Athlone Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, has thanked the Custume Barracks based Defence Forces for conducting a capability display which highlighted to local elected representatives how they could best assist local communities in major weather events or emergencies.
The display was led by the 6th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col Johnny Whittaker the Commanding Officer with assistance from every unit in the barracks including the Air Corps led air ambulance. The barracks, which is the oldest occupied military barracks in europe, hosts nine Defence Forces units.
During the visit it was highlighted that the 6th Infantry Battalion and other units from Custume Barracks had been deployed on numerous occasions in support to An Garda Siochana and to the civil authorities during the last twelve months - to secure KNOCK Airport for the visit of the Pope, to fight fires in Offaly, provide water supplies to people in Drogheda and to provide search assistance to An Garda Siochana in the Wicklow Mountains and Dunleer Co. Louth.
However, the greatest deployments have been during Storms Emma and Ophelia, when hundreds of personnel and vehicles with off road capabilities were deployed to clear routes, collect and transport HSE staff and patients, deliver meals on wheels and transport vulnerable members of society to safety. The units in Custume Barracks have the capability to deploy snow ploughs and containers with the necessary equipment to assist the civil authorities in any terrain or weather event.
In effect, the Defence Forces in Custume Barracks are ready to deploy both personnel and equipment throughout the midlands region throughout the year in order to assist the midlands community.
“The Defence Forces in Custume Barracks are a critical element of the Midlands Regional Working Group on Emergency Management (MRWG EM ) with other stakeholders including An Garda Siochana, HSE and the County Councils of Westmeath, Laois, Longford and Roscommon’,” Mayor Keena commented
In thanking all the army personnel who kindly and professionally explained the function and capabilities of each piece of equipment that were on display, Mayor Keena noted that the town of Athlone and surrounding Midlands region were very fortunate to have such a marvellous group of trained men and women in our Defence Forces available to assist in times of emergency. He also thanked Lt. Col Johnny Whittaker for organising this very informative event and complimented him on all his work within the barracks.
“The Defence Forces also play a key role on International Peace Keeping duties and in the coming year the 6th Infantry Battalion will lead the United Nations focused deployment to Syria with the United Nations with up to 100 local personnel departing, while continuously providing troops for missions in Lebanon and Mali.
“Taking all this in account a frightening fact is that while the Defence Forces numbers are supposed to be at 9,500 personnel it is struggling to get above 8,800 personnel, including trainees. The issues identified for this are poor retention, poor recruitment and poor remuneration and based on current figures, it will be 2031 before the Defence Forces is back up to its strength of 9,500,” Cllr. Keena quipped.
Concluding, Mayor Keena repeated his calls for this Government to give proper respect to our Defence Forces and provide them with increased pay and conditions.