In his landmark Dáil announcement that the Athlone-based 4th Western Brigade would be disbanded, Minister of State Paul Kehoe said it had become necessary to "clarify" matters due to "an ongoing campaign of misleading speculation" about the future of Custume Barracks.
These were worthy sentiments indeed, but sadly the Government's record on Custume Barracks has not matched its rhetoric. In the aforementioned Dáil speech on June 14, Minister of State Kehoe said the restructuring of Defence Forces brigades would result in the loss of just 50 positions in Athlone.
There was widespread scepticism about this claim, and with good reason.
On July 17, Defence Minister Alan Shatter, again referring to a "misleading campaign" in relation to Custume Barracks, announced that it would, in fact, lose 96 troops as a result of the restructuring, leading to a total of 971 Defence Forces staff positioned in Athlone.
Many aspects of the restructuring process are unclear, including its exact timeline for completion. There are also numerous questions surrounding specific movements of personnel such as whether, for example, CIS (communications / signals) and Cavalry Squad personnel will be moved from Custume Barracks to Dublin/Kildare or whether they will be moved to the infantry battalion in Athlone.
Defence Forces representative group PDforra and local politicians have also voiced concerns about the process - with one councillor saying he had heard that the numbers in Custume Barracks would drop to just 400 over the next two years.
Amid this backdrop of rumours, claims, counter-claims and general uncertainty, it is disappointing that a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by this newspaper to access the interim report outlining the changes to the Defence Forces was recently denied by both the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. A request for copies of relevant correspondence on the subject was also turned down.
The Department of Defence asserted that granting this FOI request "would be contrary to the public interest".
With reports of morale in Custume Barracks deteriorating, and Army families facing ongoing uncertainty while the country's Oireachtas members take their summer holidays, it is hard to see how the current situation could possibly be 'in the public interest'.