Army Estimates, 1956–57

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1956.

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Photo of Mr Alan McKibbin Mr Alan McKibbin , Belfast East 12:00 am, 1st March 1956

General Eisenhower, in a speech in Belfast, said: Without Northern Ireland, I do not see how the American Forces could have concentrated to begin the invasion of Europe. If Ulster had not been a definite co-operative part of the British Empire and had not been available for our use, I do not see how the build-up could have been carried out in England. My third reason is because I read in Daily Mail on 22nd February a statement attributed to the Secretary of State for War which said that work would be started on seven barracks this year. It gave the names of these barracks, six of them in England and one in Scotland. There was no mention whatever of Northern Ireland. The barracks accommodation for Regular troops in Northern Ireland is really not too bad on the whole; nevertheless, there are a great many improvements that could be made. There are three barracks which could be described as excellent—St. Patrick's Barracks, at Ballymena, built of brick in 1939; the Thiepval Barracks, at Lisburn, built of brick in 1940, and the Abercorn Barracks at Ballykincar, also built of brick in 1940. These are the only three that could be described as excellent.

The Palace Barracks, at Holywood, built in 1900, may be described as good, and I believe that modernisation plans are in hand. The Depot Barracks at Omagh, built of stone in 1881, are fairly good, but not up to the 1948 standard, and plans are in hand for redesigning them. There are plenty of plans for barracks in Northern Ireland in hand, but I would much sooner see bricks in somebody's hands. There are also the barracks at Gough, in Armagh, built in 1773, and again not up to the 1948 standard. Plans for the modernisation of these barracks are very near completion, and work may possibly begin this year or next. There are a good many other camps in Northern Ireland, about which I need not go into detail. Whether they will ever be reconditioned and whether money will be spent on them will probably depend on the future size of the Army.

In regard to Territorial Army accommodation in Northern Ireland, when the T.A. was formed in Northern Ireland in 1947, the units were accommodated in war-time Nissen huts or other temporary buildings. Unlike Great Britain, Northern Ireland had not had 45 years of permanent building of quarters to fall back on, and this situation was represented to the War Office in 1954. We were then directed to begin planning at the rate of a certain sum of money per annum, but the rate of construction has not been maintained.

The Territorial Army units in Northern Ireland consist of the Northern Irish Horse, now equipped with armoured cars, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Corps of Signals, R.E.M.E., R.A.S.C., R.A.M.C., R.A.O.C., the Royal Corps of Military Police, the Intelligence Corps, the Queen's University Training Corps and the W.R.A.C. Recruitment for all these is very satisfactory, and I would urge the War Office to implement without delay the full programme which was considered necessary in 1954 and which was then presented to the War Office. We also have some units of the Army Cadet Force dispersed throughout Northern Ireland. This Force provides youth welfare centres. There are also a considerable number of recruits for the Regular and Territorial armies.

May I now say a word or two about the accommodation of the Army Cadet Force, not only in Northern Ireland, but also in Great Britain? With the notable exception of a few T.A. drill halls, where excellent accommodation has been provided for the A.C.F., the huts and headquarters of cadet units are not, generally speaking, in very good shape. An annual grant is provided by the War Office for the purchase of new accommodation, and there is also a maintenance grant, but neither is big enough for providing new accommodation or, indeed, preventing the present accommodation from deteriorating. Many of them have now reached an age when no useful purpose is served by spending money on them.

With the closing down of the Home Guard and the reorganisation of the Territorial Army, an opportunity occurs, or will soon present itself, for rehousing these A.C.F. units. It is hoped that the Secretary of State for War will be as generous as possible in allowing the Army Cadet Force to take advantage of this situation. On the whole, the standard of married quarters in Northern Ireland is good, with the major exception of Victoria Barracks, in my constituency, but half of this barracks is due to be sold to the Belfast Corporation and the remainder is being handed over to the Territorial Army, which does not require married quarters.

At Armagh, all the married quarters are old and unsuitable for modernisation. New quarters, I understand, are being built as part of the reorganisation of the barracks. There is a camp for married families at Kilroot, which recently came in for a lot of adverse comment by one of the Sunday papers. This was perfectly justified as it is a dismal and out of the way spot, 15 miles from Belfast and 14 miles from Larne. I drove through it two Sundays ago when it was snowing very hard. A more dismal spot I have never seen, and I was very glad that I did not have to stay there. My opinion of this camp is that it should be abolished altogether.