Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe has hit out at Independent TD Clare Daly's description of the GAA as the 'Grab All Association'.
Ms Daly criticised the sports body when it emerged that the GAA had reached agreement in principle for a long-term lease of the entire site of Columb barracks in Muillingar, one of four barracks closed by the Department of Defence in recent years.
The Minister said a one-year lease was signed with the Westmeath GAA county board for the use of part of the Columb barracks as a centre of excellence for the development of Gaelic games in the county. “Subsequently, agreement has been reached in principle on a long-term lease by the board for the whole of the barracks,” he said.
Ms Daly said she was shocked to learn the GAA would take over the entire barracks, which she said were huge. She said she was aware the GAA was using a small part of the barracks.
“As Deputy (Mick) Wallace just called it, it is really the “Grab All Association”. If the Minister of State is telling me that it will take over such an enormous site, I will be shocked. I would love to know what the GAA is paying for it.”
Mr Kehoe said he was surprised Mr Wallace called the GAA the ‘Grab All Association’.
“I appreciate the work the GAA has done in my county, as I am sure is the case for every deputy,” the Minister said.
“I am involved in the GAA and have never referred to it as the ‘Grab All Association’. I am surprised that Deputy Wallace would whisper ‘Grab All Association’ to Deputy Daly.”
Ms Daly replied: “I said it.”
She made the comment during Defence questions in the Dáil when she questioned the more than €500,000 she said the department was spending on security for the closed barracks still owned by the State.
Mr Kehoe said the part of Columb barracks was being used for training by the Garda and by Revenue Commissioners for a specialist dog training unit.
Ms Daly, who said security alone for the barracks was €180,000 and there would be far less in costs if it was being fully used. She believed it could be used as a national emergencies facility.
She pointed out that the Reserve Defence Force unit was renting accommodation that cost €30,000 a year.
“Westmeath Civil Defence operates from leaky prefabs in another area and the Garda uses the shooting range, but none of this is enough,” she said.
Asking the Minister to consider developing the site as a national emergency training centre, she said the local Reserve Defence Force unit could undertake training there in the summer.
“A crash training centre of excellence could be developed there and it could be used for water rescue training as well as rail disaster training, given its proximity to a disused railway. There is also an airfield.”
Mr Kehoe said he would let Ms Daly know if any further accommodation would be available at the barracks.
But he pointed out that the cost of keeping the barracks open was greater than when they were closed and €5 million had been saved overall through the closure of the barracks.
He added that “a longer term lease for the whole of the site will be signed shortly by the Westmeath GAA board”.