Local TD Denis Naughten has called on the Tánaiste to designate Custume Barracks in Athlone as the location for the proposed new Army Headquarters, as recommended by the Commission on the Defence Forces.
Addressing the issue in the Dáil, Denis Naughten pointed out that when the report was published 12 months ago it recommended the urgent restructuring of the Army into a more agile and flexible force structure that can meet current and future operational taskings.
Key to the delivery of this was the creation of a new position as Chief of Army, to be supported by a staff with responsibility for the administration and management of all units under its command.
The report goes on to state that it “believes that Army Headquarters should be centrally located, with sub‐commands providing an adequate national disposition”.
Deputy Naughten told Micheal Martin TD, Tánaiste & Minister for Defence, that Custume Barracks – a former Brigade Headquarters – was ideally located to take on such a role as envisaged within the Commission on the Defence Forces report.
Denis Naughten added: “As we know the Commission on the Defence Forces was critical of the decision taken to downgrade Custume Barracks in 2011 which pointed out that the ‘reorganisation has led to a number of anomalies, including reduced personnel numbers in the country’s two largest urban centres and career progression opportunities being heavily skewed towards the Eastern region’.
“To counteract this problem the Commission report recommends that the future structures of the army be regionally balanced and having army headquarters based right in the middle of the country at Custume Barracks makes perfect sense,” said Denis Naughten.
“Disappointingly the Tánaiste would not commit to delivering the Army HQ for Athlone stating that it was premature, but I’m determined to see Custume Barracks become the new headquarters for the army in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Watch the debate here:
Thursday, 2 Feb 2023
- Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence the future plans for Custume Barracks, Athlone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2033/23]
I want to ask about the status of Custume Barracks in Athlone and the plans for investment in it. There has been ongoing concern about the status of the barracks since Athlone lost its brigade status. These are genuine concerns. I want an update on the future plans for Custume Barracks in Athlone.
The Defence Forces infrastructure development plan sets out a programme of anticipated project delivery based on the achievement of the high-level goals as set out in White Paper 2015. The plan is iterative in nature, thus ensuring it remains relevant and investment is targeted where most needed. A mid-term review of the plan was recently completed by the Department and the Defence Forces to ensure the plan continues to reflect current operational requirements.
In respect of Custume Barracks, a number of projects are either ongoing or scheduled for progression in the coming year at a combined cost of €1.8 million. These are electric vehicle points enabling works, an upgrade to the main helipad, replacement of the EAS hangar and heat pump installation in the band hall and the main billet block.
A number of the recommendations contained in the Commission on the Defence Forces report may impact on the structure of the Defence Forces, including that the structure of the Army be reviewed. In this context the disposition of units throughout the Defence Forces may be considered.
The recommendation that the structure of the Army be reviewed was identified as an early action in the high-level action plan. Military authorities are progressing the establishment of an office of Army force design which will undertake the work required to give effect to this recommendation. The implementation management office is working on the production of a detailed implementation plan for the remaining recommendations, which will include those that may assist with informing any decision on the future structure and organisation of the Defence Forces.
Custume Barracks is, and will continue to be, a very important operational military barracks. Of this Deputies can be assured.
As the Tánaiste knows, the Commission on the Defence Forces, which was established on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government, published its report 12 months ago.
The Tánaiste will be aware that the commission recommended a number of changes to the high-level command and control structures within the Defence Forces. One of those recommendations is on the structure of the Army, which is to be reviewed, and rearranging units across the Defence Forces is now to be considered. In that context, will the Tánaiste consider designating Custume Barracks in Athlone as the location for the proposed Army headquarters, as recommended within the commission’s report?
There will be a number of representations in respect of a number of barracks that want to be the headquarters, as detailed. In the first instance, the implementation management office is working on the production of a detailed implementation plan for the remaining recommendations. The military authorities are progressing the establishment of an Army force design that will undertake the work required to give effect to the recommendations of the commission. There is still some work to be done on this and I have asked that it be expedited. Once that review is completed there will obviously be issues with the structure of the Army and how best that will be operationalised, so I am not making commitments about any specific barracks being the headquarters.
As the Tánaiste knows, the report talked about the geographic location of this, and slap bang in the middle of the country could not be a better location from that point of view. Custume Barracks is also the only headquarters that is not currently a headquarters today. It has all the infrastructure in place. I also put it to the Tánaiste that when brigade status was removed from Custume Barracks there was a clear commitment given on the maintenance of personnel numbers in the barracks that has not been achieved. Many of the personnel based in Athlone are based there in name only and are actually being deployed out of Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. In light of that, will the Tánaiste give serious consideration to designating Custume Barracks with this particular status?
It would be premature to designate any barracks with headquarters status until the review of the structure of the Army is completed.