By Ronan Dodd
SOUTH Tipperary county councillors unanimously backed a call at a special meeting of the council last Friday to urge the Minister for the Defence to reconsider the decision to close Kickham Barracks in Clonmel.
The closure was announced in November and will see over 200 army personnel move from Clonmel to Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick.
The appeal to Minister Alan Shatter was proposed by Cllr Tom Acheson and seconded by Cllr Michael Murphy.
Cathaoirleach Michael Fitzgerald outlined the important role the Barracks had played in South Tipperary since 1650, helping Clonmel during times of flooding, in search and rescue operations and for sporting and cultural activities.
He said that while he appreciated that the personnel would be redeployed, they accounted for a €10m payroll in the town and he was fearful of the effect that its removal would have on the local economy.
It was revealed that 32 local businesses were supplying direct to the barracks, and that there will be inevitable indirect job losses.
However, while the closure must be resisted, Cllr Fitzgerald felt that efforts should be made to find a use for the site as it had a “significant potential from a commercial point”.
However, many councillors felt it was too early to be looking at any other use for the barracks as they had until next March to persuade the Minister and Defence Forces chiefs to change their minds on closure.
The councillors agreed that the closure was not just a matter for Clonmel but affected the entire county.
Leas-chathaoirleach Cllr Michael Murphy maintained that it “made no economic sense” to close the barracks and believed the proposal was more about the Defence Forces consolidating their position in a smaller number of barracks.
He was “appalled” at the way the news had been given to the barracks staff and called for the report into the need for closure to be released to the council.
Cllr Siobhan Ambrose was “disappointed” that local politicians were already talking about getting a new factory to occupy the site.
“That shows a lack of knowledge about the history of the barracks. We are talking about part of our heritage,” she said. “I urge people not to jump on the bandwagon looking for something to replace it. There are only two people who drove the army out of Clonmel – Cromwell and Alan Shatter.”
Cllr Pat English felt South Tipperary was “under siege” with the loss of its VEC headquarters to Nenagh and the closure of St Michael’s Hospital. “I feel we are being targeted by Labour and Fine Gael.”
He was supported by Cllr Eddie O’Meara who asked if they were also “going to wait until the council moved to Nenagh”.
However Clonmel’s Mayor Darren Ryan said that he would ask Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore for the decision to be reversed. He would also be seeking a copy of the feasibility study that recommended closure.
“The way it was closed was disrespectful to local democracy. On November 11, Minister Shatter said no decision had been made. The following Tuesday I was taking calls from the national media,” he said.
Cllr Ryan also believed that the council and South Tipperary was being “ignored” by the Defence Force’s chief-of-staff.
He pointed out that the army had looked after the town during flooding and brought emergency aid to people during cold weather, fearing that when they moved to Sarsfield Barracks, “Limerick will look after Limerick” and South Tipperary would be left until the last for help.
Supporting the motion, Cllr Jack Crowe said that there were 64 public representatives in South Tipperary who were all against the closure and in a democracy their views had to be taken into consideration.
However, Cllr Tom Wood pointed out that, judging from the experience of people in Cashel, the decision would not be reversed.
“Cashel will support the retention of the barracks but 16 years ago we lost our acute services at Our Lady’s Hospital. We were told we would have new services in two years, but 16 years on we have a ghost building. My trust in the people at the top is very limited. We couldn’t get the HSE to meet us so how do we expect to get the army to. Sadly, we will be going to Berlin to make our representations in future,” he said.
Cllr Wood believed that the decision was made at ministerial level, and “ministers don’t listen to local people”.
Meanwhile, the council decided to postpone any discussion on a letter received from the Department of Defence stating that expressions of use for the barracks had been circulated among other Government departments.