Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ceisteanna (54)

Fiona O'Loughlin


54. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the funding being allocated for the upgrade of facilities for personnel in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53208/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (12 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

This question relates to the Curragh Camp, the heart of the Defence Forces, the standard of accommodation there for recruits and the investment that is needed to bring the camp to a standard suitable for the men and women who serve this country.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

I am fully committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. This year some €28 million was allocated towards the maintenance and development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. This represents an increase of over €10 million compared to 2018 and I can confirm to the Deputy that it is intended that the budget allocation will be matched in the coming years to ensure that the level of building activity is in line with requirements.

In this context and looking to the future, I can confirm that a five-year built infrastructural plan is now at a very advanced stage of development and will be completed in the coming weeks. The plan, developed together with the military authorities, will provide a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe. The plan will ensure that the required capital funding is prioritised. The list of projects for delivery will be updated annually to form the basis for the selection of capital projects under the programme into the future.

In relation to the Defence Forces training centre, I can confirm that over the period of 2016 to end 2018, some €17 million was spent on various capital projects and ongoing maintenance of buildings and facilities. Most notably, this included the refurbishment of Blocks B and D of Pearse Barracks, as well as the provision of a newly constructed ammunition storage facility.

The upgrade and refurbishment of Plunkett Block 7 in the Curragh Camp, Defence Forces training centre, involves the refurbishment of an existing building to provide accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. Work on this project is advancing well and is expected to be completed in quarter 2, 2020 at a cost of €2 million.

In 2019, it is intended that some €3.5 million will be expended by year-end on ongoing maintenance and improvement works in the Defence Forces training centre. In addition, construction will commence on a new Cadet School headquarters building in the Curragh at a cost of €2 million. The project involves the construction of a new building to provide office and ancillary accommodation for management, lecturers and support staff. Key ongoing projects are now under way to improve our Defence Forces accommodation and living standards across our military installations.

I begin by wishing a very happy Christmas to all the men and women serving this country as peacekeepers within or outside the State, as well as their families. I appreciate that it is a challenging time, particularly for those serving abroad and their families. Of course, there are many challenges throughout the year for the Defence Forces, particularly in regard to recruitment and retention. Deputies who visited the Curragh Camp had the opportunity to engage with members of every rank. We very much appreciated the opportunity to so do. The visit was arranged on foot of a request I made to the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence.

On accommodation, which is the focus of my question, I was shocked and appalled by the standard of some of the accommodation at the Curragh Camp. The Deputies who visited it saw mould on the walls and rotten floorboards in dormitories housing between ten and 14 recruits. There are no locks on the doors and, in some cases, no bathroom facilities. Some of the recruits have lockers 600 m from where they shower, while others have no locker at all. Cathal Berry has done great service by highlighting these issues, as has Sarah Walsh of Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces. What investment will be made for recruits? The current situation is appalling.

I welcome the trip by the committee to see the Curragh Camp at first hand. As I stated at a recent meeting of the committee, it would cost hundreds of millions of euro to renovate the Defence Forces training college complex fully, as the Deputy will be aware having seen some of the very old buildings there. Between 2016 and 2018 some €17 million was spent on built infrastructure in the Curragh Camp, with the bulk of the spending in the latter two years. This year, €3.5 million has been spent on a range of facilities within the camp. I would love to spend more on it but I must give consideration to other barracks which experienced a lack of investment for several years from 2008 or 2009 onwards. It is my intention to maintain the current level of spending.

I welcome that €3.5 million was spent on the Curragh Camp. It was spent wisely and well. However, that does not take away from the appalling conditions in which many of our men and women serve. As the centre of the Defence Forces, the Curragh Camp merits more investment. The situation is all the more galling given that the Department of Defence handed back €23 million last year. It would have been far wiser to have spent that money on renovations.

At the meeting of the committee on 28 November, I made the point that the insufficient defence budget may be due to the lack of a full Minister for Defence at the Cabinet table. The Minister of State may have taken offence at my remarks, but no offence was intended. I maintain that it may be the reason for the underfunding. As a representative of Kildare South, in which the Curragh is located, I extend an invitation to the Minister of State and the Taoiseach, who has ultimate responsibility for defence and the defence budget, to visit the Curragh Camp as early as possible in January.

My colleague, Deputy Jack Chambers, has sought a full commission report into the future of the Defence Forces. That is absolutely vital. It has never been needed more than now both in order to address the issues of retention and recruitment which he raised, as well as the physical environment in which members serve. They are suffering and we must support them.

I acknowledge that the Deputy was present at the recent meeting of the committee at which there was discussion of the money that was handed back. The Deputy has come up with a fantasy of more than €20 million being handed back each year. I am not sure whether she is listening, but I repeat that in 2014 to 2016, inclusive-----

The figures I quoted come from the Department.

The Minister of State should read his own replies to parliamentary questions.

The Deputies should allow the Minister of State to answer.

In 2014 to 2016, inclusive, and 2018, €4.5 million, or 0.1%, of a total budget of €4.15 billion was handed back. I assure the Deputies that the money allocated to this issue has been well spent, as Deputy O'Loughlin recognised. I have been in the Curragh Camp on several occasions and have seen the facilities there. It would cost hundreds of millions of euro to upgrade it. When Fianna Fáil was in Government, it had the opportunity to upgrade the camp while the country was flaithiúlach, but it did not do so.

It is nine years since we were in government.

We are coming from a recovering economy. If there had been a booming economy for the past nine years as was the case when Fianna Fáil was in power, we may not be in this situation.