Minister for Justice Alan Shatter spurned a last ditch plea on Monday evening to hand over Longford’s Sean Connolly Barracks to Longford local authorities for nothing.
The request was made by Cllr Mae Sexton during the Dublin South TD’s visit to the county as local authority officials shook hands with government leaders on a €450,000 deal.
Cllr Sexton voiced her disapproval before asking Mr Shatter to reconsider signing the 10 acre site over to both councils for a nominal sum.
“It would be remiss of me not to say anything,” she told a packed council chamber. “I know that there is the suggestion here that we are getting a bargain, but let’s be blunt about it. That barracks minister was costing your department substantial money to maintain and secure. We are all aware of the economic climate, but local authorities are struggling too.”
Taking time to consider those comments, Mr Shatter admitted his “surprise” at the tactics employed by Cllr Sexton.
Defending his decision to proceed with the handover, the experienced Fine Gael politician said the handover made economic sense.
“I have a duty to ensure that when our Defence Forces go abroad on UN (United Nations) duty, they have the resources and weapons to ensure that they are safe. It would be grossly irresponsible of me not ensure that their (barracks) value wasn’t realised,” he said.
As those discussions came to a close, Mr Shatter’s mood appeared to sour somewhat as he fielded questions from the media. “She (Cllr Sexton) took her opportunity and good luck to her,” said a disgruntled Mr Shatter, as he made his departure following the near hour long meeting.
Longford County Mayor Cllr Frank Kilbride sided with his Dail party colleague, stating Cllr Sexton’s outburst had been ill-timed.
“I would say today was not the day for inappropriate comments. You have to remember that that site at one time was valued at €7.5m so to get it for €450,000 is great value,” he said.
Cllr Sexton, nonetheless, later defended her decision to confront Mr Shatter. She said Monday’s convention was the only opportunity which had been left open to her.
“I was not part of a delegation that met him (Mr Shatter) last year (to discuss the barracks proposed sale), so that was my only chance,” she replied.
Other locally elected representatives headed by James Bannon TD and Longford Town Mayor Cllr James Keogh opted to concentrate on how the barracks might be best utilised.
“It’s a great day for Longford, but the most important thing is creating jobs,” said Cllr Keogh, as he called on Longford Town Council to implement appropriate zoning measures in order to meet this demand.