A public meeting is to be held on Monday evening September 26 in the Greville Arms at 8pm as part of a mounting campaign to save Columb Barracks in Mullingar, which could be in line to close by February.
A meeting of supporters, family, and friends of the barracks was held on Wednesday night this week following an anxious three days of speculation that the Governmnet is preparing to announce the closure of the barracks.
The group are drawing up posters and petitions in an effort to gather as much support as possible in the run-up to next Monday’s meeting, at which local politicians, UN veterans, local business representatives, and soldiers’ family members will be speakers.
An online petition to prevent the closure has also been launched, which at time of going to print had amassed approximately 350 signatures. The group is also considering a protest march in the coming week.
The possible closure of the barracks came to public attention on Wednesday when it was reported that senior Army personnel had visited the barracks and told soldiers there that the barracks may close as early as December.
However, the Government has refused to confirm that any decision has been taken. Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe said that “as of now no decision has been made by the Government in regard to the future of Columb Barracks, Mullingar, or any other military installation in the country”.
However, he confirmed that a spending review is underway, and that “the dispersal of Defence Forces personnel over an extended number of locations continues to be a major impediment to essential collective training and to releasing personnel for operational duties”.
“I cannot give any specific commitment that there will not be further programmes of barracks consolidation,” he added.
Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Robert Troy, who raised the issue in a Dáil debate on Wednesday, was “very disappointed” with the reply.
“Where is the openness, honesty, and transparency the Government promised the people? The people of Mullingar have been out of their minds with worry for the past two nights.
“The Minister of State must be honest with the people and let them know where they stand. We want to know exactly what is happening. People’s livelihoods are at stake here.”
Meanwhile Labour’s Deputy Willie Penrose said that a decision to shut Columb Barracks would be “madness” from an economic point of view.
“It is an ill-thought-out proposal. Any savings made would be lost in transport, relocation, and compensation fees, and there would be security issues as it is a huge area. In addition, this asset would be coming on the market at a time when there is no possibility of disposing of it,” he said.
Fine Gael’s Deputy Nicky McFadden has said she will fight to secure the future of the barracks.
“I have spoken directly to Minister Shatter and made it clear that I am in full support of keeping the barracks open,” Deputy McFadden said.
“The barracks has contributed so much to Mullingar, to the county, to Ireland, and indeed to the countries in which its soldiers have served,” Deputy McFadden said.
There are approximately 200 personnel, as well as 20 civilian staff in Columb Barracks, which is the home of the 4th Field Artillery Regiment and the only artillery barracks in the country.
It is estimated that the barracks contributes approximately €8 million to the local economy.