The Department of Defence has confirmed that it has no current plans to close Columb Barracks, Mullingar, in the wake of newspaper reports this week that it is one of three barracks being considered for closure.
A statement issued on Wednesday stated that while the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces “continually review Defence Forces requirements in relation to barracks, infrastructure and other military installations”, there are “no immediate plans for further barrack closures”.
The statement from the Department of Defence added that the document referred to in a national newspaper report earlier this week - which outlined a Government plan to close major army barracks in Mullingar, Clonmel, and Dublin - predated last October’s “programme for consolidation” and Government decision to close four barracks at Monaghan, Longford, Rockhill, and Lifford.
The news will come as a relief to the 200 army personnel based in Mullingar’s Columb Barracks, their families, and the local community, who have already vowed to mount strong opposition to any plans to shut the local barracks.
The Mullingar barracks is the home of the Fourth Field Artillery Regiment, and is the last remaining artillery barracks in the country. It is thought to be worth up to €10 million to the local economy.
Some 43 soldiers from Columb Barracks are currently completing preparations for their deployment to Chad on May 21 as part of the Western Brigade 100 Bn.
Speaking to the Advertiser yesterday, Cllr Ken Glynn said he had been told “in no uncertain terms” that Columb Barracks is to remain open. “Our barracks holds a strong tradition in Mullingar, provides a wealth of employment, and brings a valuable sense of history to our community. I would strongly oppose any downgrading or closure of this historic premises.
“With this in mind I personally contacted Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea's office on Wednesday night to find out exactly what is proposed for Mullingar Barracks. I was told in no uncertain terms that Columb Barracks is to remain open,” he said.
And Deputy Willie Penrose brought the matter before the Dail on Wednesday, warning the Government to “back off” any plans to close Columb Barracks, Mullingar, either now or in the future.
“The people of Mullingar and Westmeath will fight any such planned closure tooth and nail, and if you are even contemplating such a move - let me tell you now and advise you for free - forget it, as we will not allow it to happen in any shape or form...We won’t allow the barracks to close in any term, either short, medium or long.”
Deputy Penrose also highlighted the “vital importance” of the barracks in the region and in the country.
“There are over 200 serving personnel based in the Barracks, together with over 20 staff who are highly skilled, and the income generated associated with pay, pensions and ancillary purchases, is worth about €10 million to the local economy.
“It has a facility of almost 200 beds which increases its importance to the Western Brigade, and it is used for training overseas contingents and is the headquarters of the Reserve Defence Camps, the 54th Regiment.
“Indeed, the Fourth Field Artillery Regiment have in recent times been honoured by way of addresses of recognition by Westmeath County Council and Mullingar Town Council – reflecting the importance of Columb Barracks to the economic, social, cultural and community life and future of the town of Mullingar,” he said.