Local TD Denis Naughten has expressed disappointment following the announcement by the Defence Minister of his plan to dismantle the 4th Western Brigade and downgrade the status of Custume Barracks, Athlone, which will result in up to 200 personnel and their families being forced to relocate.
The announcement also confirms that there will be 971 personnel to be based at Custume Barracks, which means, as a result of the closure of Cavan & Mullingar barracks, the additional staff to be based in Athlone is 34 and not the 278 originally estimated.
According to Denis Naughten: “Not only does the new two brigade structure ignore the strategic importance of Athlone, but even this is now undermined by the fact that Doon, Co. Offaly, just 9 miles away and Creagh, Ballinasloe just over 13 miles away are now being controlled militarily from Cork and not Athlone. Instead of being in the centre of the country, from a military perspective Athlone has been very much relegated to the periphery.”
This decision runs contrary to the only independent assessment of the structure of a two brigade army by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which proposed a brigade location to cover the border and the northern part of the country, and a second brigade to cover the rest of the country, with a specific taskforce for the Dublin region.
Responding to the Ministers announcement Denis Naughten said: “Now that we have seen the proposed alignment of the new brigade structures it shows just how sensible the original PricewaterhouseCoopers study was and how bizarre the new structure will look when the town of Athlone and Custume barracks is taken out of the equation.”
“The fact is that there is still significant dissident republican activity across the border along with serious problems of smuggling, in particular the laundering of fuel, and the trafficking of women and children. Athlone is the ideal location to base one of the two brigades within the army and it is totally unacceptable that we are now set to see the 4th Western Brigade abolished,” concluded Denis Naughten.