£285,000 to train apprentice in Army school

 

It costs almost £300,000 to train each apprentice over three years in the Army apprentice school, the Minister for Defence, Mr Smith, told the Dail.

The 28 apprentices at present in the school will be transferred to the Curragh to complete their training after the closure of Devoy Barracks in Naas, one of six barracks to be closed in the reorganisation of the Defence Forces.

Mr Smith said during Defence Questions that a National Defence Forces Training Centre was being established at the Curragh. Apart from specialist areas, apprentices would be trained externally.

Mr Jack Wall (Lab, Kildare South) accused the Minister of "changing the goalposts". When Mr Smith had addressed public representatives at a meeting in Naas he gave the impression that the school was going to be retained on the Curragh. Mr Alan Dukes (FG, Kildare South) said there was a conflict in the Minister saying further training would be external.

The Minister said there were a number of specialist areas "where we have an in-house capacity" to train and that would continue. This included the area of radar. He said 10 to 12 of the apprentices would be going into that section in the Curragh. However, training such as carpentry could be done externally in other colleges much more efficiently and economically.

Mr Bernard Durkan (FG, Kildare North), who raised the issue, said the Army apprentice school had a prestigious image and there were implications now for the town of Naas with the closure of the school.

Mr Smith pointed out that a military board had recommended closure of the apprentice school a number of years ago but this was not carried through on the political front at the time.

The £285,000 it cost to train each apprentice over three years was not sustainable in economic terms and they had to look at alternative ways, he said. He intended to sell the Army sites by public tender to avoid the necessity of constantly calling on the taxpayer for equipment to develop the Defence Forces. He rejected the implication that there had been a lack of consultation. The primary concern since the decision to close the barracks was taken had been to complete the closure properly and move personnel to other locations.

The Minister said he wanted to ensure there was an integrated development plan to enhance the towns where the barracks were closing, to give them an opportunity to regenerate themselves.

Fine Gael's Defence spokeswoman, Ms Frances Fitzgerald, said the sites were "going on the open market on the one hand and then the Minister wants an integrated plan on the other. Which is it?"

The Minister said somebody had to decide. The sale of the six barracks and lands would proceed as soon as possible. "The proposed sales will provide prime sites to meet housing, commercial and industrial needs in the areas concerned and I intend to maximise the potential of all the properties involved."

Earlier, Ms Fitzgerald questioned why the Minister had appointed himself chairman of the group which would oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Price Waterhouse review of the Defence Forces.

She said the chiefs of staff of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps wanted an independent "external driving force" to implement the changes. The report also recommended an outsider.

Mr Smith said that in the final analysis the Government made its own decisions. He was going to ensure that events moved forward quickly.