Confusion hangs over Custume Barracks, Athlone, County Westmeath, and in particular the fate of the 4th Cavalry Squadron who have been serving at the barracks since their departure from Longford in September 2008. The uncertainty stems from a recent Government announcement that 500 jobs will be lost from the Defence Forces as part of their cost-saving restructuring strategy.
PDFORRA, the organisation representing soldiers, sailors and airmen and women of the Defence Forces, has criticised the move.
“The decision to reduce the Defence Forces to two brigades and shut down 500 jobs has little justification,” said Gerry Rooney, General Secretary of PDFORRA.
He added: “We are particularly concerned about the impact this decision will have on our members and families in the Athlone and Dublin areas.”
Part of the coalition strategy is to cut the number of brigades from three to two and these will be based in Cork and Dublin.
Despite reassurances from Junior Defence Minister, Paul Kehoe TD, that 1,000 personnel will be retained in Custume Barracks, local representatives remain sceptical.
“The announcement that Custume Barracks will lose 4th Field CIS Company, 4th Field Engineer Company, 4th Cavalry Squadron, 2nd Field Artillery Regiment, as well as the brigade headquarters, is hugely worrying,” said Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil TD for Longford Westmeath.
He added that the number of jobs retained at Custume Barracks would be significantly less than the 1,000 personnel stated by Mr Kehoe.
“With so much capability now being lost, I fear for many jobs at the barracks. The Minister needs to be upfront on this and say if he is planning further cutbacks of personnel at Custume Barracks,” said Mr Troy.
When asked by the Leader to confirm impact to the 4th Cavalry Squadron, the Defence Forces issued a statement saying: “Members of the 4th Cavalry Squadron are serving in Custume Barracks since the closure of Longford Barracks...The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter TD, announced the reorganisation of the Defence Forces. On foot of the announcement Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has formed an implementation board in order to ensure the effective implementation of the changes whilst minimising the impact on the men and women of Oglaigh na hEireann.”
There are 1,050 personnel in the Westmeath barracks; this figure includes personnel who were transferred from Longford and Mullingar in recent years.