Government plans to close the historic army barracks in Castlebar, with a threat to 15 jobs, have come under attack.
In a private members motion in the Dáil on Tuesday, Mayo TD Dara Calleary, Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Justice and Defence, spoke out against the closure of a number of barracks, including Castlebar, Cavan, Mullingar, Clonmel, and Kilkenny.
He said Fianna Fáil were deeply concerned by reports that a number of barracks have been earmarked for closure, including Castlebar, citing their importance to the wider community.
Deputy Calleary said a great deal of debt was owed to the members of the Irish Defence Forces for their commitment to their country.
Dep Calleary admitted that in government Fianna Fáil closed army barracks and he claimed they did so “in the face of strenuous and hostile opposition” from Fine Gael. But he qualified his party’s moves by saying they closed them due to the “transformed security situation on this island” as a result of the peace process and ensured that €85 million from the sale of the closed barracks was invested back into the army.
The Ballina TD claimed that the 18 remaining barracks is an optimal number for a force of 10,000 or so.
Dep Calleary challenged the Minister to outline where savings will be made by closing the barracks.
Local Fianna Fáil organiser for the Castlebar area, Lisa Chambers, a member of the Reserve Defence Forces (formerly the FCA ) for the past nine years, has added her voice to the opposition.
Ms Chambers told the Mayo Advertiser that the issue was close to her heart. Being a member of the forces since the age of 16, she said it was hard to believe the Castlebar barracks might be left to “rot away”.
Currently there are 15 staff employed at the Castlebar barracks on a rotational basis with RDF training there during the week.
The barracks is also used as a reserve base and, if closed, members will be forced to travel to the midlands for training.
“This would mark the end of any reserve unit in town and any military presence in the town,” Ms Chambers said, adding that every young person should have a chance to be part of the RDF.
“Young people in the town have nowhere to go and nothing to do, well here’s an opportunity to use the military barracks for youth activities,” she said.
Ms Chambers challenged the Government to show where it would get value for money by closing this historic building and suggested that there was never a better time to engage in refurbishment works.
“The RDF has given me so much. It has shaped the person I am. You get leadership and communication skills, become responsible for your own actions, learn skills for life,” Ms Chambers explained. “We need to retain a military barracks in rural areas.”