Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ceisteanna (6)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


6. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the dilapidated condition of accommodation blocks that recruits and soldiers are required to live or stay in while receiving training in the Curragh; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the Cadet School is operating out of prefabs and that the Army Ranger Wing is located in old stables with no running water; and if a five-year demolition, restoration and construction strategy will be developed in order to address the needs of a modern military training school. [45677/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (19 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

This question relates to the dilapidated condition of accommodation blocks for recruits and soldiers while receiving training at the military training facility in the Curragh. Is the Minister of State aware that the Cadet School is operating out of prefabs and that the Army Ranger Wing is located in old stables with no running water?

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department, together with the military authorities, are actively developing a five-year built infrastructural plan. I am advised that this plan, which will address infrastructural requirements for all military installations, is now at a very advanced stage of development and will be completed in the coming weeks.

The plan will provide, for the first time, a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe and will ensure that the required capital funding is allocated in order to ensure that the plan is implemented as intended. The list of works identified as part of this project will be prioritised for delivery based on military needs and will be updated annually to form the basis for the selection of capital projects under the programme into the future.

I am fully committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. The Defence Forces built infrastructure programme is compiled on a priority needs basis by my Department in conjunction with the military authorities.

Some of the key ongoing projects, now under way in improving Defence Forces accommodation and living standards across military installations are as follows. The upgrading and refurbishment of block 7 at Plunkett Barracks in the Curragh Camp, Defence Forces training centre involves the refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. The works have now commenced. Work on the upgrading and refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 80 personnel in blocks 1 and 2 at Cathal Brugha Barracks has also commenced. The refurbishment of the apprentice hostel accommodation block at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, is well advanced and will be completed in early 2020. It will provide classrooms, an auditorium, recreation and improved living in accommodation for 75 personnel. The refurbishment of the dining hall at Custume Barracks, Athlone, started in 2018 and I hope to open it in early 2020. The scope of the works includes the refurbishment and upgrading of the existing dining hall.

I am confident that this increased level of building construction will continue into 2020. Last week, I announced two new gymnasia in Kilkenny and Limerick. The refurbishment and upgrading of block 8 at the naval base in Haulbowline will deliver additional accommodation on top of the existing provision of 210 bed spaces that are already provided at there. It is intended that the work on the block 8 site will commence in 2020. Work will commence on the upgrade of the former university student administrative USAC complex in Galway. The building is designed to accommodate 120 persons living in single rooms.

While both projects are at an early stage of design development, it is expected that construction works will commence in late 2020. The level of investment illustrates the importance I attach to ensuring that the quality of the Defence Forces built infrastructure meets with the expectations of serving personnel.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On the specific points raised by the Deputy, I am advised by the military authorities that there are ablution facilities available for Army Ranger Wing personnel. I also understand that the Cadet School's offices are currently housed in modern prefabricated buildings. The Defence Forces are developing proposals for the procurement of a design team to develop proposals for a long-term building solution. I have already referenced the works under way in terms of the upgrading and refurbishment of block 7 at Plunkett Barracks in the Curragh Camp.

This year, €28 million was allocated towards the maintenance of existing buildings and the development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. This represents an increase of more than €10 million compared with 2018. I can confirm that it is intended that the budget allocation will be matched in the coming years in order to ensure that the level of building activity is in line with Defence Force requirements.

I welcome all those projects. I visited several barracks recently, not just to the Curragh Camp, to which this question specifically relates, and seen the dilapidated state they are in. There is a need for a blueprint for the refurbishment and construction of facilities. I welcome the fact that, after 11 and a half years in the job and as this Government nears the end of its term of office, the Minister of State is finally putting together a five-year plan.

Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence visited the Curragh Camp recently and we saw for ourselves the dilapidated conditions there. We saw the sewage stains that had run down the walls of some of the shower blocks and toilets in quarters in which raw recruits are supposed to live. I accept that part of joining the Army or the Defence Forces is to be toughened up but I would not expect anybody to have to live in the conditions I saw. I also accept that there have been improvements in some blocks but the conditions in others are a complete disgrace in this day and age. It is not just the living quarters, the Cadet School operates out of prefabs. The military hospital is not fit for purpose in any shape or form. The supposed elite unit, the Army Ranger Wing, is operating out of old stables with no running water. That is a living disgrace in this day and age. More than 100 buildings on the site need to be demolished. While the Army might have the explosives required to demolish them, there is no point demolishing old buildings unless there are replacements. When will a plan and funding be put in place to address dilapidation at the Curragh Camp?

Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence were taken on a detailed tour of the accommodation in the Curragh Camp. They got to see areas that have been the subject of significant investment, a matter that Deputy Ó Snodaigh failed to mention. While some areas need significant investment, the refurbished blocks are of a good standard. The portfolio of Department of Defence properties includes many buildings that are very old and that require significant investment. We are catching up on increasing the amount we are spending following the period between 2008 and 2016, when funding was very limited.

We have invested heavily in the Curragh Camp in recent years but I accept more funding is needed. Anyone going through the Curragh Camp will see the extent of old buildings that require millions of investment. Between 2016 and 2018, we spent €17 million on projects in blocks B and D of Pearse Barracks. Even Deputy Ó Snodaigh will accept that is a significant amount of money. This year, we are putting €3.5 million into maintenance and improvements in the Curragh Camp. We commenced a €2 million project at block 7 of Plunkett Barracks.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned the Army Ranger Wing. I understand that the committee did not visit the wing's accommodation or go inside its walls. The Army Ranger Wing is not located in old stables. Running water and appropriate ablution facilities are available to members of the Army Ranger Wing. I do not know where the Deputy got his information but it is incorrect.

In response to the final comment of the Minister of State, I can only go on the information I was given by the staff in the Curragh who brought us on the tour. It was not just me who heard the comments relating to the Army Ranger Wing. We were not allowed on that part of the campus because we were only there to visit the training wing.

When will the Minister of State increase the number of maintenance staff to address the broken windows, showers and sewerage facilities? The number of maintenance staff in the Curragh Camp was 200 but it is now 30. The sum of €3.5 million will not address that. When will the Minister of State increase the number of maintenance staff to the previous level given the size and number of buildings to be maintained until such time as the five-year or ten-year plan is introduced or whatever length of time it will take to address the dilapidation and disgraceful living conditions. Raw recruits, cadets and sometimes overseas cadets from Malta, for example, some of whom we met, are expected to live, work and try to survive in those conditions. When will action be taken to address the level of dilapidation?

Deputy Ó Snodaigh knows that a significant amount of investment is going into Army barracks, education, health and other facilities. His party is becoming like Fianna Fáil in that it is just looking for more money and there is no accountability for anything. They just want to spend, spend, spend.

The sum of €25 million was left over from last year.

Are they not worth it?

I have seen Sinn Féin's spending document and if I were Deputy Ó Snodaigh I would not comment.

A total of €25 million was left from last year's budget.

Let us have some order. The Minister of State should be allowed to speak without interruption.

There has been significant investment in the Curragh Camp in recent years. When we entered Government, no money had been spent on the camp since 2008 and no money was spent on it in our first five years in government, so we had to play catch-up in respect of the eight or nine years when no money was spent. We are spending millions of euro on the Curragh Camp to upgrade its facilities. The Deputy should recognise that there has been significant investment, rather than talking only about the negatives.

I have no problem recognising that.

There are significant positive aspects too. I hope the Deputy recognises that a large number of buildings are outdated and not fit for purpose.

I said 100 buildings needed to be destroyed in the morning.

Unfortunately, we cannot destroy them for heritage and other reasons.

There is €30 million left over from the Department of Defence Vote that could be spent.

There is not €30 million left over. If the Deputy examined the figures, he would see the correct amount of money.

It was €29 million last year, €20 million the year before, €24 million the year before that and €25 million prior to that.