Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ceisteanna (34)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

34. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the strategic development plans for military locations in the Dublin area, including McKee Barracks, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Casement Aerodrome and St. Bricin's barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10741/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

I am keen to hear the Minister of State's views and plans for the development of military barracks in the greater Dublin area. We have the Baldonnel site, Casement Aerodrome, McKee Barracks on the north side and Cathal Brugha Barracks. Is it possible to improve our military operations and the conditions for the Defence Forces? We could look at the Curragh and other potential sites as well and in the process use the likes of the Cathal Brugha Barracks site instead for cost-rental public housing. The Minister of State will be aware of this because we had a Private Members' Bill in this regard. This would be of huge benefit to tackling the rental crisis gripping our city at present, particularly the south side of Dublin. Has he considered, and will he consider, reorganising our military infrastructure in the Dublin area to help facilitate this and to give the Army better facilities as an outcome of this approach? If not, why not?

My Department’s focus is the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in existing military facilities to ensure that the Defence Forces have the capability to deliver on all roles assigned by Government. This is achieved through the Defence Forces built infrastructure programme. The programme is designed to modernise and enhance the training, operational and accommodation facilities of the Defence Forces. It is predicated on operational requirements and is compiled on a priority needs basis by my Department in conjunction with the military authorities.

The capital element of the programme focuses mainly on infrastructure projects, including the construction of new buildings and the refurbishment of facilities. In any one year, the programme provides for new project starts and for the continuation of building projects already under way.

Some €35 million worth of projects are currently at various stages of implementation, ranging from design to construction. Some €14.2 million has been provided for the delivery of these projects in 2018. In addition to capital projects, ongoing works are required under the programme to ensure the upkeep and repair of barracks and other military facilities. Approximately €9 million has been provided for these works in 2018.

To develop a strategic perspective on military infrastructural requirements into the future, the White Paper on Defence identified the need to develop a rolling five-year capital plan that takes account of the capability priority needs of the Defence Forces. This plan, which is based on a comprehensive survey of military infrastructural requirements, has identified potential projects at all the locations referred to by the Deputy in his question. The plan will be finalised in the coming months. It will provide a comprehensive framework for the roll-out of infrastructural developments over the next five years on a priority needs basis.

More generally, the White Paper sets out the policy framework for the development of the Defence Forces in the period to 2025. To facilitate this, the 2018-27 national development plan provides for a capital allocation of €541 million for the five-year period to 2022. The national development plan recognises that defence provides part of the societal bedrock which allows society to function and thus contributes to national well-being across political, social, economic and environmental elements. This investment emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring the Defence Forces have the capabilities needed to deliver on all the domestic and overseas roles assigned by the Government as set out in the White Paper.

There is a chance that the process in which the Minister of State is engaged will look at strategic allocation to and investment in barracks. I think our Defence Forces have lost out and have been short-changed. They did not do well during the difficult period the country went through. More than anyone else, the members of the Defence Forces were affected by pay cuts and under-investment. This can now be seen in a variety of ways. I have been told by people who are close to the ground and have experience of the reorganisation of the Defence Forces that soldiers are now moving all over the country. People are coming down from Finner Camp to do barracks duties at Cathal Brugha Barracks. This involves a huge amount of travelling, which is one of the reasons for the high turnover of people within the Defence Forces. We do not give them enough support and resources. This is an opportunity for the Minister of State and the Defence Forces to modernise. This should not just be about a five-year capital programme involving €30 million or €50 million, as the Minister of State has mentioned, but it should be about thinking big with regard to how best to organise our defence operations in the Dublin area. Some 227 acres are available at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, which is not a small site. Lands are also available at McKee Barracks and Cathal Brugha Barracks. Other nearby facilities include those at the Curragh. Will the Minister of State avail of this opportunity to tackle the housing crisis? More than that, in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, he has an opportunity to change the game by investing in our Defence Forces in a way that will give them a really modern and top-of-the-range facility in one of the locations I have mentioned.

I understand the Deputy has tabled a Private Members' motion on this issue. I assume he is talking particularly about Cathal Brugha Barracks and McKee Barracks, which are in the greater Dublin area.

I am talking about Cathal Brugha Barracks in particular.

These two very important military installations which are in strategic locations in this city are vital for the Defence Forces. I hope every Member of this House understands why we need military installations at such strategic locations within the city. Projects worth approximately €5 million are at different stages, including design, tender and construction, at Cathal Brugha Barracks at the moment. There are absolutely no plans for the Defence Forces to move out of Cathal Brugha Barracks or McKee Barracks, which are two vital installations. I understand that there are housing needs but I am sure plenty of other vacant public sites across the city can be used for housing purposes. When the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, served as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, he started to compile a register of all vacant lands owned by the State. I presume there is plenty of land within the greater Dublin area that can be used without having to touch Cathal Brugha Barracks or McKee Barracks at any stage.

I am afraid it is not the case that there is plenty of land in the area we are thinking of. I am particularly interested in Cathal Brugha Barracks, which is in my constituency. The area in question is at the heart of the rental crisis. I assure the Minister of State that there are no other lands within the city area. What are the strategic military reasons for needing to have two military bases in the city? What is the strategic military risk that would arise if we had just one such facility? I suggest that if we concentrated on one facility, we could really modernise it by putting in first-class facilities. We could get funding to turn it into a top-of-the-range modern facility. Is it not true, as I have suggested to the Minister of State, that we have ended up with the worst of all worlds as a result of the military organisation we have done? Cathal Brugha Barracks has not been updated and kept up to standard. Soldiers are having to travel from all over the country to operate there. It is not worked in a co-ordinated manner. Is there not an opportunity here to think outside the box in a way that would improve facilities while helping to address the housing crisis, which is something we need to do? While I accept the need for certain security details, such as tracking money out of the Central Bank, I do not see why all three facilities are needed in Dublin city at this time. I suggest that Dublin's strategic military interests could be served from McKee Barracks and Casement Aerodrome, which is a half-hour ride down the road. Having armoured vehicles going through the main streets of Ranelagh and Rathmines is not a clever approach in many ways. What is the strategic reason for needing two facilities in the heart of the city?

The reason for the strategic locations is a matter of the security of the State, and I am not going-----

Deputy Ryan was a member of the Government for a while.

He fully understands that I will not discuss issues relating to the security of the State here in the Chamber. We have been advised that the Defence Forces need these two strategic barracks for defence reasons.

Could the Minister of State tell me privately later?

I refer to Cathal Brugha Barracks and McKee Barracks.