The Government will not shy away from its responsibilities in this regard no matter how difficult the decisions that must be made. There is no logic in maintaining barracks where there is no operational requirement for them in the first place. For Fianna Fáil to try to argue otherwise is not the way to put the point across and it is being downright dishonest to the House and to the people in the Visitors Gallery. It is typical of Fianna Fáil carry on. It avoids the hard decisions but then again Fianna Fáil is a past master at that. It is simply putting the parochial interest before the national interest and that has always been the hallmark of a Fianna Fáil Government. It is the same in opposition; it puts the parochial interest before the national interest. That is what got this country into the position it is in today. It put parochialism before the country and our national flag. I do not believe it ever thought of the national flag and the sovereignty of our country.
This is very difficult to deal with. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, did not have the guts to come into this House to read this scurrilous speech which he obviously wrote and which he handed to his junior Minister to deliver. He is doing a very good job at-----
-----Ministers of State came to deliver speeches on behalf of senior Ministers. The Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party would have treated them courteously, honourably and with some integrity and manners.
-----to come to the House but the Senator does not have the manners and the integrity of other Members of the Seanad. It is unfortunate that the Senator must behave in this way and that he cannot accept the reality in regard to the way his party left this country over the past number of years.
Let me continue. I just finished on the way Fianna Fáil looked after the parochial interest rather than the national interest. That has always been the hallmark of a Fianna Fáil Government. We must tidy up the mess left behind. We must look after the policies for and the politics in this country.
It is unbelievable that Sinn Féin would come into the House to talk about Army barracks and Garda stations when a number of them tried to blow them up.
I appreciate Senator Reilly was only born in the 1980s but she should read the history of Sinn Féin, when it was founded and the activities its founding members got up to.
Some of the Members actually spoke about it. I ask Senator Reilly to read the history books and educate herself. I am very proud of Fine Gael's past. I have no doubt the Labour Party is very proud of its past. If I was a member of Sinn Féin I would not be too proud of its past. I ask Senator Reilly to read the history books.
I have no problem taking on board Senator Wilson's arguments and those of other Members on his side of the House. I addressed the PDFORRA conference in Athlone recently and I met members from Cavan, Mullingar and Clonmel. I took their concerns on board and I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will take everybody's concerns on board tomorrow.
I will finish with a short anecdote. When Bill Clinton was asked how he won the US presidential election, he just said "It's the economy, stupid". Members should bear in mind that we must look after the economy and our children's future. It is unfortunate that we are in a position where must make hard decisions but we will do so in order to restore our economic sovereignty and be independent again.
I welcome the Minister of State, although I would not necessarily welcome his speech. As far as this issue is concerned, these are additional barracks which it is proposed to close. I will give an example of what the Dún Uí Néill barracks means to people in Cavan. The former Minister for Defence, the late John Wilson, uncle of our esteemed whip, Senator Wilson, brought the proposal to build it in 1987 during a very difficult recession. The Taoiseach commended him on looking after his constituency. The proposal was approved by the Cabinet and it has been a major benefit to the development of Cavan since that date. A large number of officers and men use that barracks because it is so strategic as far as the Border is concerned, and Senator Wilson outlined that in his speech. This barracks in the Border area is vitally important.
We have suffered a bad fallout from the closure of the Longford barracks. The former Deputy, Peter Kelly, fought as best he could to retain that barracks in Longford. It was very disappointing for him when the decision to close that barracks was made and it was detrimental to his electoral chances.
I am nominated to this House by PDFORRA and RACO, as are other Members. I have a mandate to speak on behalf of those organisations in regard to issues which come before this House.
It is a no-go area for a Fine Gael and a Labour Party candidate. We have suffered immensely under this Government. We held on to that department despite all the financial difficulties.
I have been informed that the savings to the State here are minimal but the benefits to the areas involved are immense. Let us be logical. Unfortunately, too regularly, we hear announcements by private organisations about jobs cuts. The Minister might say we will not lose any jobs here but if one moves the troops from Cavan, Dundalk, Athlone, Clonmel or elsewhere, the cost to the families is immense. One breaks up the community in those areas. Families are settled and their children attend schools within certain hours. People work at home when officers or members of PDFORRA return home. They are part of the community. It is damaging for the area to remove such people from barracks.
I appeal to the Government to desist from the closure of Dún Uí Néill Barracks in Cavan, the Columb Barracks in Mullingar, Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, Stephen's Barracks in Kilkenny and the military barracks in Castlebar. I presume the military barracks in Castlebar will not close and will be protected by the Taoiseach.
My time has gone very quickly. I need some extra time for the number of interruptions.
We appreciate the difficulties in the country. We had to face them. We took decisions in the national interest, not that of Fianna Fáil. If we had we would have gone to the country in September 2010 and allowed Fine Gael to take on the task of introducing a budget. It is implementing a budget we introduced last year but this decision is ill-advised. The Government should desist from these closures, bearing in mind the impact they will have on communities. It is not the time for closures when no alternative jobs are being created in rural areas. We need jobs.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House. I ask him to bear in mind our request in this regard. We closed some barracks but at the time those decisions were made there were no plans to close other barracks. I ask that they be retained.
-----and people in the areas which may be affected. I acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by the Defence Forces on a daily basis. They have stood by the State through turbulent times when subversives and terrorists threatened the very institutions of the State. Their work on peacekeeping duties continues to be an example for all peacekeeping forces in the UN.
The Defence Forces have undergone significant changes in the past ten years. They have probably witnessed more rationalisation than any other group in the public service. The wage cuts which all public servants have endured hit the Defence Forces particularly badly. Many families in the Defence Forces are in receipt of family income supplement and hurting very badly. Uprooting families will, as has happened over the past number of years, be traumatic for them. There have been ten barracks closures, as outlined by Members, since 1998. As everybody knows, previous Governments led by Fianna Fáil destroyed the public finances and led our country practically into receivership. As a result we have had to undertake a searching reappraisal of every aspect of public expenditure.
The legacy we have inherited is so dreadful that no area of expenditure can be excluded from the review. I regret that the Defence Forces are not exempt from the review. There are few opportunities to trim defence spending without impacting on front line delivery. The potential to protect essential collective training and reduce unnecessary overheads, such as barrack management, administration, maintenance and security, is something that will have to be examined. It affords the Minister the possibility of maintaining the Defence Forces at their current level of approximately 9,500.
We are told the primary driver of barrack reorganisation and redeployment is the efficient and effective delivery of military capabilities. The Defence Forces are now at the lowest level since the 1970s. This is a result of the previous Government's proposals and actions over the past ten to 12 years. It is very hard to understand how people from Fianna Fáil can come into the House and condemn barrack closures, which we believe are pending, after it closed 12 barracks. The top brass and senior personnel in the Defence Forces are leading the change for operational purposes. I would like that position to be changed. I hope the Minister will listen to the various suggestions on where barracks may close, but in view of the facts I have outlined I am not very hopeful.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit mar is tábhachtach an díospóireacht í seo.
This debate comes at a time when many families across Ireland are worried about the approaching budget and the additional charges and taxes it will undoubtedly bring to their lives. It is a cruel twist that we have the budget in the weeks before Christmas, a time when the burden of expectation weighs heavily on families across the country, extra bills and costs flood in and purse strings are stretched to the maximum.
For families of Defence Force staff this year there is an extra challenge. Not only do they have to adjust to the reductions in pay which all State employees have had to endure but they have the unwelcome uncertainty around whether they will have to relocate in the coming year. The prospect of renewed and further barrack closures must weigh heavily on them, in particular on people based in towns such as Mullingar, Cavan, Clonmel, Kilkenny and Castlebar.
In the decision that will be made it should be remembered that the families of serving personnel suffer the most significant disruption and impact on their lives when they are forced to relocate. They will have to sell houses which, in the collapsed market, will impose significant losses on many people. There will be difficulties in securing school places elsewhere. They will be leaving support networks of friends and relatives behind, as others have said.
Many of the people we are discussing in the abstract have laid down roots in the communities where their loved ones have been posted. They have made long-term decisions based on the future. They have made commitments which the decision to close a post will cancel. The families of our serving personnel should be kept to the fore in the Government's consideration of the issue.
A critical issue in the discussion we are having is balanced regional development. Some years ago a previous Administration introduced, with a fanfare of publicity and flurry of expectation, a report that was to set the course of future investment in services and infrastructure in Ireland. I refer to the national spatial strategy.
There is no shortage of expensive reports gathering dust on the shelves of the Oireachtas Library but the national spatial strategy is perhaps the most intriguing. It proposed to move from what had been a legacy of rather disjointed developments during the Celtic tiger years to charting new paths for balanced regional investment and infrastructure. Unfortunately, I understand the strategy has been killed off and is to be found in the Natural History Museum rather than the Oireachtas Library, stuffed and mounted in a glass case.
I raise the issue of the national spatial strategy in the context of this debate to illustrate a broader point about the critical importance of supporting large gateway towns that act as service and commercial hubs for hinterland regions. The decision to close Army barracks in the towns mentioned flies in the face of any commitment to balanced regional development. Mullingar is home to Columb barracks and traditionally the artillery corps of the Defence Forces. It is a thriving town with a population of over 18,000, historically a busy market centre, a key town in County Westmeath and for the region generally, and a gateway town earmarked for investment and infrastructural expansion. The barracks is the base for 200 troops and support staff and the income generated from pay, pensions and ancillary purchases is worth €10 million to the local economy. The nearest sizeable private sector employer was the US multinational financial services firm Capmark, which had a financial shared services centre employing 250 in Mullingar until it halved its staff in July 2008 as the recession took hold, with 50 staff taking voluntary redundancy. The final jobs left from the company in October 2010, with 50 local call centre jobs moving 35 miles up the N4 to Maynooth because suitable office space could not be found in Mullingar. We are left with a town that has been damaged by the recession and associated job losses.
There is little we can do to prevent a multinational from shutting up shop and axing jobs but the public sector and the Defence Forces are firmly within the Government's control. The closure of Mullingar barracks will not occasion the redundancy of the 200 personnel based there; they would be moved to another location. On that basis, why is the Government determined to contribute to the decline of towns like Mullingar, which have been singled out as the very towns we should support to attain balanced regional development? Apart from the immediate costs in transferring and redeploying people, can the Minister confirm where the spare capacity in other barracks is to be found?
In January 2008, the Defence Forces strategic planning office prepared a discussion paper on possible options for barrack closures. The paper followed the earlier conclusions of a working group established in 2004 to review the Department of Defence's existing property portfolio. A key rationale advanced for the closure of various military establishments, leaving aside the changed security situation on the Border, was the windfall that could be obtained from selling barracks that were invariably located in town centres and prime development sites. This rationale no longer stands considering the current property market. It is foolhardy indeed to contemplate closing military barracks as there is no market for these properties to be disposed of.
There is a danger these towns will be left with the physical legacy of a large, empty building that the taxpayer must pay to keep secure. The Government can act to stop the decline of these regional towns that have seen so many job losses as the small and medium business sector has contracted, by choosing to prioritise investment, not just from multinationals through the IDA, but using its own discretion to retain the Defence Forces.
The Government states in its self-congratulatory amendment that the plans to tackle the economic crisis are now bearing fruit. The fruit is still rather sour. In situations where we can control what we prioritise, balanced regional development must be maintained as a priority. The Minister has the power to shield areas from adverse economic impact through the retention of jobs and services where there is no sound economic case for their refusal. That is not even to mention the strong social impacts of closing barracks, the historical connections between towns and their barracks and the supports to youth, the elderly and volunteerism in the area in which the Defence Forces are so intimately involved. In Mullingar, the troops raised €30,000 for the stroke unit in the local hospital.
At family, community and economic and regional development level, there is a case for the Government to reconsider its approach.
I did not intend to contribute to this debate but I feel compelled to do so when I hear the arguments from the other side of the House and the language that has been used. It is terrible to hear Fianna Fáil Senators speaking about our soldiers as if they were economic units, how much they spend locally and how much they are worth to the economy. Is that all the Defence Forces are to Fianna Fáil? It is a dreadful and disrespectful way to speak about the Defence Forces, Irishmen and Irishwomen who are proud to wear the uniform of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the real Óglaigh na hÉireann that is.
The language used by Fianna Fáil betrays something else, their real motives perhaps. It has nothing to do with barrack closures. These decent people were brought down here to be codded by Fianna Fáil and to pretend this is about barrack closures. It is not, it is about political point scoring and that is all. It is obvious that Fianna Fáil is whipping up fear among ordinary decent people for political point scoring.
To hear Sinn Féin Senators talking about it, as they profess to be concerned about the welfare of our Defence Forces, is nothing short of the meanest hypocrisy and the worst type of dishonesty. All I need to do is mention Private Kelly's name and then say no more.
The Minister said no decision has been made about this. I am inclined to believe that although the Leader has said things look ominous. I remind Fianna Fáil, however, that if the decision is made to close the barracks, it is Fianna Fáil's fault.
I support this motion. It was well presented by Senator Wilson. It is important to note there was some pruning done in the past of barracks and like any fruit tree, it was important some pruning was done; it was appropriate and acceptable. This further attempt to close several barracks, however, will kill the fruit tree. It is a slash and grab effort and it is deplorable because it was not too long ago when some of the Members now in the other House who were on this side of the Seanad fiercely condemned the closure of certain barracks.
About four months ago, the Minister for Defence came to the House on the defence Bill that dealt with the appointment of a military judge, an issue about which I had a particular view. At that stage he indicated that it was an urgent matter and there was a backlog of courts martial and hearings in the military court and a judge had to be appointed. We are still waiting for that appointment to be made.
The appointment of a military court judge could be well dealt with by the secondment of a Circuit Court judge for two or three weeks. Many of the cases are technical and could be dealt with in that timeframe by a Circuit Court judge on secondment. The legislation to deal with the appointment of a military judge would cost €350,000 per annum. Any of these barracks could be kept open for that amount.
If the barracks are closed, the saving to the Exchequer is negligible. It is not cost-effective to do this and it serves no purpose. We talk about supporting the Defence Forces but no other party in this House has a greater respect and affinity with the Defence Forces since the foundation of the State than Fianna Fáil. I do not want to go into historical episodes where a certain party had a great distrust of Óglaigh na hÉireann. I was proud to serve for many years in my young days in the LDF as a support for the Army at the time and I was glad to play my little part.
The Government is trying to convey the idea that the closures will bring about huge savings and are necessitated by the economic crisis. Certain events happened. Some were of an international nature and outside the control of the previous Government or anyone else. The medicine prescribed by the outgoing Government in its last budget is the same as that being applied by the current Government. We should not be lectured as to where things did or did not go wrong.
The proposal to close these barracks is short-sighted. The Government is being penny wise and pound foolish. Savings over the next five or seven years will be so negligible that this decision will come back to haunt the Government. The attempt to close barracks, whether Dún Uí Néill in Cavan, Columb Barracks in Mullingar or Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny, and to dress the closures up like a wolf in lamb's clothing will not go down well with the public, or with the people of Cavan, Mullingar or Kilkenny.
I am glad to lend my support to this motion. I believe the Minister for Defence is disingenuous, as he has been in the past. The issue of the appointment of a military judge was another red herring. We are going down a dangerous and unnecessary road. I ask Senators on the Government side to vote for the motion and save embarrassment.
I speak in support the motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil group. I listened to the responses of Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Paul Keogh. Some of his responses to the debate were disgraceful. He did not speak to the motion or appear to understand what we are about this evening. We simply ask the Government to clarify its position regarding the Army barracks. This issue is being played out in the media through leaks, rumour and innuendo.
The Government has the audacity to table an amendment to a well thought out motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil group. The amendment refers to the previous Government's "carelessness and complacency in managing the economy". The Government will be able to get away with this line of argument for only so long. Fine Gael and Labour now form the Government. They stood for election on a programme for Government and pre-election promises most of which are already broken.
Today's job losses in Aviva point to the failure of the Government's jobs initiative. Fianna Fáil is proposing something the Government can do to keep jobs in major towns by confirming that the barracks will not close. The 700 men and women of our Defence Forces who are stationed in these barracks do an excellent job for the country at home and abroad. The Leader acknowledged this in his contribution, and none of us has any doubt about that, but words mean nothing and deeds mean everything. The Government can respond to the motion tabled by Fianna Fáil by confirming that it will not close the barracks in Mullingar, Clonmel and Cavan. The Government will not do that.
I have met the Troika. The Government hides behind the excuse that the country has lost its economic sovereignty. That is rubbish. The Government is charged by the people with governing the country.
The Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, said in Mullingar that this would be a red line issue. I welcome the fact that he said that. The rebuff of Mr. Gay Mitchell, MEP, to Deputy Penrose was insulting to the Minister of State and to the people of Mullingar.
If Government Senators respect the armed forces and the work they do, they will support the motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil group.
If they respected the Defence Forces they would certainly not have tabled an amendment such as that tabled by them this evening, which is purely arrogant. Arrogance is already beginning to show in the Administration. We heard the great 100 days pronouncements of "no income tax increases and no social welfare cuts". We have already had social welfare cuts. Fuel allowances to thousands of elderly people have been cut.
Government Senators have the audacity to table such an amendment and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach had the audacity to give such a response.
I am not easily insulted. This is an insult to the members of the Defence Forces. If Government Senators put their money where they mouths are they will accept the motion tabled by Fianna Fáil. The Government should, at the very least, clarify its position and tell the truth.
For the past eight weeks in the House, Members have raised the issue of the Defence Forces and of impending job losses in Aviva. I asked if the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation had met Aviva employees or been in contact with them and what he was doing to save jobs.
I am trying to understand why the Government is proposing to close the only military barracks built by the State and which is the most modern facility in Europe. No economic impact assessment has been done to determine what savings the closures will achieve. It is a simple case of needing to close three barracks and choosing the three that will go quietly. Deputy Penrose is putting up a valiant fight for the barracks in Mullingar. Senators and Deputies of the Government parties who come from Cavan or Tipperary do not seem to be so vocal.
I will not block their speaking. They will have plenty of opportunities to speak. The result of the vote will be the most interesting aspect of this debate. The Government Chief Whip is dealing with this matter on behalf of the Minister who could not come here as he is busy, given that he has two portfolios. The Minister cannot address PDFORRA and cannot come into the House to tell us what the Government is going to do. Members opposite do not know either what the Government is going to do. Most of the Cabinet Members also do not know what Government proposes to do.
It is a fait accompli that the barracks in Cavan will be closed. As I understand it, there is no economic benefit in this regard. The cost of closing the barracks will be equivalent to its remaining open. As I stated, the Minister, Deputy Penrose, is at least making a great stand for Mullingar barracks. I commend his efforts in that regard. However, others are notable in their silence, except in their speeches in this House. I am sure they attend public meetings in their constituencies. Fine words on the closure of these barracks and the impact of this on people's families are no good to the people in Clonmel, Cavan or Mullingar. It is the result of the vote that will matter.
The Government amendment states: ".....accepts that reform and reorganisation of the public service, including the effective use of State assets, is a key element of these plans". We all know that there is no hope of any assets being realised or of any money being earned by the State from the sale of these assets in the current economic climate. It is hard to imagine a modern military purpose-built barracks securing much funding on the open market. There may be some that would find use it, such as the Americans. Perhaps the Government, which wants us to rejoin the Commonwealth, might sell it to the British Army.
I would like to but it would be insulting to ignore Senator Gilroy. I would rather the Senator speak up when insulting me. I can then rebut what he has to say. I was making the point that the Government might perhaps like to give the barracks in Cavan to the parachute regiment and we would rejoin the Commonwealth. Some of its members wanted us to get rid of the national anthem. I believe some of them are currently on the opposite side of the House. It is an issue that was discussed last night on-----
I thank colleagues on all sides for their contributions. I regret the Minister of State made a scurrilous contribution to this debate and did not take seriously the amendment put down in good faith by my party and out of genuine concern for the 700 members of the Army and their families. I regret the issue was not taken seriously by the Minister of State. I regret also that the Minister was not here for the debate on this important issue. I would like at this point to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House. The security of the State is at risk as a result of the proposals which the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, proposes to make to Cabinet.
With the indulgence of the House, I would like to put the following on the record of the House. During the past couple of days I obtained a security report which states that in the last eight months or so the PSNI has had to deal with up to ten devices, all viable and not elaborate hoaxes, left on the northern side of the Border. This occurred in the Rosslea-Newtownbutler area. Also, a number of devices were recently dealt with in Wattle Bridge. A jeep, used to transport one of these devices, ended up in Castle Sanderson forest, which straddles the Border with Fermanagh and Cavan. This incident took place within seven miles of Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan town, one of the barracks which it is proposed to close. I also have before me a document outlining dissident Republican activity in 2010 and up to 13 October 2011. It details serious subversive activity, Loyalist and Republican------
I am disappointed that the Minister of State did not take this debate seriously. He simply went into a rant about the EU and IMF, the usual rant from all Government Ministers to try to justify unpopular decisions.
To those colleagues opposite who may not realise it, I say, "You are in Government now and you have to make decisions". Make the decisions and take the responsibility for making them and stop hiding behind the EU and IMF.
As pointed out by a number of speakers on this side, it is up to the Government to decide where savings are to be made. While I accept that savings must be made within the Department of Defence, taking this out on 700 soldiers and their families is not the way to go about it. The document I have before me details the wages of the top rank and file of the armed forces. Most of the people that are deciding the future of the soldiers in the five barracks referred to in Fianna Fáil's motion are on average salaries of €150,000 per annum, basic. This does not take into account the various plethora of allowances that goes with their cosy positions.
These people are insulated in one of seven barracks in the Curragh. These are the people who are making the balls for the Minister to throw. Will the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, as a sensible and reasonable businessman point out to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, that no savings will be made by closing these barracks? On the contrary, it will costs tens of millions of euro to close them, not to mention the human cost for 700 Army personnel and their families.
Senator Gilroy, a man for whom I have the highest respect, claimed we were making a political issue of this.
On the contrary, we are not. Closures of several barracks by the previous Fianna Fáil Government saved €4 million. What savings will be made in these further closures? That is why no figures have been produced.
Senator Gilroy and his party colleagues should check the debates in this and the Lower House when the previous Fianna Fáil Government had to close ten barracks. What was said this evening by Fianna Fáil, the Independent and Sinn Féin Members is mild to what was said back then by the Opposition which is now in Government.
Fianna Fáil is a responsible party. I am raising this matter on behalf of those Army personnel in my county who will be affected by these closures and the other 600 personnel in the four other locations. This is a serious matter for these personnel. It is also serious for the security of the State.
I am glad Senator Paul Coghlan has come back into the Chamber.
He, as well as Senator Landy, claimed there would be no redundancies. There may be no redundancies on paper. The reality, however, is some of the personnel in question will have to resign or retire early without full pensions because they will not be able to afford to commute 120 km every day.
Will the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, bring the message back to the Government from this Chamber this evening that these barracks are essential to the security of the State and that it makes no economic sense to close them?
I commend the motion to the House.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 32 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 16 (Thomas Byrne, John Crown, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared carried.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 32 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 16 (Thomas Byrne, John Crown, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.