Dáil Éireann - Volume 492 - 18 June, 1998

Adjournment Debate. - Swimming Pool Projects.

Mr. Dukes: A little over a week ago the Army authorities at the Curragh announced that the swimming pool there will be closed from 1 July. Official indications are that this step is being taken because the pool has fallen below the required standards of safety and cannot, therefore, be used further. My information since then is that it could cost up to £1 million to renovate the pool and bring it to the required standard.

The closure of the pool would be a severe blow to the whole area, especially at this time of year. The pool is used extensively by members of the Permanent Defence Force and their families. It is a precious facility for them in an area where such facilities are sadly lacking.

In addition, the pool is used with the agreement of the military authorities by a great many other people in the area surrounding the Curragh, especially by school groups. In one school in [1342] Newbridge alone, 500 children use the pool every week. Many other schools in the catchment area use it on a more or less regular basis.

How and why was the pool allowed to deteriorate to the point where it apparently has to be closed? I cannot imagine that the officer commanding the Curragh camp or the officer commanding the Curragh command would not have drawn the deterioration of the pool to the attention of the Department of Defence. What has been the reaction of the Department and the Minister to information on the gradually deteriorating condition of the pool? Why has adequate provision not been made by the Department and the Minister for the maintenance of such an important facility?

These questions are even more pointed now since a swimming pool would be a very important component of any ongoing programme to maintain fitness. A facility that is important in that regard should receive proper attention in the largest military establishment in the Curragh, especially with the accent on fitness in changes in the Defence Forces in recent years.

The Minister for Defence must now make provision for the necessary work to be undertaken on the pool and for that work to commence immediately. I would prefer if the pool did not close, but I accept that if there is a question of safety, the necessary precautions must be taken. However, that should not be reason for any delay in the work. I cannot imagine there is anything especially complex about the kind of work that would be required to bring this pool back up to standard. I hope the Minister will be in a position to tell me that the necessary steps are being taken, that the work is being put in hand and that we will again have a functioning swimming pool in a short time. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of this pool, both to the Defence Forces — it is, as far as I am aware, the only one of its kind available to them — and to the people of the surrounding area, including the families of members of the Defence Forces, schools and the general community.

There has always been a good relationship between the military authorities in the Curragh and the surrounding community. They are linked in all kinds of different ways and even people who have no connection with the Defence Forces have a very good relationship with them. That is very good for the local community and the Defence Forces. Where it is possible for a facility of this kind to be used for the greater benefit of a wider community it should be used. That has also been the view of the Army authorities since the pool was built. It would be a shame if a facility of this kind was to be allowed to deteriorate and no longer available either to the Army or the community. I hope the Minister will give me good news.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): My colleague, the Minster for Defence, [1343] is unable to be in the House to respond and he has asked me to do so on his behalf. I wish to give the House some background information regarding the swimming pool at the Curragh Camp. The pool, which is 33 metres by 15 metres in size, has been in use since the 1940s. It is the only swimming pool owned by the Department of Defence and is used extensively for training purposes by various elements of the Defence Forces. For example, the Air Corps uses it for certain search and rescue helicopter crash training. All Naval Service recruits undergo two weeks' water training and other newly recruited military personnel and the Army Ranger Wing are given special training there. In addition, general courses for military personnel, which are being conducted in the Curragh, usually include use of the pool for such purposes as water safety training.

The pool is used on a daily basis by approximately 15 local primary schools as well as various community groups in the Curragh area. This use is subject to a licence by the Department of Defence which provides for a nominal charge, indemnification of the Minister and appropriate insurance cover.

Normal maintenance and repairs have been undertaken by the Corps of Engineers down the years. Recently, however, the Corps of Engineers advised that, due to the age of the pool and the present state of the facilities, an examination and report should be sought from engineering consultants as to what works might be necessary to bring the pool facilities into line with modern standards. Such a report was commissioned and received on 28 May 1998. It is currently being examined by the Department in consultation with the Corps of Engineers to determine what remedial actions need to be taken.

Closure of the pool from 1 July 1998 will, regrettably, be necessary to enable essential repairs to be determined. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that closure of the pool is unavoidable in the interests of maintaining a high standard of safety for its many users.