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There is no doubt that it is a little cynical of Fianna Fáil to table this motion and wax lyrical about the further closure of Army barracks when the party stood over the destruction of 11 barracks in the last decade of its reign. However, that is not an excuse to allow this Government to deflect attention from or escape responsibility for this serious attack. I oppose the closure of more Army barracks throughout the country.

I am from an Army background. I was reared beside the Curragh Camp and there is no question about the stimulus the Army provided to the local economy. It was absolutely vital and essential. It would be total lunacy on the part of this Government to ignore the role of the State in achieving balanced regional economic development, especially at a time of austerity and job losses. When many rural communities are being decimated in that regard, the role of the State is even more important. The towns involved are the towns where people bought homes for record prices during the boom. They are now in serious negative equity but they are shackled there through 30 and 40 year mortgages.

Another reason I consider this issue very serious is based on my experience of living beside areas where the closure of an Army barracks was handled poorly, particularly Magee Barracks in Kildare. It was closed over a decade ago but it has been an utter disaster. Closed without a plan, the barracks are lying derelict after being scavenged and looted. It is an eyesore for residents and a haven for anti-social behaviour. We must consider the current decision to close more barracks against the backdrop of our experience to date.

While it might have been possible to secure alternative viable uses for the barracks during the boom, those days are gone. These are potentially valuable State resources and nothing should be done to jeopardise them. There is no basis for an alternative use and no logic has been put forward to support that argument. Those facilities must be protected and the best way to do that is by maintaining them in use. The Government has not explained the purpose of its decision or the advantage in further closures. No evidence has been submitted.

The Government says this is not about reducing numbers in the Army, but one must seriously question that. It clearly will not improve morale or soldiers’ conditions. Instead, the 200 soldiers from Mullingar and the 140 from Cavan will be fighting with the ones who have already been transferred from Longford for accommodation in Athlone, even though the taxpayer has paid to upgrade the facilities, accommodation, roads, gymnasium and so forth in the facility from which they are moving. It is absolute lunacy. In addition, they will be forced to travel to Athlone each day when there is no viable bus service and against the backdrop of decimated pay and conditions on foot of the austerity that has been unleashed on public service workers.

Clearly, families will have to move out of the areas and towns in which they live. That will have a major impact on schools, local businesses and so forth. No viable reason been put forward, nor is there any identifiable alternative use. The only figure I have seen is a net saving of €200,000 in the case of Mullingar. That is a pittance; it would not even cover a banker’s bonus or offset the cost of securing the barracks. It is ludicrous. In fact, it will cost money. It will certainly cost the towns money and result in more jobs losses because personnel do not have the money to spend in the local economies. This lunacy must stop. The Government must see sense.

Our armed forces personnel need trade union rights. I salute the efforts of the Army wives who have highlighted this. I voted for an Army wife in the first election in which I voted. However, PDFORRA and the Army personnel should not have to rely on their spouses to articulate their cause. They deserve trade union rights so they can defend their jobs and conditions like every other worker. Full debate.

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One of the key issues is the extension of the insurance compensation fund to deal with losses of the Quinn family. A large percentage of insurance losses result from speculative gambling on the property market by the family and, in effect, the legislation provides for the transfer of those gambling debts on to the shoulders of hard pressed taxpayers and working people who need to insure cars, homes and so on. As previous speakers pointed out, this is the third time a private company has been bailed out by the State — Equitable Life in the 1960s and PMPA and ICI in the 1980s. The original levy was not discontinued when PMPA’s historical liabilities were run down but, instead, was replaced with a stamp duty to which the Government proposes to add a Quinn Insurance levy. Clearly, that is a disgrace and should be condemned by all.

I would like to concentrate on one aspect of the legislation. It proposes that the insurance compensation fund would cover all insured risk in the State with the exception of a number of excluded risks. It then defines one of those as a risk relating to a building in the State. Will the Minister address the Homebond issue in this regard? He may be aware that householders will take to the streets tomorrow to protest outside Homebond’s offices because it has opted out of its liability under a structural guarantee against major defects and has said it will not honour offers made to residents in that regard. Is this an insurance policy or not, given it was sold to people on that basis? Were people tricked into taking up this policy? Payments come out of the insurance compensation fund for insolvent insurers and, therefore, this issue is relevant.

People bought their houses in the belief that Homebond offered them a structural guarantee against major structural defects for ten years. The homeowner had no choice in that regard as he or she was obligated to go down that route. He or she did not have the option of choosing the insurance route. It was provided to the developer and the Irish Home Builders Association. It is a consequence of the light touch regulation that existed. The banks legitimised Homebond by mandating that people to whom they were giving loans had to have a Homebond guarantee before they were able to avail of the mortgage. Warnings were issued repeatedly from 2000 onwards that the company was significantly underinsured. The Law Society issued a warning in 2000 while Grant Thornton and others produced reports in which they warned the society that this was a potential major liability, yet nothing was done.

I would like the Minister to address this because between 30,000 and 50,000 houses have fallen victim to heave inducing pyrite, a defect that costs between €40,000 and €50,000 per household to repair. A claim would result in a liability of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion. If Homebond is deemed to be insolvent and the pre-2008 insured members are deemed liable for heave inducing pyrite resulting in major structural damage, who will pay the bill? Is the Minister exposing the State by bringing this under the insolvent insurers scheme? If not, why not? He can offer a compensation fund to Sean Quinn and his family to defray their gambling debts but the victims of Homebond who did nothing other than a buy a home in good faith that they thought was fit for purpose have to pay the cost of heave inducing pyrite. There is no compensation fund for them.

This more than anything else exposes the Government’s record and the double standards it is applying. The Minister is rushing this legislation and that is not on. It will be exposed in the eyes of the public for what it is. full debate

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Mar
2011
30

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