Barracks could house a 'centre of excellence' for apprencticeships

A national “centre of excellence” for apprenticeships should be established in Columb Barracks, the chair of Mullingar Chamber of Commerce has suggested.

Speaking at the recent online meeting of Westmeath County Council’s Economic Strategic Policy Committee, chamber chair John Geoghegan said that there is “massive potential up there in the old buildings and in the original camp to deliver some sort of an educational solution for Mullingar”.

From “talking with the Land Development Agency (LDA)”, the state sponsored body tasked with the redevelopment of the barracks, Mr Geoghegan thinks there is “a huge opportunity there with stakeholder groups at a national level to create a training centre for high technology construction and building apprenticeships”.

Noting that the plumbing and electrical trades have become “highly technical”, Mr Geoghegan says that the centre of excellence could appeal to young people “who mightn’t go to college and might consider an apprenticeship as a valid career”.

I think it is particularly important in a country where we have something like 15 or 20 percent of all first years that seem to drop out or change college courses. I know from the lads I know in the trades, it is one of the best ways to make a living there is. I think there is a huge opportunity in this space and I don’t think we will be stuck for political support with Robert Troy and Peter Burke. I think that it could be a good news story for the town.”

Mr Geoghegan’s proposal was supported by a number of SPC members.

Cllr John Dolan said that he thinks “there is an awful focus on points in schools”. He said that a centre of excellence for trades in Mullingar would complement AIT in the south of the county.

“I know every school probably fall guilty of it, but we have to try and get away from that.

“We are very lucky we have AIT in Athlone and very lucky as a region because it is going to be a technological university. There is a great team in there and they really have their finger on the pulse.

“AIT has a major role in attracting direct investment into the region,” he said.

SPC chair Cllr John Shaw said: “With the barracks in Mullingar, you would love to see something along the lines of what John is proposing. What we have in the barracks is existing buildings. It needs investment but it’s there in the middle of the town close to everything. The opportunity there is significant,” he said.

Director of service Barry Kehoe also said that there is “a tremendous opportunity for Mullingar to have a site of that scale so close to the centre”.

“It is brilliant to have the LDA on board because they bring expertise and they bring government funding to the project. They are two massive pluses for Mullingar and hopefully something very positive will come out of that.”