Shatter accuses FF over Defence record


FIANNA FÁIL should “hang their heads in shame” over its Defence Forces record instead of misleading the public on current restructuring plans, Minister for Defence Alan Shatter has said.

Contrary to Fianna Fáil estimates of up to 600 Army personnel leaving Athlone town, staffing levels at Custume Barracks in Co Westmeath would fall by 50, from 1,050 to 1,000, the Minister said.

Home to the 4th Western Brigade, Custume Barracks will lose its headquarter status following an announcement in the Dáil on Thursday. Ireland’s three Army brigades are to be restructured to two with headquarters in Cork and Dublin.

Mr Shatter appeared on Midlands 103 radio yesterday to condemn what he called “a mischievous campaign” from Fianna Fáil, which he claimed was “intent in degrading the Defence Forces” during its term in government. That campaign has forced the Government to announce its intentions before the conclusion of restructuring plans, he said.

“Athlone is a very important barracks within the Defence Force structure and it will remain so,” he added. Mr Shatter insisted it was a good day for Athlone as there would be “no dramatic impact of any description on the economy”, given that 100 more personnel would be based at the barracks compared to 15 months ago.

Policies pursued by the Fianna Fáil-led government would have led to Defence Force numbers dropping below 8,000, a figure, he said, which would have undermined Ireland’s ability to participate in international operations and assist civil authorities.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy TD accused Mr Shatter of making “outrageous” allegations. “If anyone should hang their head in shame it is Minister Shatter. He has single-handedly undermined the Green Paper on the Defence Forces,” he said.

“It is a disgrace and an insult to the people of Athlone for Minister Shatter to suggest that this is a good day and a good decision for the town,” he added. “The Minister is abolishing the Western Brigade, which will have a direct impact on the status of Custume Barracks. Minister Shatter owes an apology to the people of Westmeath for his arrogant dismissal of their concerns.”

Mr Troy refuted figures quoted by the Minister and said: “There are over 1,400 Army personnel attached to Custume Barracks. The Government’s decision means there will be a maximum of 1,000 personnel at the barracks after the Western Brigade is abolished.”