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Topical Issues Debate

Dáil Éireann 14 June 2012

The future of Custume Barracks, Athlone, County Westmeath

In light of the increasing uncertainty over the future of Custume Barracks, Athlone retaining HQ Status of the Western Brigade I call on the Minister for Defence Alan Shatter to put on the record of the house his and the Governments commitment to Custume Barraks Athlone and to clear up any uncertainty that presently exists.
- DEPUTY James Bannon - DEPUTY Robert Troy


Minister Shatter regrets that he is unable to take this Topical Issue as he is officiating at a Citizenship Ceremony this afternoon. As the Deputies are aware, arising from the Government’s Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) was reduced to 9,500 personnel. In response to this reduced strength ceiling, the Minister initiated a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve. This re-organisation will encompass a reduction in the number of Army Brigades from the current three to two.

A three Brigade structure was originally introduced during the 1990’s when the strength ceiling of the PDF was revised to approximately 11,500 personnel. It was retained when the strength ceiling of the PDF was reduced to 10,500 as part of the White Paper on Defence (2000). However, it is no longer viable to retain a three Brigade Structure within a revised PDF strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel.

The priority is on maintaining the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force to the greatest extent possible, within the reduced strength ceiling. This will be achieved through rationalising administrative and support functions and rebalancing force elements. The re-organisation builds upon and complements the efficiencies arising from recent barrack closures and as the Minister has repeatedly stated, no further barracks closures are required. There will, of course, be movement of functions and personnel within and between barracks, as provided for in the Croke Park Agreement.

The Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the Chief of Staff are identifying approaches to reducing the number of Army Brigades from the current three to two. The Minister has received an agreed interim report from the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff and it has been his stated preference to await the submission of final proposals before making any announcements. Unfortunately, there is an ongoing campaign of misleading speculation about Custume Barracks, Athlone raising unnecessary concerns locally about the barracks and going so far as to suggest that the removal of the Brigade Headquarters would result in some 600 personnel being withdrawn from the barracks. Reform is challenging in itself, particularly for the personnel directly affected and this negative speculation is frankly unhelpful.

To dispel this negative campaign and to support the completion of the preparatory work, the Minister finds it necessary to clarify the position with regard to Custume Barracks. I can confirm that the Brigade Headquarters for the two new Brigades will be located in Cork and Dublin. However, I can also confirm that within an overall strength of 9,500 the numbers serving in Custume Barracks will be of the order of 1,000 personnel. When the current Government came in to office in March 2011, there were approximately 900 personnel in Custume Barracks and there are presently approximately 1,050 personnel in the Barracks. Consequently, the new arrangements with regard to the Brigade will have no dramatic impact on the numbers in Custume Barracks. The Minister is disappointed at the necessity to announce decisions on the re-organisation before being in a position to outline the final outcome in its totality.

Work is ongoing to finalise proposals on the remainder of the re-organisation. The Minister will be in a position to address questions of detail on completion of this work. The Representative Associations will be fully consulted on all matters that fall within the scope of representation when this work is complete. Work is also ongoing with regard to recommendations for the Reserve Defence Force which must dovetail with the recommendations of the ongoing Value for Money Review.

In conclusion, the re-organisation affirms the Government’s intention that the Defence Forces retain the capacity to fulfil all of the assigned roles, to the greatest extent possible. The Minister looks forward, to working closely with the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General in the implementation of the re-organisation and the broader reform agenda.

Mr. Paul Kehoe, TD
Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Defence

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