Local councillor Mick Dollard has said he believes Columb Barracks in Mullingar would be a more appropriate home for the 4th Western Brigade than its current headquarters in Athlone’s Custume Barracks.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of Mullingar Town Council, Cllr Dollard said there was much more room for expansion at the Mullingar barracks than in Athlone.
“I am strongly of the view that the headquarters of the 4th Western Brigade should be in Mullingar. There is absolutely no way you could expand Custume Barracks in Athlone,” he said.
“There is huge potential in Columb Barracks for expansion, and I have written to Minister Brendan Howlin suggesting this,” he added.
Speaking to the Advertiser following the meeting, Cllr Dollard said there was a much greater capacity for expansion in Columb Barracks, and that the location was more convenient than Athlone as headquarters of the 4th Western Brigade.
“Columb Barracks has a very large land bank, it has 15 or 16 acres attached. There is not that land bank in Athlone. I served in Athlone and the barracks is surrounded by the cathedral [sic] on one side, Battery Heights on another, and the Shannon. Where will the capacity be for the 220 troops from Mullingar if they are moved to Athlone?
“Mullingar is closer to the centre of the country and with the improved road structure it is much closer to Dublin.”
Cllr Dollard also said he was delighted that the decision on the possible closure of Columb Barracks had been transferred from the Minister for Defence to the office of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.
“This will show there are absolutely no savings, and in the long term closing the barracks would be a huge cost to the State.
“Brendan Howlin will find out very quickly that there are not going to be any savings, it would be a huge cost to the Exchequer. It only costs €300,000 per annum to maintain Columb Barracks, and if we have an empty barracks there are energy costs and the cost of providing security.
“We have made a case to Enda Kenny and Eamonn Gilmore about the benefits of Columb Barracks to the future development of the security forces. There is huge potential there for the Civil Defence, the regional headquarters of the Garda Siochána and the Garda Traffic Corps. The Gardaí also use the firing range. I think the Department of Defence and the Gardai could come together with a plan for the barracks.
“They shouldn’t be closing any barracks at all, it doesn’t make sense,” he added.
Meanwhile local TD Robert Troy has expressed his anger this week at the continued uncertainty over the future of Columb Barracks, accusing Minister Shatter of “passing the buck” on the future of the barracks.
“This Government has done nothing to deal with the concerns that have been raised, in fact they have only added to the uncertainty,” he said.