Local Independent Deputy, Denis Naughten, has called on the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheal Martin, to designate Custume Barracks in Athlone as the location for the proposed new Defence Forces headquarters, as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces.
Addressing the issue in Dáil Éireann, Deputy Naughten pointed out that when the report recommendations were published one year previously it recommended the urgent restructuring of the Defence Forces into a more agile and flexible structure that can meet current and future operational taskings.
Essential to the delivery of this was the creation of a new position as Chief of Army, to be supported by a staff with responsibility for the administration and management of all units under its command.
The report goes on to state that it “believes that Defence Forces Headquarters should be centrally located, with sub-commands providing an adequate national disposition”.
Deputy Naughten informed Deputy Micheal Martin, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, that Custume Barracks, a former Brigade headquarters, was ideally located to take on such a role as envisaged within the Commission on the Defence Forces report.
“As we know the Commission on the Defence Forces was critical of the decision taken to downgrade Custume Barracks in 2011 which pointed out that the ‘reorganisation has led to a number of anomalies, including reduced personnel numbers in the country’s two largest urban centres and career progression opportunities being heavily skewed towards the Eastern region’.
“To counteract this problem the Commission report recommends that the future structures of the army be regionally balanced and having army headquarters based right in the middle of the country at Custume Barracks makes perfect sense.
“Disappointingly, the Tánaiste would not commit to delivering the Defence Forces for Athlone stating that it was premature, but I am determined to see Custume Barracks become the new headquarters for the army in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces,” Deputy Naughten asserted.
Upon its publication in February 2022, Cathaoirleach, Westmeath County Council, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, broadly welcomed the Commission’s contents, but expressed his displeasure relating to the problematic pay and conditions which have proved detrimental to staff retention at Custume Barracks.
The Commission on the Defence Forces report was published following 13 months of deliberations during which 480 submissions were received and 1,000 military personnel of all ranks were engaged on issues such as the Irish army’s capabilities, structures and staffing.