County Council asked to consider future uses for Kickham Barracks as wives take protest to Leinster House

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Soldiers’ families appealed to the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to stop the closure of Kickham Barracks when he visited Clonmel last Friday and they will take their campaign to the Dail in two weeks time when they will meet opposition party leaders and independents.

The meeting between the Army Wives & Partners Committee and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt General Sean McCann took place at Kickham Barracks just hours after South Tipperary Co. Council members unanimously agreed to send a letter to Minister for Justice & Defence Alan Shatter calling on him to reverse the decision to close the barracks.

The decision to send the letter was made at a special Co. Council meeting about the barracks closure at the end of which it emerged that the County Manager Billy McEvoy has received a letter from the Department of Defence requesting a meeting with him to discuss possible future uses of the barracks site.

The full contents of the letter from the Department of Defence will be discussed at next week’s Co. Council meeting.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan (Lab) said he is extremely disappointed that Clonmel Borough Council has not received a copy of the feasibility report on which the Government’s decision to close Kickham Barracks is based two weeks after the Council requested Minister Shatter to supply the document.

The Borough Council resolved at its special meeting on the Kickham Barracks crisis the day after the announcement to study the feasibility study to see if any alternative to closing the barracks could be proposed or any efficiencies could be achieved to allow it remain open.

Cllr Ryan said the Council hadn’t even received an acknowledgement of the feasibility study request from Minister Shatter’s office and he has now requested assistance from Labour Party Leader Eamonn Gilmore to secure the report.

While the Defence Forces Chief of Staff met with soldiers and their families at Kickham Barracks last Friday to discuss the closure, he has refused a request from the Mayor to meet with Clonmel Borough Council members on the grounds that the operation of army barracks or their closure was a matter for government and not the Chief of Staff and he would pass on the matter to Minister Shatter.

Mayor Ryan condemned the chief of staff’s refusal to meet Clonmel’s elected public representatives and claimed it was a further indication that the decision to close the barracks was based very strongly on the recommendation of the Defence Forces top brass.

Lt. General Sean McCann’s visit to Kickham Barracks was part of a tour of all three barracks facing closure and he was accompanied by Brigadier General Paul Pakenham, General Officer Commanding of the Southern Brigade, who last week was heavily criticised for not delivering the news of the closure in person to the troops at Kickham Barracks.

Eleanor Prout of the Army Wives & Partners Committee said Lt. General McCann met with the soldiers about the closure and with a four-member delegation from their committee.

She said they called for a reversal of the decision to close the barracks and told the Chief of Staff they would continue to fight to prevent its closure for as long as they could.

The delegation asked him did he consider the impact on his troops and their families, the extra financial costs and impact on family life put on them and also the impact on the town of Clonmel and its historic links to the town and its community. They also highlighted that the displacement allowance of E1000 to be paid for the first nine months was too small to cover soldiers travel expenses.

Ms Prout said the delegation also asked why Clonmel rather than James Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny was closing even though Kilkenny is closer to The Curragh and expressed concern about the facilities that will be in place in Limerick for the Clonmel soldiers.

She said they also reiterated their anger that the soldiers weren’t informed of the closure decision before it was made public.

Ms Prout said the Army Wives & Partners Committee will meet with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, representatives of Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance and independents at the Dail on Wednesday, December 14 as part of their campaign to stop the barracks closure.

“We have requested a meeting with Labour and Fine gael but at this point we haven’t heard anything back from either party,” she said.

She said they would be seriously questioning the strategic and operational reasons the Defence Forces have for closing Kickham Barracks as the financial reasons initially given have been totally discredited and it was clear now that the closure and transfer of most troops to Limerick will actually cost money.

Meanwhile, at the Co. Council meeting last Friday, there was unanimous condemnation of the closure decision from councillors from all parties and many members highlighted how the loss of the barracks would impact on every community in South Tipperary as well as Clonmel.

Fianna Fail Cllr Siobhan Ambrose said she was disappointed at some local politicians already looking for something else to occupy the site. It was hugely disrespectful and it spoke volumes to her of what little knowledge they had of the barracks. It was not the same as a factory closure; it was part of the town’s heritage since 1650.

Her party colleague Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan angered Fine Gael Council Chairman Michael Fitzgerald when she proposed that it be put to the Government that the barracks could be kept open if savings were made elsewhere, such as stopping the Oireachtas members €3000 allowance for laundry and saving nearly €800,000 by cutting conferences and seminars for local authority members around the country.

He told her to refrain from that type of debate, pointing out that they were not responsible for the Government’s decisions.

“I think you are being petty and unfair and I resent your lecturing attitude. You have other options and forums where you can put forward savings,” Cllr Fitzgerald declared.

There was more party political sparring when Fine Gael Cllr Joe Brennan asked Cllr Ambrose if the fact she started a petition opposing the closure of Kickham Barracks last May meant she had some prior knowledge from the previous government about the threat to its future.

Cllr Ambrose shot back: “If it does go there will be only two people who have driven an army out of Clonmel; Cromwell and Minister Alan Shatter.”