O'Dea says sale of Army properties a possibility


MINISTER FOR Defence Willie O'Dea has given his strongest indication yet that some Army barracks may be sold in light of worsening economic conditions.

Mr O'Dea said the Defence Forces' property portfolio was constantly under review with some properties surplus to requirement.

Ireland faced a "very serious" financial crisis and all Government departments will "have to take their share of the pain" after next week's budget.

"The ESRI has even said that the top priority is to reduce expenditure now, to bring the public finances into balance so we're only spending what we're earning," Mr O'Dea said.

There was an agreement in place between his department and the Department of Finance that any money realised through Defence Forces property divestments were ring-fenced for investment in the defence area.

He was speaking in Westport, Co Mayo, at the annual conference of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (Pdforra), the representative association for soldiers, sailors and aircrew. "I'm just making the point that we keep the property portfolio under constant review," Mr O'Dea said.

"I do understand that the present climate isn't the most appropriate for selling property - you wouldn't get as good a price as even six months ago. But we have a certain amount of properties still surplus to requirement. When it's appropriate and we get the right price, we sell it off and invest ." He refused to be drawn when asked what properties, if any, would be sold. He said Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan would announce the budget on Tuesday and, following that, he would justify anything he needed to.

The Defence Forces has sold eight barracks around the country since the 1990s. The proceeds have been used to update Defence Forces infrastructure and buy modern equipment for overseas missions such as Mowag armoured personnel carriers.

Pdforra general secretary Gerry Rooney said his organisation saw no need for further barrack closures. Any sales in the current climate would yield greatly reduced profits. Some closed barracks may be left unsold and empty, costing considerable sums to guard.

Mr Rooney said he was concerned by reports the military hospital at St Bricin's, Infirmary Road, Dublin, was to be transferred to the Defence Forces Training Centre at the Curragh, Co Kildare. "Pdforra suspects that the move is merely a cover for the further downgrading of the specialist services provided by the Medical Corps," he told delegates.

Mr Rooney added that some commentators believed Ireland's obligation under the Lisbon Treaty to continue developing and investing in its military capability was a good reason to reject the treaty. While he did not wish to endorse or reject the treaty, he said defence spending in Ireland was 0.7 per cent of gross national product and, as one of the lowest in Europe, should not be reduced.

In relation to overseas missions, Mr O'Dea said the future of the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, in which Ireland is involved, was being considered at EU level. He was in favour of the mission continuing, but with the emphasis on training local military and policing personnel to enhance Bosnia's ability to provide security for itself.