Other Questions.

Defence Forces Strength.

James Bannon

Question:

6 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Defence the services to the State which are going to be affected by the fact that the Defence Forces have downsized by 18% following the implementation of the White Paper and are now 500 below strength; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42201/09]

The White Paper on Defence 2000 charted an ambitious modernisation agenda for the defence organisation. The White Paper built upon previous reforms, including those introduced in the Defence Forces review implementation plan.

The downsizing of the Permanent Defence Force from 11,500 to 10,500, arising from the implementation of the White Paper, allowed for the re-balancing of the pay to non-pay ratio of the Defence Forces to 70:30. The proceeds of pay savings were necessarily re-invested in equipment and infrastructure. In addition, the Government agreed that the proceeds of property sales would also be made available for re-investment in the Defence Forces. A wide range of other recommendations included in the White Paper were subsequently implemented. The net effect of this reform agenda has been a significant improvement in the capabilities of the Defence Forces and overall a more efficient and effective defence organisation.

The defence and security environment has continued to evolve over the period since publication of the White Paper. The defence organisation has adapted to this changed environment. The additional workloads from the establishment of the Office of Emergency Planning and the evolution of European security and defence policy have all been met from within existing resources.

Overseas, UN peace support operations have changed, with an increased reliance by the UN on regional organisations such as the EU and missions with more robust Chapter VII mandates. This has driven the requirement for greater interoperability with high tech European armies. The Defence Forces have met these exacting standards and are now partners of choice for nations involved in such missions. The recent deployment to Chad, the most challenging logistical operation that the Defence Forces have undertaken to date, highlights the significant progress that has been made. This is in addition to the ongoing delivery of high quality services at home.

The reforms within the Defence Forces are widely acknowledged as a public service success story. The Defence Forces have delivered all services required of them since publication of the White Paper.

Notwithstanding the success of the White Paper, we are now in challenging times. The economic reality is such that the defence organisation must contribute to the correction of the public finances. The report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes recommended a reduction in Permanent Defence Force numbers by 500, to be achieved over a two to three year period "as operational requirement allow". In March of this year, the Government introduced a moratorium on recruitment and promotion within the public service.

I have been in contact with my colleague the Minister for Finance with regard to targeted exemptions from the moratorium. There are higher turnover levels in the Defence Forces relative to other areas of the public service and this is normal for military organisations. Due to this higher turnover level we have now reached a strength level of 10,013 with effect from 31 October 2009.

Planned expenditure levels for the Department will be considered as part of the Estimates and budgetary process for 2010. This will include consideration of the special group's recommendations, the impact of the moratorium and the delivery of defence services. This matter is subject to an ongoing deliberative process which will conclude shortly.

The Minister mentioned the Office of Emergency Planning. Can he confirm how many times the office has met this year? Has it met specifically under the direction of the Minister and the Government task force to discuss possible events next Tuesday? The Minister mentioned the possibility of a plan for next Tuesday. Can he reassure the House on the plan?

The question relates to the downsizing of the Defence Forces.

The downsizing will affect the effectiveness of the Defence Forces on Tuesday.

I admire the Deputy's ingenuity in expanding the question.

Is the Minister satisfied with the supports that exist for the Prison Service, the Fire Service and for local authorities in case of flooding? There is major flooding across the country today and local authority staff are dealing with it. If something similar happens on Tuesday, will there be people there to deal with emergency situations? The Minister does not seem to have thought about emergency planning for Tuesday.

I am anxious to facilitate the Deputy but we cannot have a debate that does not feature on the Order Paper.

If the Chair admires Deputy Deenihan's ingenuity, I am in awe of it. We must, however, clear up what we are talking about. The Office of Emergency Planning is a permanent office in the Department. Deputy Deenihan is referring to the task force on emergency planning.

It is part of it, it chairs the task force.

It does not, I chair the task force. The Office of Emergency Planning services the task force. That office is always there. I will get the information on the number of times the task force has met this year.

Has the Office of Emergency Planning met on a number of occasions or does it meet all the time?

It is a permanent office staffed by civil servants. The task force comprises meetings of representatives from the different Departments with the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the emergency services. It has met several times this year, I will get the exact number for the Deputy.

The Office of Emergency Planning is well aware of the situation that might pertain next Tuesday. There are established procedures whereby the Army can be called upon for back-up by various providers of emergency services. Those procedures are in place. The emergency planning office is well aware of them and if the Army is needed in any capacity on Tuesday, it will be available to assist.

What does the Minister anticipate the strength of the Defence Forces will be on 31 December? In the context of the cutbacks, what will be the operational strength of the Defence Forces in the short to medium-term? Will it be 10,000?

I would have to guess how many people would leave the Army between now and 31 December, I do not know. We are getting near the 10,000 level. Even the McCarthy report recommends a minimum of 10,000 to be achieved over a two or three year time scale but we are already there. I would not like the Army to drop under 10,000. That is why I have asked for permission to recruit extra personnel. I would like to get permission from the Department of Finance to keep the numbers as close as possible to 10,500 as possible. That was the figure indicated in the White Paper as being the optimum number needed to carry out the task the Army has to do both at home and abroad, to provide sufficient numbers on rotation for foreign missions, given that we are committed to providing up to a maximum of 850 troops abroad at any one time. That requires enormous back-up.

I have made my representations and I am hopeful I will succeed.

This is a very serious question. In view of the fact that some military personnel are now operating above their rank, could there be a potential health and safety issue in this regard? Is the Minister satisfied there is no health and safety issue as regards such people giving advice, direction and orders, effectively executing a role that is above their normal rank?

No such matter has been brought to my attention, but I am aware there are a number of difficulties due to the fact that people acting above their rank are not being recognised as such. I have addressed this matter out in some 42 cases in relation to the Chad mission and 20 cases with regard to the Kosovo mission, where people are actually in the field. I am also trying to address this problem at home and in this regard I have made proposals to the Minister for Finance to the effect that a certain number of back-up appointments should be recognised.

Army Barracks.

Michael Noonan

Question:

7 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Defence the number of barracks closed since January 2008 which remain unsold; if alternative State uses have been completed for vacant barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42263/09]

Dan Neville

Question:

11 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Defence the number of vacated and vacant Defence Force barracks still in State ownership as of 1 November 2009; the cost of maintenance and security of the said barracks; if a cost benefit analysis was performed to compare costs produced by the closures compared to the costs that would have arisen had the barracks remained functional; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42257/09]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 11 together.

The closure of barracks and the consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The dispersal of personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training. It also imposes increased and unnecessary overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barrack management, administration, maintenance and security. The consolidation process is designed to facilitate higher training standards, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties.

In the context of the 2009 budget, the Government approved the closure of four barracks at Monaghan, Longford, Rockhill and Lifford in County Donegal, and also St. Bricin's Hospital in Dublin. The four barracks closed at the end of January 2009. The closure of St. Bricin's is linked to the planned decentralisation of Defence Forces headquarters to the Curragh.

Following the closures, my Department contacted all other Departments to enquire if they or the agencies operating under their aegis wished to acquire any of the properties. Arising from that process, there have been ongoing discussions between my Department and Longford and Monaghan VECs, the Department of Education and Science and the Garda authorities in respect of the former barracks. These discussions are now at an advanced stage and will, I hope, be concluded shortly. Those premises that are not required by other State agencies or Departments will be advertised for sale by way of public tender.

With regard to costs arising from the closures, most of the costs at the level of the individual soldier are once-off or short-term costs arising from payment of change of station allowances and the provision of transport on a temporary basis. Actual expenditure on change of station allowances can only be determined once all claims have been received and processed. While some claims have been received, a number of personnel have not yet submitted a claim. As a result, the full cost is not yet available. The evacuation and movement of personnel and equipment from the closed barracks to the new locations was completed using Defence Force transport and, as such, no substantive additional costs were incurred in the move.

Since being closed, the costs incurred to date in 2009 at Monaghan Barracks are as follows: utilities — €17,500; provision of security — €3,462. The costs in relation to Longford are: maintenance and repairs, etc. — €7,075; utilities — €8,546; provision of security — €1,530. The costs for Rockhill are: maintenance and repairs, etc. — €9,220; utilities — €5,065; provision of security — €5,754. The costs for Lifford are: maintenance and repairs etc. — €7,900; utilities — €2,822; provision of security — €2,128.

The cost of providing additional building work and renovations at the receiving barracks to allow for the accommodation of troops moving to their new locations amounted to some €470,000. It is anticipated that further expenditure of €1.8 million will arise for the provision and upgrading of some accommodation and locker facilities in the receiving barracks.

Apart from the non-financial benefits of the closures, the costs mentioned will be more than off-set by recurring annual savings estimated at €2.6 million a year, mainly on security duties, utilities and maintenance costs. This does not take into account the proceeds from the sale of the four barracks. In addition to the four barracks closed in January the former McGee Barracks in Kildare remains in the ownership of my Department. This is the subject of a separate question. No expenditure is being incurred in respect of this barracks at present.

Will the Minister clarify who is providing maintenance in these barracks at present? What is the position on security at the various barracks? Has the Minister or his Department had reports of any anti-social behaviour at the barracks? The question on McKee refers to that, I appreciate.

He mentioned VECs, but has the Minister had any approaches from community groups or has he encouraged any such approaches or offers regarding the uses of any property?

With regard to individual firms, I believe the security contracts were put out to tender, but I do not know the names of the firms who tendered. However, I will get them for the Deputy.

On the question of anti-social behaviour, I have received complaints regarding McKee Barracks, but there is a separate question on that which we shall come to shortly. In relation to community groups I have made it clear that if they want to submit a bid or approach us, we shall be willing to listen. No community group has been directly in contact with me, but I cannot say whether any have approached the Department. I have told the Department to look favourably, if possible, at any such representations from community groups.

With regard to Longford barracks, will that be sold to the VEC and the Garda at full market price or is there a different mechanism for disposing of it? With regard to the other barracks and St. Bricin's being put out to tender, is there an indication that there is a market of any kind for them at present? Essentially, is it intended to put them out to tender soon or is it envisaged waiting for an upturn in the market, if such should happen in, say, the medium term? It strikes me that if they go to public tender, they might be sold for very small sums and in these circumstances might not necessarily be developed but remain derelict. I am seeking an assurance that when they are disposed of, this will be done on the proviso the sites will be developed, so that we do not have derelict buildings in perpetuity.

That is a fair point. With regard to the Deputy's first question about the barracks that are being sold to other State agencies, VECs, etc., the procedure will be to have valuers employed by the Department to give a proper valuation on these properties. That is the price we charge, essentially.

On the question of whether there is any great indication at the moment re St. Bricin's or other properties that might be available such as McGee Barracks in Kildare, the short answer is there is not. I take the Deputy's point that if one sets up a public tender at the moment one will probably get a very bad price. The Department is disposed to hold on to see whether the market improves. The Deputy's point is very valid. There is the possibility if they are put out to tender that some speculator could purchase them at a very low value and leave them there in the hope that property values could increase, while allowing them to go derelict. That is a very real fear and we shall bear it in mind. We had intended to wait until the market improved.

I refer to an article that appeared in one of the national newspapers today in which the Minister made a commitment to the effect that there will be no further barracks closures in this year's budget. Can the Minister confirm this was an accurate report that emanated from either the Department or the Minister himself?

I wish to make it clear to the House that it did not emanate from me. My view on barracks closures is that the Government is committed to the idea of collective training and obviously, the fewer units one has, the more people will be trained collectively. I acknowledge there has been much difficulty and angst on foot of the recent barracks closures. My approach is to let things settle down. Consequently, the question of barracks closures certainly is not immediately on the agenda for the time being.

Commemorative Events.

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

8 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Defence if the current fiscal and budgetary crisis will result in Defence Forces participation in State ceremonies being reduced or withdrawn; the cost of involvement in such State ceremonies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42269/09]

The State ceremonies in which the Defence Forces have participated in in the current year to date include the Easter Sunday commemorative event, the 1916 Arbour Hill commemoration ceremony, the national day of commemoration, the national Famine memorial day, presentation of credentials to the President, State visits by prime ministers and foreign Heads of State and State visits by the President, both inward and outward.

Participation of Defence Forces personnel at the annual commemorative events and in their role in support of the President are a small but important part of the duties of the Defence Forces. As the personnel are drawn from the cadre of the Defence Forces, no additional costs arise which would not otherwise be incurred in the normal course with the exception of the transportation of troops to the ceremonial location. The costs of such transportation are not compiled separately by my Department.

The support given to the President in respect of the programme of State travel, both visits abroad and incoming, and the acceptance of the credentials of ambassadors to Ireland is a matter for the Government. The President acts in these matters on the advice of the Government and the arrangements are made by the Government in accordance with the generally accepted international practice.

On the other hand, preparation for annual commemorative events involves liaison with a variety of Departments, State bodies and individual organisations. The level of support provided by the Defence Forces is determined by the nature of the event. Discussions have already begun between officials in my Department, the Defence Forces and officials from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on the national Famine memorial day which is to be held in Mayo next May. Officials from my Department and Defence Forces personnel are represented on the interdepartmental committee which organises the annual Easter Sunday event that commemorates the 1916 Rising. Detailed planning for this event usually starts early in the first quarter of each year.

Planned expenditure levels for my Department will be considered as part of the Estimates and budgetary process for 2010. The scale and level of participation at each ceremonial event will be determined by the availability of resources. However, I do not envisage any change in the existing arrangements.

I welcome the Minister's response. It is important that the country should see its Defence Forces as much as possible and their participation in events such as 1916 commemorations serve to heighten the importance of such events. I have stated previously that Defence Forces participation raises the sense of occasion. It also demonstrates to the people that while the Defence Forces may be small in numbers, they are highly efficient and, in the Minister's words, are lean and mean. In themselves, they make a statement for the country. In particular, it is important to put our best foot forward on occasions when dignitaries visit and the Defence Forces do so. Can the Minister provide an assurance that the existing services being provided by the Defence Forces will be retained in State ceremonies? In addition, does the Minister envisage an extension of their role to other parts of the country apart from Dublin, particularly in respect of 1916 commemorations? Might there be a possibility in the future for people from different communities to see the Defence Forces in parade at some major events?

I do not envisage an extension or expansion of such activities at present. However, I do not envisage any reduction either. As for 1916, Deputy Deenihan is aware the Government is planning for the centenary. It is a slow process and the next meeting of the long-term planning committee will be held on 2 December. As the Deputy is aware, 1916 is now commemorated on an annual basis. This is done in a short ceremony which involves the reading of the Proclamation, the laying of a wreath by the President and the raising of the flag. This again will be the procedure next Easter. However, I appreciate and take on board the points made by Deputy Deenihan on the importance of such ceremonial events, as well as his comments on the Defence Forces and their participation therein and I will pass them on.

In his reply, the Minister did not mention St. Patrick's Day parades and Defence Forces participation therein. May I take it from his most recent reply that there will be participation in St. Patrick's Day parades by the Permanent Defence Force and that the usual large contingent will go to Limerick?

I have had representations from many parts of the country regarding participation in St. Patrick's Day parades and I have asked the Army to be as generous as possible. In addition to taking part in the aforementioned official events, the Army also takes part in many civic events such as shows, aerial displays etc., as well as sometimes providing tents for organisations that are holding meetings. While the Department naturally must now monitor such activities due to our straitened circumstances, I assure Deputy O'Shea that I will continue to be as generous as I possibly can and I certainly will not turn down any request simply because it happens to come from Waterford.

Ministerial Transport.

Seán Barrett

Question:

9 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Defence his plans to sell one of the two Government jets in view of the fact that ministerial air transport has reduced significantly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42206/09]

The ministerial air transport service, MATS, provides the Government and the President with an independent flexible and effective air transport service to assist in meeting national and international obligations. The service is primarily provided by the Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 aircraft, which were specifically acquired for that purpose. The Gulfstream IV was acquired in December 1991 and has accumulated more than 12,000 flying hours to date. The Learjet entered service in January 2004 and has accumulated more than 2,000 flying hours to date. The Learjet 45 was purchased as a replacement for the Beechcraft Super King Air, which continued to be used until January 2009 as a backup aircraft for the MATS, in addition to its primary role as a pilot training aircraft. However, it is no longer available for ministerial air transport or any other taskings and there is effectively no fixed-wing back up to the dedicated MATS aircraft.

The Learjet 45 has the capacity to carry seven passengers and is tasked with short and medium-haul missions to the United Kingdom and Europe. The Gulfstream IV has the capacity to carry 14 passengers and can be tasked with long-haul missions to destinations such as the United States, Africa and the Middle East, as well as to European destinations. All requests for ministerial air transport are subject to the authorisation of the Taoiseach, taking into account several factors. These include the necessity to undertake the engagement, the amount of notice received, the demands of the particular schedule, the availability and suitability of other travel arrangements, overall cost considerations, the numbers in the delegation and security considerations. The stringent criteria which have always applied ensure that only justified travel is undertaken on MATS and this continues to be the case. The demand for ministerial air transport, allied with the advantages it provides, continues to justify the requirement for a service provided by two aircraft.

To date in 2009, more than 100 missions have been completed, including missions to the United States, South America, the Middle East and Chad on the Gulfstream IV, as well as missions to Egypt and Sudan on the Learjet, along with missions to the United Kingdom and Europe. The Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 aircraft also perform a range of non-MATS taskings, such as humanitarian, air ambulance and military transport missions. There are no plans at present to dispose of the Gulfstream IV or the Learjet 45 and any future decision in this regard is a matter for the Government.

I note that in 1998, for example, Government aircraft flew 261 missions, while last year they flew 191 missions. To date in 2009, which is almost at an end, there have been just 100 missions. The fact that demand is falling makes one wonder whether there is a need for two Government jets in this time of financial difficulty, on which the Minister so often lectures us even when answering questions on defence matters. Has the Government conducted any review in the past year, under the direction of the Taoiseach, of the use of the Government jets? There must be a direction from somewhere because the missions have been reduced. Ministers are not using them to the extent that they did at one stage. There is obviously no policy to sell off one of the jets but is there one to reduce their use? Are Ministers obliged, or advised, to use scheduled flights?

The Deputy said that I occasionally lecture the House on matters of finance. My lecturing days are long behind me. I do not lecture now, I inform.

The jets would be called wasting assets for the purpose of capital gains tax. Deputy O'Shea pointed out the undesirability of selling fixed property due to the bad market conditions. I do not imagine there is a good market for a Government jet, particularly one that has clocked up 12,000 flying hours. An island nation that is now thankfully at the centre of Europe, conducting trade and maintaining diplomatic relations all over the world, surely needs its own mode of transport. The Government of the Czech Republic has its own aircraft and somebody told me lately that the Government of Cameroon has acquired its own aircraft. The need is obvious. It gives us flexibility because we can use military airfields which brings us closer to our destinations and we are not stuck with the fixed schedules and timetables etc.

In response to Deputy Deenihan's question about Government policy I am looking at the figures. Usage is down on last year although we have not reached the end of this year yet. I suppose people are looking more closely at alternative means of transport. Ryanair does not fly to Chad so if I go to visit the troops I have no option but to use the Government jet. Maybe some people take the view that even if it is more inconvenient they will use commercial transport. All Departments have been directed to be as prudent as possible, not just in their use of the Government jet but in all matters involving the expenditure of State resources, which is reflected in the reduced usage of the Government jet.

I take the point that this is not the time to dispose of either of the jets but Deputy Deenihan's question is valid. Are they both required? Could ministerial travel not be scheduled in such a way that one jet would be sufficient? One could be put into mothballs which would bring down costs. Has that option been considered?

We continue to consider all options. The Government jets are not used only for ministerial transport. They are also used in air ambulance missions, for example, the latest figures available to me for 2008 show that the Air Corps completed six search and rescue missions and 87 air ambulance missions, which is significant. The initial figures I have received for 2009 show that those figures have not diminished. The jets are put to several uses. We will continue to review the situation.

Has the possibility of renting out the jets to private organisations to raise funds or subsidise their use been considered? It may in some circumstances be a useful way to make money given that the Taoiseach has said we must consider all options and get more for less.

To my knowledge that has not been considered.

Will the Minister consider it?

Maybe now that the Deputy has mentioned it.

Defence Forces Deployment.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

10 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Defence the role played by the Defence Force in the process that led to the release of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42249/09]

The concern felt by the nation at the news of the capture of Ms Sharon Commins and her colleague Hilda Kawuki by rebels in Sudan in July of this year was mirrored in equal amounts by the joy felt on their release in October. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, when considering the range of options open to him to bring this matter to a safe conclusion, requested the assistance of the Defence Forces. This assistance was sought as part of the broad range of assistance provided to him through his own Department at home and abroad, through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and an Garda Siochána.

The role of the Defence Forces was to provide general advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs having regard to their operational experience gained from overseas missions. This necessitated a small number of officers travelling, in rotation, to Sudan to advise Department of Foreign Affairs diplomatic staff. The Air Corps provided pilots and ancillary staff for the Government jet. In addition medical personnel were dispatched to Sudan on Ms Commins' release for the purpose of accompanying her home.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was at all times the lead Minister in this matter. It is not the practice of my Department to release detailed information on any specific military mission. I wish Ms Commins well in her future endeavours and I pay tribute to the exemplary performance of all those who served the State in this delicate matter.

I join with the Minister in recognising the role that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and all other organs of the State played in this matter. I understand, however, that members of the Defence Forces played a critical role in liaising with the European Union and the United Nations. Some had served with the UN in Ethiopia and the Sudan and were familiar with the local politics, personalities and physical terrain there. They were very effective in their liaison role. That should be recognised. The Minister can probably not say what they did but if people serve the country well it should be recognised.

The Defence Forces played a crucial role in this matter and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department have communicated their appreciation of that. We are always available to assist in any way we can when called upon to do so.

I too wish to be associated with the tributes to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and all those elements of the State's service which played a role in the release of Ms Commins and her aid worker colleague. The role that the Defence Forces can play in such a situation is not generally appreciated. I am pleased to acknowledge that today and to compliment the Minister and the Defence Forces on the useful role they played in the happy outcome to this particularly dangerous event.

I welcome the opportunity to be associated with the remarks already made. Maybe we should ask the Minister to send the troops to Paris to get justice there.

I raised the issue of the two GOAL volunteers because I have had a long association with GOAL, particularly through my involvement in community games. I am delighted about what happened. I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I read an article in a Sunday newspaper which suggested the Army's Ranger Wing had been dispatched to deal with the issue. Will the Minister comment on this because that type of mischievous reporting does not help in such cases?

I wish the Minister continued success with his endeavour. I remain a big fan.

An article appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday on 27 September 2009 stating members of the Army Ranger Wing were on the ground in Sudan as part of the Government’s efforts to free Ms Commins. On 25 September in response to queries received from a journalist on the previous day, 24 September, representing that newspaper, the journalist was advised specifically, unambiguously and categorically that no members of the Army Ranger Wing were on the ground in Sudan working on any ongoing efforts to free the kidnapped aid worker.

Despite this the newspaper printed an erroneous story on 27 September that there were Army rangers on the ground. Subsequently, when the matter was brought to the newspaper's attention, it issued a correction stating the original error arose due to a misunderstanding. I cannot understand how anyone, even the Irish Mail on Sunday, could misunderstand the simple word “No”.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 7.

Army Barracks.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

12 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Defence if control of the former Magee Barracks, Kildare, County Kildare has been handed back to his Department; if so, his plans to ensure the barracks does not continue to be a blight on the townscape due to its dilapidated condition and the anti-social behaviour that takes place there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42233/09]

The Government decided on 1 July 2003 that the former Magee Barracks in Kildare town would be among the State lands released to Kildare County Council for inclusion in the sustaining progress affordable housing initiative. My Department has been involved in the process of transferring ownership to Kildare County Council with the final contract of sale being sent to the solicitors for Kildare County Council earlier this year.

However, in light of the recent significant changes in the housing market and the associated implications for affordable housing, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is reviewing the affordable housing initiative and will be bringing proposals to the Government presently. The Magee Barracks site is being considered in that context.

The project board established to oversee the development of the site via a public private partnership has recently concluded the site cannot economically be developed at this time for the purposes of the affordable housing initiative. My Department will consider the future of the site in the light of any decisions reached by the Government. In the meantime, arrangements are being made to enhance the security of the site.

From the information I have received, the site has become derelict and a blight on the townscape while also attracting much anti-social behaviour. It has become an embarrassment to the Defence Forces and local authority. Will the Minister assign responsibility for cleaning up the site, making it presentable and safe? Is there some way the site can be screened off so that it does not continue to be a centre for anti-social behaviour?

The difficulty is that the Department was meant to hand this site over to Kildare County Council, which would be responsible for it. It has decided — or is on the point of doing so — not to proceed to take legal delivery of the site and to hand it back to the Department.

I have already given an instruction to my Department to take the appropriate measures to clean up the site and secure it with fencing.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate