Malachy Hand, Fianna Fáil candidate in the upcoming local elections for South Roscommon, Athlone LEA, hosted a meeting at Coffey’s Lounge, Lecarrow, on Monday evening at which Jack Chambers, TD, Fianna Fáil Frontbench Spokesperson on Defence, addressed the present Defence Forces crisis.
Army personnel, acting and retired, gathered, listened and debated key issues close to their hearts, most notably, pay and conditions, the development and diversification of the Defence Forces in line with similar across the world and the reinstatement of the 4th Western Brigade at Custume Barracks in Athlone.
With recent revelations that €140 million has gone unspent by the Department of Defence, with over €90m being returned to the Central Exchequer for redistribution elsewhere, while numbers in the Irish Defence Forces are languishing, despite recruitment drives, due to short-sighted lack of investment, development and diversification, the meeting allowed the opportunity for those present to air their concerns.
“The lack of regard for the contribution made by our Defence Forces to the security of our State on all levels is astounding. We must acknowledge the vital contribution made by Custume Barracks to Athlone and its hinterland for decades, but with numbers now standing at a mere 332 personnel serving in the Roscommon/East Galway area and a loss of some 600 jobs in Athlone area in recent times, what implications has this for South Roscommon and for the vibrancy of life in rural Ireland,” Malachy queried.
Deputy Chambers spoke of his party’s proud tradition of support for the Defence Forces, referring to the excellent work of RACO, PDFORRA, ARCO and IUNVA, highlighting issues of pay and conditions, the attack on core values held dear by army personnel and their families and the unsustainable decline in numbers.
“The cost cutting approach of the Government in seeking to place our Defence Forces in a particular budgetary envelope, must be addressed. Their is a lack of leadership or political impetus to make a difference.
“Prospects for our Defence Forces in intelligence, marine, trans-national intelligence, if funded and properly supported, represent huge opportunities for growth, up to 10,500 as a core white paper number,” Deputy Chambers remarked.
The Deputy further noted that he wished to see the restoration of the Army to a three Brigade structure, incorporating the restoration of the 4th Western Brigade, the removal of which has had implications for the economic viability of rural Ireland and called for an important reform and policy difference for the 332 defence forces personnel being undermined due to the downgrading of Custume Barracks in Athlone.
Ger Aherne, retired Brigadier General from the Irish Army, offered detailed evidence of the Irish Army’s experience which has brought it to this regretful state in present day Ireland.
The kernel of the evening’s meeting hosted by Malachy Hand, the reinstatement of the 4th Brigade at Custume Barracks, Athlone was also discussed.
Following lively debate, Deputy Chambers committed to requesting an immediate, formal re-statement of Fianna Fáil’s commitment to reinstating the 4th Western Brigade once the party returns to power.