Closure of army barracks ‘could save millions and strengthen peacekeeping’

THE head of the Department of Defence outlined savings of millions of euro and ambitions to strengthen peacekeeping missions abroad through the closure of army barracks.

Department secretary general Michael Howard yesterday explained how 100 soldiers on an average salary of €50,000 redeployed to frontline duty could save €5m.

But members the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) expressed concern that cuts in the Defence Forces could affect foreign missions.

Fine Gael’s John Deasy said that if soldier numbers were reduced from the current 9,500 strength of the force that there could be a “danger to the operational effectiveness” of missions.

Mr Howard said there were no plans at present to reduce numbers further. But he admitted department savings had to be made.

There is currently a restriction on spending for equipment for soldiers and concern has also arisen over the possible closure of Mullingar’s Columb Barracks, a move which Junior Minister Willie Penrose is strongly opposing.

Mr Howard said that for every one man working in a barracks, another five to six were needed to cover shifts.

Barrack closures would not necessarily save money but could lead to “huge efficiencies“, TDs were told.

Soldiers were minding stores and kitchens, he explained, adding that the army wanted to enable a shift from the support side to deployment.

Closing four barracks could gain 400 ‘man years’ for personnel who could be used elsewhere, he said.

A gain of €5m could be made for every 100 soldiers on an average salary of €50,000, he added.

“That’s the sort of gain you’re talking about,” Mr Howard said, adding that such changes were like “recruiting a couple of hundred people for the frontline”.

The department chief also admitted there were no rules governing the monitoring of €1m in taxpayers’ money that helped fund the Irish Red Cross.

Mr Howard said a third of the charity’s board as well as the chairman were appointed by the department but those officials were not compelled to report back about spending and issues raised about the charity.

Concerns have been raised about governance at the charity after a delay transferring €160,000 from a Tipperary branch.

Mr Howard said there were now strict governance measures enforced in the charity. But he said there were no reporting measures for officials in the charity.

“While the International Federation [of the Red Cross] can hold them to account, the government of Ireland cannot,” he said.

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