Army unit like ‘third world’ facility

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney addressing the delegates at the PDforra annual conference at the Clayton Hotel, Galway.Picture: Hany Marzouk

The Defence Forces’ central medical unit in the Curragh has been described as a third world facility, with a leaking roof, peeling paintwork, broken window panes and totally understaffed.

Delegates attending the PDforra conference were told the building, built by the British in 1900, was totally unfit for purpose and was the subject of a litany of health and safety issues.

The facility is responsible for overseeing the health of 1,650 troops based locally and also acts as a training school for military first responders and paramedics.

Staff working there have called on the Department of Defence to address, as a matter of urgency, the dilapidation of the buildings and working conditions.

There are staff shortages in the unit particularly when emergency medical technicians are tasked on training course or overseas service. PDforra is demanding staffing levels that can meet requirements and sustain a functioning medical unit.

One delegate said staff shortages are at a critical level. “Due to operational commitments and overseas commitments we are down to just five staff for this month, whereas we should have anything between 40 and 45 staff,” he said.

Medical staff also claimed some of the buildings, particularly those used for medical instruction and the 24-hour duty ambulance crew are antiquated and in extremely poor condition.

“We need a whole new building. What we have is a big, draughty, old building. It can be freezing in there at times. Pools of water appear on the floors after it rains. There are broken window panes and certain areas don’t have proper hot water,” a delegate said. “It’s third world conditions with real health and safety issues all over the place. When it comes to funding the medical corps seems to be always at the bottom of the pile.”

PDforra is calling on the Department of Defence to take urgent action to remedy the situation.

Meanwhile, the Defence Forces have started testing water quality at their installations amid fears that harmful minerals and bacteria could be present in some supply systems. Many of the barracks were built a number of years ago and PDforra, which represents enlisted personnel, has raised concerns about the possibility of lead piping still being in use.

The association’s health and safety officer Ray McKenna said both biological and mineral testing had recently started and he was awaiting the results.

He said any remedial works needed to address drinking water quality would have to be undertaken before the end of next year.

He also said PDforra had continued concerns about conditions at the military compound at Portlaoise Prison, some of which were now being addressed.

Mr McKenna said he had carried out an inspection at the compound last January and submitted a report to the military conciliation and arbitration board.

“In response to these concerns, some work has been carried out such as repairs to fire doors, leaking radiators fixed, ceiling lights replaced and the gym floor replaced. Although more work is needed, it is encouraging to see standards improving.”

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