I am delighted by the fighting spirit shown by Deputy Mattie McGrath. For a minute I thought he was an Army officer leading his troops into battle.
I have a great interest in history and one of the key dates I can recollect is 14 January 1922 when a decision was made by the people to accept the treaty negotiated by the great Michael Collins. On that day, many of the barracks occupied by the British Army were taken over by the young men of the Army of the Irish Free State. It is ironic that one member, the late President Éamon de Valera, decided he would not accept the democratic decision of the people of this country.
I am proud to say I have great respect for the young men of the Irish Free State Army who stood by the democratic decision of the people. I have great respect for the young men of the Army who, when this country became a Republic, stood by the people of the Congo where some of them lost their lives. I also have great respect for and honour the people of the Army who served in Bosnia and Lebanon and who stood by the people there. I have no problem with the way they have defended democracy in various places around the world and along the Border in this country. A good friend of mine was badly injured on his way home from a barracks on the Border during the Troubles in the North of Ireland.
I come from County Kildare which is well known as having a close affinity with the Army. In 1813 a barracks was opened in Naas. That barracks no longer exists because it was closed in 1998 by a Fianna Fáil-led Government. In 1901 a barracks was rebuilt in Kildare but that barracks was closed by a Fianna Fáil-led Government in 1998.
I have raised the problems that affect Magee Barracks with the Minister and his departmental officials and I acknowledge the great lengths they have gone to in trying to address them. The gardaí in Kildare already have a lot on their plate and I urge the Minister to work with the Defence Forces to provide adequate patrols of the barracks and surrounding sites. The problems that have arisen for Magee Barracks are short term and will persist for the duration of the economic crisis. We need to put in place a system that ensure the protection of people who live beside vacant barracks until the economy recovers to the stage where a positive use can be found for these sites.
I continue to work with the Minister on recruiting personnel to offset the retirements and losses that will occur in the Defence Forces over the coming months. Our focus should be on protecting our fantastic Defence Forces.