District asks army to make Columb Barracks defence forces’ new HQ

The Irish army is to seek a new headquarters - and the members of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad are adamant that there could be no better setting for the HQ than Columb Barracks in Mullingar.

At the suggestion of Mayor Hazel Smyth, the district members have agreed to write to the Department of Defence to ask that Columb Barracks be selected as the new headquarters.

“We have a 200 year history and tradition of military service,” said Mayor Smyth, adding that on top of that, it is a centrally-located space.

“The boost this would bring Mullingar town in terms of economic benefits and employment and so on would be welcome,” she added before criticising the way the barracks was “left to be entirely mismanaged”.

“As far as I can see, there doesn't seem to be a governance person on board which is an awful shame,” she said.

There will be competition in the race for selection, Mayor Smyth told her colleagues: “I know Athlone has put in a submission about its barracks but I don't see why Mullingar is not equally - if not better positioned - to have this headquarters here.”

Fully in accord was Cllr Mick Dollard, who said the decision to close the barracks was “one of the most dastardly acts ever”.

Stating that his own late father had served in the barracks for 43 years, and that he himself had spent sixty years in service there as well as spending periods in the barracks in Athlone and Longford, Cllr Dollard said Mullingar had “much more to offer” than the others - “not just because of the location but because of its capacity and the size of the barracks”.

There was also the fact that it had its camp field, and the firing range.

Cllr Ken Glynn recalled the people of Mullingar taking to the streets to protest over the army’s move from Mullingar.

“The closure was one of the biggest scandals that ever happened to this town,” he said, stating that this was not just because of the impact on army families, but also because of the barracks’ role in the history of Mullingar and the business life of the town.

However he wasn’t optimistic given the apparent lack of willingness by anyone - including Westmeath County Council - to take control.

“I remember the members of this Council wanted Westmeath County Council to get involved: it didn’t happen.”

By contrast, he believed, the people of Mullingar feel strongly about the barracks and the town’s deep military history.

“If there’s anything we can do to bring Columb Barracks back within the defence forces and to bring a national headquarters here we should try and do it. It will require strong support from the members and the local authority has to get involved. They didn't get involved last time but hopefully they will do something.”

Cllr Denis Leonard agreed on the site’s worth both from a capacity and locational viewpoint.

“I think we've lost a lot over the years here,” he said, stating that although Mullingar had been one of three towns in the midlands awarded “spatial” status, it had lost ground on health infrastructure to Tullamore and on defence and economic development to Mullingar.

Also supporting the call was Cllr Aoife Davitt, who said the “wounds” over the barracks closure were still fresh, and that it might provide an opportunity for defence personnel living in Mullingar but working elsewhere to get a transfer back here.

Cllr Andrew Duncan said the motion deserved support: “It should never have been closed, in my opinion,” he said.

“We have an opportunity to try and get an anchor tenant into that place, whether it be the LWETB or whoever.

“If the army were to go back in there, it will be a fairly substantial task to try and maintain the property but it will be very beneficial to all the services that are there.”

Cllr Mick Dollard said that as this was “a very important motion”, the district should write to the local Oireachtas members as well as to the Oireachtas representatives.