Every member of the Defence Forces based in Athlone is in effect being sent to Dublin to cover duties at a “completely unsustainable” rate.
That’s according to local TD Denis Naughten (Independent ), who said this week that the mileage clocked up by Army personnel in Custume Barracks, Athlone, along with Finner Camp in Donegal and Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dundalk, is equivalent to travelling around the world 18 times per year.
He asked how this could be justified in the longer term.
“Not only is there a significant cost in terms of transport and fuel but there is also the fact that staff receive days off in lieu of their work in Dublin, which is seriously restricting the operation of the Defence Forces in Athlone, Dundalk, and Donegal,” he said.
He added that 2,000 ‘man-days’ a month are taken out of the three barracks to provide duty cover in the Dublin area.
He suggested one of two solutions to the problem: either halve the number of personnel based in Athlone and relocate them permanently to the Dublin area, or re-establish the 4th Western Brigade in Athlone and establish a taskforce for the Dublin Region.
“While I believe there is no threat to the retention of Custume Barracks, Athlone, I also believe that it is disingenuous to say that there is no threat to the personnel numbers that will be based there after the election,” said Deputy Naughten.
“The political commitment given by the then Minister for Defence to retain personnel numbers in Athlone at 1,000 is clearly, as predicted at the time, unsustainable under the current structure and will be used, in time, to undermine the status of Custume Barracks.
“The mechanism we see at play here is very similar to that used within the health service, where a local service is undermined behind the scenes to such an extent that when the full implications come to light a knee-jerk political announcement can be made to downgrade the facility, in the ‘interest’ of the overall service,” he added.
“There is no doubt that the current staffing structure, while on the surface protecting the local economy in Athlone, is in fact the tool that will be used to downgrade Custume Barracks.”
He called on the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney to put a structure in place which fulfils the commitment to the town of Athlone, through a sustainable reorganisation of the Defence Forces.
“This I believe can only be achieved through the re-establishment of the 4th Western Brigade,” added Deputy Naughten.