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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 28 Jul 1924

Vol. 3 No. 17


Question proposed: "That the State Lands Bill, 1924, be read a Second time."

I think it is unfortunate that this Government, or any other Government not long established, should proceed to sell property belonging to the State. I do not think the Government know what the requirements will be in the future. Some of the places mentioned in the Schedule I will not deal with, such as Pearse Street or O'Connell Street. When it comes to places like Richmond Barracks. I think it is a very serious matter. I saw from the report of the Dáil proceedings that the Government had got the advice of their military advisers in connection with the sale of the military barracks. I confess that that did not impress me, as I do not know who their military advisers are, or if they have had any more knowledge than the President. I think the President went through as many battles as anyone else. If we are to keep troops in Dublin they should be kept in a place where they can be trained. The only place that troops can be trained in Dublin is the Phoenix Park. There are certain barracks convenient to the Phoenix Park, while others are far removed from it. If the proposal was to sell Beggars Bush Barracks, which is far removed from the Phoenix Park, I would have nothing to say, as I do not know how troops stationed there could be trained. Around the Phoenix Park are Marlborough Barracks, the Royal Barracks, Richmond Barracks, and Island Bridge Barracks. We are proceeding to dispose of Richmond Barracks, leaving the other three. I have reason to believe that there is talk of disposing of another large barracks.

Hear. hear. the Royal.

Yes, the Royal Barracks. For certain reasons I think it is rather premature to dispose of the Royal Barracks, as we would then be left with two small barracks, the Marlborough and the Island Bridge Barracks, in which to train troops. All the others are far removed from the Park. I think it is unwise for the Government to rush into these things in a hurried manner. It would be better if they waited, so as to have an opportunity of judging what barracks they will require. I remember instances where the British Government. after long experience and with plenty of advisers, made grievous mistakes in these matters. Some twenty years ago the British Government sold some old forts at Athlone that seemed to be of no value, and which were built in 1798. They were sold at a nominal price, and the year after the army authorities found that they wanted them back. They went to the contractor and asked him if he would sell. He said no. Knowing that the forts were valuable to the military he would not sell until he was paid four or five times the price he paid for them.

I would not be surprised if the same thing were to happen here again in two years' time. We may find, as the British did in the case of the forts, that these barracks may be sadly wanted later. The idea, of course, that is behind the selling of Richmond Barracks is an excellent one, but I suggest that Beggars Bush Barracks would be equally good for the same purpose. What I object to is the hurried disposal of these buildings. It is also proposed to sell the buildings out at Tallaght. I remember that in the Volunteer days we used to have a camp there. It is a very convenient place for a rifle range, and perhaps it may be required for the same purpose again. I think it is unwise to sell these places which may be required in the very near future.

As one of the people responsible for urging on the Government the necessity of disposing of some of the military barracks in Dublin, I must, in this case, defend the action of the Government. For the past two years we have been pressing on the Government to allocate some of the military establishments in the city for the purpose of providing much-needed housing accommodation for the people. I approach this matter from a different angle to that of Senator Colonel Moore. Military men, of course, look at all questions through military spectacles. As a civilian, I would be delighted if to-morrow every military establishment in Dublin, and indeed, in the whole of Ireland were given over for the purpose of providing housing accommodation for the very many people who are in need of it. I hope that in the very near future we will have no need for military establishments in this country. We have had enough of soldiering and of everything that appertains to soldiering, and I sincerely trust that in the near future all the military establishments in the country will be handed over to the citizens for a more useful purpose than that to which they are devoted at present, and that when that takes place they will be utilised for providing much-needed housing accommodation for the people. The location of the barracks does not matter very much to me. Senator Colonel Moore did refer to one of them as being convenient to the Phoenix Park. I sincerely trust that the Government will soon introduce a further measure to dispose of Marlborough Barracks so that, as in the case of Richmond or Kehoe Barracks, it can be utilised for providing housing accommodation for the people. In any action the Government takes to set aside these military establishments for the purpose of providing housing accommodation for the people, it will, I believe, have the hearty support of the citizens generally.

We have at present in the City of Dublin quite a large number of military establishments which more than provide for the number of troops that we are in a position to accommodate in them. One of them is now called Kehoe Barracks. It was formerly called Richmond Barracks. It costs a good deal of money to maintain. In the immediate vicinity of it there is a considerable amount of land which lends itself admirably for the purpose of providing accommodation for the working classes. In addition to that particular barracks we have Arbour Hill, formerly called the Royal Barracks, and now called Collins Barracks. Then there is Griffith Barracks, formerly called Wellington Barracks. Beggars Bush Barracks has not yet had the honour of baptism conferred on it. Then there is McKee Barracks, formerly known as Marlborough Barracks. Portobello Barracks is another very extensive institution When I inquired recently from the military authorities why it had not so far got the honour of baptism I took it from the very apologetic tone in which I was answered that they were waiting for the honour of the President of the Executive Council being shot or of surrendering his life for the benefit of his country in some other way. I take it, however, that we have pretty considerable accommodation for a non-militarist Government, and I think it is unlikely that a very large number of troops will be required in the very near future. Those who were inclined to question the supremacy of Parliament or its authority now admit, I think, that the people have got the right, and even more than the right, the power, to assert that authority if it should be questioned at any time.

The next question is as to how far it is possible for us to accommodate a sufficient number of troops in sufficiently close proximity to the areas in which they can be drilled and disciplined. In that connection I am informed that the accommodation provided in the other barracks is quite sufficient to enable any defence operations, or in the very unlikely contingency of having to take the offensive, to provide sufficient and comfortable accommodation for the requisite number of troops. It is more than probable that in the next twelve months it will be possible to dispose of one of the other institutions and in that connection it must be borne in mind that there is in the City of Dublin at the moment an immediate and crying need for housing. These particular establishments cost a considerable amount of money to maintain them. A considerable amount of money has to be expended in having guards posted at them and generally they do not tend towards getting back to that normal peaceful atmosphere in which few colonels are ever mentioned and a general is scarcely thought of at all. I do not mean that in any disrespectful way to Senator Colonel Moore who is, I know, of a very peaceful disposition. The fact is that there is a crying need in the City of Dublin for more housing accommodation.

In this particular case of Kehoe barracks a scheme has been put forward by persons experienced in the matter of housing. I understand it is possible to accommodate there a large number of families at a price which more closely approximates to an economic experiment of that kind than anything I have seen before. In addition to that there are something like thirteen acres within the immediate vicinity of the barracks itself, which lend themselves to development for housing, and which, I think, would command the most generous support and general commendation from the citizens if used in that particular direction. The other places mentioned in the Schedule are the "Drill Field" in Clonmel. Houses have already been built there by the Clonmel Corporation. In that case a difficulty has arisen through the legal knowledge of the persons who have purchased the houses. They are refusing either to pay for the houses or to pay rent until they get title, and this particular measure affords the Government, in the first place, and the Clonmel Corporation in the second place, an opportunity of providing title and of getting their money. The other premises mentioned are situate mainly in O'Connell Street, Dublin. There the proposal has been put forward for constructing an outlet through the well-known thoroughfare, Gloucester Street, which runs parallel to North Earl Street and Talbot Street. Its construction, it is believed, will relieve to some extent the extraordinary congestion that takes place in North Earl Street during busy periods. The other premises are situate in what was formerly known as Brunswick Street, and now called Pearse Street. These premises, as well as I remember, were taken over by the British during, I think, the period of the late war, or immediately anterior to it. They were utilised for recruiting purposes. In this case these premises now serve no useful purpose. All the particulars in connection with these premises are set out in the Schedule. The whole of this particular measure was subjected to a considerable amount of criticism in the Dáil, and I think that the safeguards, so far as safeguards are necessary for the State, are sufficiently provided for in the second clause, under which information respecting any letting in the future will be laid on the Table of both Houses of the Oireachtas. In the absence of a Resolution approving of the letting there is a sufficient amount of time provided to enable any member of either House to raise the matter and ventilate any objection there may be to the proposed letting.

Question—"That this Bill be now read a Second Time"—put and declared carried.