A delegation of wives and supporters of soldiers at Columb Barracks in Mullingar will meet Minister Alan Shatter next week to discuss possible plans to shut the facility.
The delegation of six will meet the minister for the first time since rumours began to circulate over the possible closure of the barracks which houses 200 permanent and 120 reserve members of the defence forces.
Rebecca O’Callaghan said the meeting was confirmed by Fine Gael TDs James Bannon and Nicky McFadden on Wednesday evening.
She said the meeting will be a good opportunity for army families and business people from Mullingar to make their case to the Minister.
They are holding on to the hope that no decision has yet been made to definitely close the barracks, but the pressure of not knowing the outcome of the decision-making process means families are living “in no man’s land”.
“The people of Mullingar want to know. The minister has to be fair to them, because people need to plan for their lives,” she said.
Around a thousand people protested in Mullingar last weekend over fears that Columb Barracks may be closed as part of the Government’s efforts to save money.
Clodagh Graham, whose husband is in the Lebanon on his sixth tour of duty, said the IMF would see through the closure of the barracks on purported cost-saving grounds.
It is “a paper exercise” and an “affront to the intelligence of the community of Mullingar and Ireland”, she said on behalf of the families.
Army families, many of whom receive Family Income Supplement cannot bear the cost of increased travelling expenses, moving children out of schools and crèches, and will be unable to sell their homes to move to another town, she said.
She emphasised the fundraising done by soldiers for local schools and charities and their civil contribution last winter.
“We all saw the work they did clearing our streets and bringing our nurses to and from hospital so that our healthcare could run efficiently. They delivered meals on wheels and stood for hours in the blistering cold distributing water to local residents.”
Junior Minister for Housing, Willie Penrose, who has a seat at cabinet, said Mullingar’s 200 year military history is the DNA of the people and must not be sacrificed for a proposal “which does not stand up to scrutiny”.
“Decisions should be based on evidence, on rationality and as to whether they make economic sense for the whole of society, not for just one department or organ of state,” he said, adding that a decision to close the barracks would not meet any of those criteria.
“The closure of this barracks will actually cost money and will save nothing,” said Deputy Penrose, who said developing the barracks which would receive the Mullingar soldiers would cost “a blue fortune”.
The 26 acre site is unsaleable even in a buoyant market because the buildings are listed and the surrounding grounds are zoned for leisure use, he said.
He proposed developing the barracks, which has some of the country’s most advanced communications structures and would support a national training centre for an organization like the Reserve Defence Forces, the Civil Defence, or Red Cross.