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Speech by Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea T.D. at the Commissioning Ceremony for the 82nd Cadet Class
Military College, Curragh Camp, Co Kildare

Wednesday, January 17th 2007

Secretary General, Acting Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; I am delighted to be in the Curragh Camp today for this historic Commissioning Ceremony.

Commissioning Ceremonies are important for the Defence Forces and for each Cadet – but today’s event has an even greater significance. The men and women being commissioned this afternoon are the first to have been awarded cadetships under the new integrated induction scheme introduced as part of the Defence Forces modernisation agenda under Sustaining Progress.

The 82nd Cadet Class was, uniquely, made up of a mixture of school leavers, third level graduates and serving personnel. Half of those receiving their commissions today have previously served in either the Reserve or the PDF or, in some cases, both. A quarter of the class have already achieved a third level qualification and one has achieved a postgraduate degree. The 82nd Cadet Class also includes some outstanding sportsmen and women and debaters - they are a multi-talented group of young officers. I would like to commend them all for their achievements to date – both academic and sporting – and congratulate them too for being the trailblazers for the new, streamlined, 15 months cadet training course developed by the Military College.

The 33 young men and women of the 82nd Cadet Class have completed a rigorous programme of preparation and training. To have attained the exacting criteria required is a significant achievement by these officers and, of course, is an occasion of great pride for their families.

The scrolls that I have just presented indicate that each of the members of the 82nd Cadet Class is now a commissioned officer of Óglaigh na hÉireann. A few moments ago they took an oath pledging them to be faithful to the Irish nation and to uphold the Constitution. This solemn undertaking marks these young officers out from every other profession. They have not taken on these responsibilities lightly. Their training has equipped them with the skills necessary to face the many and varied challenges that they may encounter in the course of their military careers.

It is a training that does not end today. It will continue for the duration of their military career. This well-balanced combination of military and academic disciplines is the best preparation for the challenging tasks that they will be required to perform both at home and overseas.

Today’s Cadet Class joins the officer ranks of our Defence Forces at an exciting time. We have passed the half-way point in the implementation of the Defence White Paper. It is transforming the capacity of the Defence Forces to meet the modern challenges at home and abroad.

Over the last 10 years investment on modern equipment and services has topped more than €1.5 billion. This year’s Defence Budget has exceeded €1 billion for the first time in our history. This investment in new equipment and infrastructure is having a positive impact on all areas of the Defence Forces.

This investment continues in 2007. This year will see another fifteen armoured personnel carriers added to our current fleet of 65, while the second two of the six new AW 139 helicopters we have ordered will be delivered in the coming months.

2007 will also see the completion of the modern integrated protection and load carrying system for the individual soldier. This major procurement programme commenced in 2006 with the purchase of 8000 new units of modern lightweight body armour and 12,000 modern helmets. In 2007 we will see the delivery of 12,000 new Battle Vests and 12,000 new light weight Back Packs.

During my visits with our peacekeeping troops in Liberia, Kosovo and Bosnia I have seen that our personnel overseas are as well, if not better, equipped and prepared than any of their peers. The ongoing modernisation programme has made this possible and it is a matter of great satisfaction and pride for me to see the men and women of our Defence Forces with the best equipment that money can buy.

Much of this new equipment was seen on the streets of Dublin at the 90th Anniversary Commemoration of the event of Easter 1916. On that day the public were proud to see the members of today’s Óglaigh na hÉireann solemnly honouring their forebears in the Irish Volunteers and the sacrifices made by all those who died.

Óglaigh na hÉireann will again play a central role in the 2007 ceremonies commemorating the Men and Women of 1916. Though 2007 will not see a parade along the lines of the 2006 one; I am pleased to say that there will be a military ceremony centred on the GPO with appropriate military honours rendered. The precise details are being finalised.

I am also pleased to announce today that I will shortly be revealing the chosen design for the National Memorial to Members of the Defence Forces who died in Service. The Memorial, which will be located at the Rutland Fountain on Merrion Square in Dublin, will be a permanent and prominent tribute to those who have given their lives in the service of the State.

As Minister for Defence I have been keen to increase the number of women applying to join our Defence Forces. To this end, during 2006, I reduced the minimum height requirement for enlistment. I also commissioned the most comprehensive research ever into the issue of recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces.

I am pleased to say that this work is now at a very advanced stage. The interviewing phase is now complete - last week was the closing date for the return of questionnaires. I hope to receive the findings in the next couple of weeks. I would like to thank everyone involved for their time and co-operation. It was crucial to the success of this important research that we got the views and experiences of serving women.

Another area in which I have been keen to see progress is in the removal of the perception of a “glass ceiling” to promotion. I am happy to report that a Commissioning From The Ranks competition will be announced shortly. The arrangements are being finalised in consultation with the Representative Associations. This competition will provide serving non-commissioned officers with an opportunity for promotion to the commissioned ranks. I believe that every recruit joining the Defence Forces should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to commissioned officer level. The experience, talents and perspective that they bring will benefit the Defence Forces.

We have made other changes to open the way for enlisted personnel to join the commissioned ranks. The 2005 cadet competition was the first to implement the increase to the maximum entry age of 28 and to award bonus points to candidates with previous experience in the Permanent Defence Force or Reserve Defence Force. These welcome developments are tangible proof that our Defence Forces are continuing to modernise.

Today is a celebration of real achievement and marks the passing of a great milestone in the lives of these new officers. The dedication and commitment of those who have, over the last 15 months, moulded these young men and women into officers must be acknowledged. I want to thank the Commandant of the Military College: Lt Col Colm Campbell, the Class Officer: Commandant Paul Kennedy, Company Sergeant Tony Clare and all of their colleagues in the Cadet School, for their excellent work.

Finally, I would like to compliment everyone involved in the arrangements for this ceremony, particularly, the Army No. 1 Band under the baton of Commandant Mark Armstrong.

Thank you very much.

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