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Presentation by the Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O'Dea T.D.,

to the


Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Defence Estimates 2005: Vote 36 - Defence (Revised). & Vote 37 - Army Pensions (Revised).

I am pleased to appear before the select committee today for its consideration of the Defence and Army pensions Estimates for 2005. Before I begin, I express my condolences and sincere sympathy to the families and friends of those who died and were injured in the tragic road accident in County Meath yesterday. I visited Navan and Drogheda last night and the response to this incident has brought home to me, as chairperson of the Government task force on emergency planning, the professionalism of our front line emergency services and other support services in dealing with such incidents.

Emergency planning is a key focus of my remit as Minister for Defence and it was a sad coincidence that the Garda had planned two exercises this week to test inter-agency responses in scenarios similar to the incident that occurred yesterday. In the light of the developing circumstances surrounding yesterday’s events, these exercises have been postponed to concentrate resources where they are needed most. I will return to emergency planning issues later.

The Estimates for Defence and Army pensions provide for gross expenditure of €934 million. This is a substantial amount of public funds and represents an overall increase of 5.3% on expenditure in 2004. More than 75% of expenditure is accounted for by pay and pensions. In that regard, the defence organisation’s manpower is approximately 11,800, comprising approximately 10,500 in the Permanent Defence Force, 900 civilian employees and approximately 420 civil servants. In addition, the Reserve Defence Forces number more than 13,000 members. The programmes of investment in equipment and facilities which have taken place in recent years will continue this year. They have benefited all sections of the Defence Forces and enable them to discharge their roles at home and overseas in an effective manner.

Delivery of 25 additional armoured personnel carriers from Mowag of Switzerland was completed in September 2004 bringing the total holding of APCs to 65. The total cost of the APC programme was €84 million, including final stage payments of €9 million this year. A total of 22 of the APCs are deployed in Liberia and six in Kosovo and they have worked very well in these environments.

Another significant contract coming to fruition this year concerns the Javelin medium range anti-tank guided weapon system which is being acquired from Raytheon Lockheed Martin in the United States via US foreign military sales at a cost of €13 million. The objective is to give Defence Forces personnel an effective anti-armour capability while on peace support operations. The system will replace the Milan system. The main delivery is scheduled for the middle of this year.

There have been ongoing programmes for the acquisition of nuclear biological chemical, NBC , equipment in recent years and these will continue. The Defence Forces have a range of equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with NBC threats identified from time to time. This includes approximately 7,000 NBC suits, of which 1,500 were delivered in 2004. It is planned to purchase a further 1,000 NBC suits this year and an additional 1,000 in 2006. The Defence Forces also have sufficient stocks of respirators for each soldier. They have 98 of the most technologically up-to-date chemical agent monitors as well as biological agent detector and screening kits, group decontamination equipment and personal decontamination equipment.

A tender competition for the acquisition of light tactical armoured vehicles commenced in February this year with the issue of a request for proposals document. Nine proposals have been received and are under examination from the technical perspective by a project evaluation team. The second stage will consist of a restricted tender stage involving successful companies from the first stage. The number of vehicles to be acquired will be decided at a later date.

A tender competition is also in train to replace the FN 9 mm browning automatic pistol within the Defence Forces. It is expected that a contract will be placed by the end of the year for the supply of the new pistols. The individual soldier is now required to carry an array of equipment. Accordingly, it is proposed to procure a new lighter protective system consisting of body armour and helmet which is compatible with all current and future systems required for each soldier. It is expected an order will be placed for this equipment later this year.

Within the Air Corps, the eight recently acquired Pilatus PC-9M turbo propeller aircraft have replaced seven Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. These modern aircraft ensure the continued training of young cadets to the highest standards. They are capable of being armed, giving them a limited defensive capability. The total cost of the eight aircraft is €60 million, including a final payment of €7.5 million this year. Arrangements are being made for the disposal of the seven Marchetti aircraft by tender competition.

Four utility AB 139 helicopters are being acquired from the Bell Agusta Aerospace Company at a cost of €48 million. Two will be delivered in 2006 and the other two in 2007. Payments for the helicopters are spread over a number of years from 2004 to 2008, including a payment of €4 million this year. The helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps in a general purpose military operational and training role. They will also be used to perform air ambulance, inland search and rescue and aid to the civil community. In addition, two light utility EC 135 helicopters are being acquired from Eurocopter SAS at a cost of €13 million - of which €9.6 million is payable this year - and are scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of the year. These helicopters will be operated primarily in a military pilot and aircrew-training role.

From 1997 to the end of 2004, capital expenditure on the upgrade of barracks accommodation and facilities amounted to more than €192 million. During the same period, expenditure on non-capital maintenance works came to more than €72 million. Major projects have recently been completed at McKee and Cathal Brugha barracks, Dublin, Coolmoney Camp, County Wicklow, Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick, Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, the naval base at Haulbowline, Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, Kilworth Camp, County Cork, Custume Barracks, Athlone and Dun Uí Mhaoliosa, Galway. Other major projects will commence later this year at the Defence Forces training centre at the Curragh, Custume Barracks, Athlone, Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick, Monaghan Barracks, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin, and CoIlins Barracks, Cork.

A significant amount of the funding allocated in recent years for investment programmes in new buildings and equipment was generated by property sales. In the four-year period to the end of 2004, a total of almost €90 million was raised through such sales. The largest sales involved were at Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, County Cork, for €42 million and Clancy Barracks, Islandbridge, for €25 million. It is expected that sales to the value of €7 million will be completed this year. The latter is included in the amount for appropriations-in-aid in the Defence Estimate. As a result of the investment in modem equipment and facilities in recent years, the Defence Forces are better equipped and trained than ever before to undertake peace support operations.

I saw this at first hand in December last when I accompanied President McAleese on a visit to our troops serving with the United Nations Mission in Liberia. I was very impressed by the professional and dedicated way the men and women of the Defence Forces are carrying out this difficult assignment. A contingent of the Defence Forces has been serving in Liberia since December 2003. Together with an infantry company group from Sweden, it provides the quick reaction force to the UNMIL force commander. Ireland was specifically requested by the UN to participate in a substantive manner in this mission, which is a tribute to the high regard in which the UN holds the Irish Defence Forces. We are committed to remaining with this mission until late 2006.

At present, there are approximately 750 Permanent Defence Force personnel serving in 19 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to UNMIL, with 416 personnel, and the NATO-led international security presence in Kosovo, with 207 personnel. In KFOR, the Defence Forces are serving as part of a Finnish battalion. Having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo and subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will continue to maintain a presence in KFOR for some time.

I wish to turn now to defence and security developments within the EU. The ability of the Union to contribute to peacemaking and crisis management continues to be of primary importance to member states and is carried out within the context of European security and defence policy, ESDP. Significant progress in a number of key areas of the ESDP has been made in recent years. The EU Helsinki headline goal, established by the European Council at Helsinki in December 1999, committed the EU to develop the capability to deploy within 60 days, and to sustain for at least one year, forces of up to 60,000 personnel capable of the full range of humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks, otherwise known as the Petersberg Tasks. The objective was to achieve the goal in 2003. In June 2003, the Council noted that the EU then had operational capability across the full range of the Petersberg Tasks, while acknowledging that this was limited and constrained by recognised shortfalls.

A significant achievement of the Irish Presidency in the first half of 2004, was the agreement of the new headline goal 2010, which was adopted by the Brussels European Council in June 2004.

Under the new headline goal, member states committed themselves to be able, by 2010, to respond with rapid and decisive action applying a fully coherent approach to the entire spectrum of crisis management operations. A key element of the headline goal 2010 is the ability of the EU to be able to deploy force packages at high readiness, commonly known as rapid response elements or battle groups, in response to a crisis, either as a stand alone force or as an initial part of a larger operation enabling follow-on phases.

The rapid response elements concept is intended as a building block within the overall approach of developing an EU rapid response capability and is complementary to the measures and actions for EU decision-making and planning at political and strategic level. It is but one small element among a wide range of instruments available to the EU to support crisis management interventions. Other instruments include political, diplomatic, economic, financial, reconstruction, judicial, policing and civil administration support.

Work is ongoing within the EU military staff and the Political and Security Committee on the development of various aspects of the rapid response elements concept. As of January 2005, a battle group, including the necessary enablers, has been declared available to the EU in accordance with the initial operational capability requirements. It is planned that the battle group initiative will reach full operational capability from 1 January 2007, with two battle groups on standby in each six-month period to meet any rapid response requirement that might arise.

As the members will be aware, the question of Ireland’s potential participation in the rapid response elements concept is currently being examined by an interdepartmental group consisting of representatives of the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces, the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General. It is expected that this study will be completed in the coming months, whereupon it will be submitted to me for consideration prior to its submission to the Government. Pending the outcome of that study and a Government decision on the matter, it is not possible to state what Ireland might contribute in terms of capability. That said, the Government supports the development of the EU’s rapid response capability in support of UN authorised missions and is positively disposed towards participation in the rapid response elements concept towards that end. However, we must examine in detail the legal, policy, financial and operational issues involved.

A further key development in the ESDP has been the establishment of the European Defence Agency. At the European Council held in Thessaloniki in June 2003, EU leaders agreed to set up an agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments. The agency is now operational, with its senior management in place and a budget and work programme for 2005 approved by defence ministers of the participating member states. The overall aim of the agency is to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European security and defence policy.

Since 2003, there have been a number of EU-Ied military and police missions. The largest EU mission to date commenced in December 2004, when the Union took over the NATO-led mission in Bosnia Herzegovina in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution authorising the mission. The mission comprises some 7,000 military personnel including 52 members of the Defence Forces.

In July last year my predecessor, Deputy Michael Smith, officially launched the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan. Good progress has been made in the interim in consultation with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association and reserve members generally. The plan is the start of a process that will radically change the structure and configuration of the reserve, while preserving the traditional strengths of the organisation including the spirit of voluntary commitment, maintaining strong links with local communities and a nation-wide geographical spread.

The new organisation will replace An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil with an Army reserve, consisting of both integrated and non-integrated elements. The integrated element will provide personnel to Permanent Defence Force units to bring them up to full operational strength in contingency situations. The larger non-integrated element will provide a reserve for the Army, organised into three brigades.

The Reserve Defence Force’s most important contribution will be to support the Permanent Defence Force in its contingency defence roles in emergency situations. In peace time, the main function of the reserve will be to train and prepare for these contingency roles. Members of the FCA already enjoy better clothing, improved equipment and better quality training. As the process develops, there will be additional benefits in a more dynamic role for the reserve, better organisation and structure and opportunities for certain suitably qualified reserve personnel to serve overseas.

As already stated, I chair the Government task force on emergency planning which was established in October 2001. The membership of the task force includes Ministers, senior officials of Government Departments, senior officers of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochana and officials of 12 other key public authorities that have a lead or support role in Government emergency planning. The work of the task force continues and meetings are held on a regular basis. The office of emergency planning, which is a joint civil and military office within my Department, supports the work of the task force and continues to work with Government Departments and other public authorities in order to ensure the best possible use of resources and compatibility between different emergency planning requirements. A key area of activity is the oversight of emergency planning; to refine and develop the arrangements that exist, to continuously improve them through review and revision and to generally provide the basis for an increased confidence in the emergency planning process.

An interdepartmental working group on emergency planning also supports the work of the task force and encompasses all Departments with lead roles in the various Government emergency plans and those key public authorities, including the Defence Forces, which plan to support such activities. This working group, which is chaired by the office of emergency planning, assists in carrying out studies and oversight of emergency planning structures and processes. It is also a forum for the discussion and sharing of information as well as providing strategic guidance to all those involved in emergency planning.

The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant Government Departments, as do the budgetary and resource management requirements. Emergency plans are co-ordinated by the various lead Government Departments at a national level and through the local authorities - including the fire service, the Health Service Executive and the Garda divisions - at local and regional levels.

Potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by those involved, principally the Garda Síochana and the Defence Forces. While the threat to Ireland continues to be assessed as low, the awareness that the situation could change rapidly and with little warning has ensured that vigilance is maintained. As chairperson of the Government task force, I have requested all authorities to regularly review their emergency plans, to revise them as appropriate and to develop structured programmes to exercise such plans. A major review of the Government major emergency planning framework is under way this year. Review and refinement of arrangements will continue to ensure co-ordination of all those responding so that, should we be unfortunate enough to experience a large-scale emergency, we will be in a position to mount a credible response.

I will continue to report regularly, on a confidential basis, to Government on emergency planning. In my annual report last November, I was pleased to report that there continues to be excellent co-operation between my Department and all other Departments and public authorities, as evidenced by the work of the Government task force, the interdepartmental working group and the office of emergency planning in these vital areas.

I will now update the committee in regard to compensation claims for hearing loss. By 30 April 2005, a total of 16,736 claims had been received from current and former members of the Defence Forces in respect of loss of hearing allegedly caused during their military service. A total of 15,490 claims have been disposed of, mainly through settlements. This leaves a total of 1,246 claims outstanding at the end of April. In July 2002, it was announced that the early settlement scheme would not be used to process any hearing loss claims received after that date. That decision was taken on the grounds that the issue had been in the public domain for over ten years and that it was time to bring it to a conclusion. Any subsequent claims received are generally being contested by the State on the grounds that they are statute barred. To date, the total cost of hearing loss claims is €278 million, including €93 million in plaintiffs’ legal costs. The average settlement figure has decreased from €39,431 in 1996 to a current level of approximately €6,000. When plaintiffs’ legal costs are included, the cost of settling the outstanding claims currently in hands is estimated at about €15 million.

Turning briefly to pension matters, members will be aware that the main purpose of the Public Service Pensions Act 2004 was to implement the age-related aspects of the public service pensions reform package announced by the Minister for Finance in the 2004 Budget. This announcement followed from consideration of the recommendations of the Commission on Public Service Pensions and the Government’s decision to accept the bulk of those recommendations. Chief among the age-related reforms were the removal of the compulsory retirement age for certain categories of new entrants to the public service on or after 1 April 2004 and the raising of the minimum pension age for most new entrants from that date.

Specifically regarding the Defence Forces, the Act in question provides for the making of a new pension scheme to apply to new entrants from 1 April 2004, for a minimum pension age of 50 for new entrant officers and enlisted personnel and for the exclusion of the Defence Forces from the removal of the compulsory retirement age requirement in other areas of the public service. In regard to the latter, it will be appreciated that the nature of military service requires the continued application of appropriate compulsory retirement ages. The detailed terms of the new pension scheme are now under discussion with the RACO and PDFORRA representative associations. Details of individual subheads for both the defence and army pensions estimates have been circulated to the committee and I do not propose to comment any further on them.

I will be pleased to assist members with any queries. If we cannot produce information requested today, I will undertake to obtain it for the committee.

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