Barracks closures will hurt towns and families of soldiers, say protesters

 

ARMY RELATIVES protested yesterday as the Chief of Staff of the Defences Forces insisted that the planned closure of four Army barracks would go ahead at the end of January.

Lieut Gen Dermot Earley travelled to Letterkenny, Lifford, Longford and Monaghan to address soldiers who are to be relocated as part of the measures announced on Budget day.

Families who plan to hold a demonstration outside the Dáil next Wednesday complained that they learned of the plan when it was flashed on television screens during the Minister for Finance's Budget speech. They said that colleagues serving in Chad learned that their jobs were being moved when they received text messages from relatives watching television at home.

While no jobs are being lost under the plan, an estimated 650 military and 40 civilian personnel are being transferred, including 130 who will move from Longford to Athlone.

A newly formed lobby group in Longford who complained that the Government was "walking on the people" said the proposals would mean the loss of €6.5 million to the local economy. They are also holding a protest in the town tomorrow and say they are adamant that the plan must be reversed.

Sheila Shields, whose husband is an Army sergeant based at Connolly Barracks in Longford, said the reaction of families had been of "devastation and humiliation".

Séamus Keaveney, a former vice-president of soldiers' representative association PDforra who joined more than 50 women and children picketing the barracks during Lt Gen Earley's visit, said men who had spent 120 hours a week doing Border duty in difficult times had learned of their fate when watching television.

Ms Shields pointed out that rumours about the planned closure of Connolly Barracks had persisted for 23 years but they had repeatedly been given assurances that it would not happen.

She did not accept that the extra 100km round-trip to Athlone seemed small compared to distances covered by some commuters. "You are talking about people who in some cases do 24-hour straight shifts," she said.

Lieut Gen Earley said the change would be "disruptive and difficult" but it must go ahead. He said the Army would help the soldiers and their families in every possible way. The measures will mean the transfer of 135 personnel from Rockhill, Letterkenny, and a further 125 from Lifford in Co Donegal to Finner camp, Ballyshannon. An estimated 200 personnel will move from Monaghan to Aiken Barracks in Dundalk.