Sunday 20 July 2008

Barracks could be sold to cut costs

A number of Army barracks around the country could be closed and sold off to property developers as the Department of Defence looks to cut costs.

Cathal Brugha barracks in Rathmines, Dublin, is thought to be top of the list, as it is the most valuable disposable site owned by the Army. An internal valuation carried out on the barracks in 2005 put its value at €70 million. Some 1,200 Army personnel are based at the site.

McKee barracks on Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin, which houses 800 personnel, is also a valuable site: its worth was put at €60 million in a 2005 valuation. The barracks was refurbished in 2007 at a cost of €7.5 million.

The only other Army site in the city that could potentially be sold is St Bricin’s Military Hospital in Arbour Hill, which is valued at €3 million.

There are more than 20 Army barracks and military bases dotted around the country, but senior military sources say that the optimum number would be about five - one each for the Air Corps and the Navy, and three for the Army.

Closing several barracks would not just create administrative and staff savings, but realise significant capital which military chiefs want to keep for investment in equipment and military hardware.

Sources point out that the Navy is scheduled to acquire five new ships before 2014, at a cost of €180-200 million. The ongoing costs of having about a quarter of the Army posted on overseas duty every year is also rising.

However, there is likely to be pressure from the Department of Finance to surrender at least some of the money realised by any barracks sale. Finance is looking for savings of almost €5 million from the Department of Defence this year.

There is thought to be enthusiasm within the Army and the government for a programme of barracks closures to save on costs and generate capital.

However, some sources have counselled caution, given the political difficulties in closing barracks in places such as Louth, Longford, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Cavan and Monaghan and any of the three barracks in Donegal.

In addition, many barracks - including Rathmines - feature a number of listed buildings which would have to be maintained by any developer or purchaser.

It is also likely that other state agencies, such as the Affordable Homes Partnership, would seek to take possession of at least some of the sites selected for disposal.

In addition, there are worries in the military that a large-scale programme of barracks closures, which would remove the Army presence from much of the country, would affect recruitment. ‘‘On paper it looks brilliant,” said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘‘But in fact it’s not so straightforward.”

Sunday Business Post

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