Check Against Delivery
Private Members Debate (Fianna Fáil), Senad Éireann
Item 16, Motion 6, Re Army Barracks 19 October, 2011
Speech by Mr.Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
Minister of State for Defence
When I first read the motion before this House, I couldn’t help reflecting that the resilience of Fianna Fáil is a wonder to behold. Their historic defeat in the recent General Election would have caused lesser mortals to pause and reflect. Not Fianna Fáil. They still trudge blindingly down the well worn path of trying to be all things to all men. It simply hasn’t registered with them that the electorate has seen through the bluff and in February last, comprehensively rejected this whole outmoded form of politics. People want the truth, not bluster. And they want effective action, not platitudes.
The motion before the House is completely at odds with the policy pursued by Fianna Fáil when they were in Government. It is mischievous and it is scare mongering of the worst type. It does nothing to help the Defence Forces, rather it causes unnecessary worry to members of the force and their families. When in Government they implemented two programmes of barrack closure and closed ten barracks in all. I have no hesitation in giving them credit for this, it was one of the very few good decisions that they made. But I simply ask, what is so different now? Apart from the fact that the present Government is facing the worst possible financial mess, inherited from Fianna Fáil.
To put this motion in perspective let us take a look at Fianna Fáil’s contrasting approach when in Government. In July 1998, the then Government announced the closure of six barracks: Ballincollig, Fermoy, Devoy, Magee, Castleblayney and Clancy, with 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, with the relocation of 595 personnel, and also St. Bricin’s Hospital in Dublin. The closure of the four barracks has been achieved. The consolidation of St. Bricin’s is linked to the provision of modern medical facilities within the existing departmental property portfolio and will take some 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 barrack reorganisation 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 closed. Agreement in principle has been reached to dispose of two more of these. Notwithstanding the extremely depressed state of the property market, it now appears that the round of barrack closures effected by Fianna Fáil in 2009 will ultimately yield more 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 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 defence spending without impacting on front-line delivery. It is self-evident that concentrating personnel in fewer locations provides the potential to protect essential collective training and 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.
It is the Minister’s responsibility to ensure that the tax payers resources which are allocated to Defence are used in the most efficient way possible and similarly that the asset s at our disposal are not wasted. Whatever Fianna Fáil might say, what we are really discussing today is using our limited resources effectively and productively so as to ensure we get the best possible return for the taxpayer.
Given our grim financial state, thanks to the failure of Fianna Fáil to capitalise on the gains made during the Celtic Years, this Government is faced with making many hard decisions right across the public sector. Defence is no different. We are now forced into a position of making hard and difficult decisions just to stand still.
No decision has yet been made but as the Minister has indicated clearly the issue must be addressed. The Government will not shy away from its responsibilities in this regard no matter how difficult the decision.
There is no logic in maintaining barracks where there is no operational requirement for them in the first place. To try to argue otherwise is not only illogical but it is downright dishonest. It avoids the hard decision. But then again Fianna Fáil are past masters at that. It is simply putting the parochial interest before the national interest and that has always been the hallmark of Fianna Fáil; indeed it is part of the reason we are in the economic mess we are in to-day. It is not a policy that I or the Government subscribe too. It is the politics of the past and it should stay there.