Address by the Minister of State for Defence
Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
at the 2012 Annual Delegate Conference
Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Reresentative Association (PDFORRA)
ORMONDE HOTEL, KILKENNY
on Wednesday 3Rd OCTOBER 2012
Mr. President, Chief of Staff, Assistant Secretary General of the Department, General Secretary, distinguished guests and conference delegates.
Firstly I wish to convey the sincere apologies of the Minister for Defence, Minister Alan Shatter, who is unable to be here today.
It is a great pleasure and honour for me as Minister of State at the Department of Defence to be given the opportunity to again address your Annual Delegate Conference, the 21st such Conference. While an ADC is always an important occasion for any Association this year’s agenda and the positions to be adopted will be taken against the backdrop of the ongoing reorganisation of the Defence Forces and a continuing difficult economic environment which poses enormous challenges for us all.
You will have previously heard much of what I am about to say, but it is worth repeating none the less. As you are aware the Government’s Comprehensive Review of Expenditure in 2011, necessitated by radically changed economic circumstance, outlined the resource envelope available to Defence in the coming years. Arising from the review, the Government stabilised the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. In response to the changed circumstances, the Minister for Defence initiated a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces. This re-organisation was driven by the immediate realities of retaining operational effectiveness within a PDF strength ceiling of 9,500 and a constrained resource provision.
It was not viable to retain a three brigade structure within a strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel. As a result, a key element of the reorganisation has been a reduction in the number of Army Brigades from three to two. In this regard, I note the call from the outgoing President for the Minister to reconsider the decision to reduce the Defence Forces from a three to a two Brigade structure. Let nobody here today be under any misapprehensions – there can be no turning back. The road on which the Defence Forces are now embarked in the reorganisation is the result of a detailed assessment of the Defence and Security environment and consideration of associated Defence Forces capability requirements and the financial resources available to Government.
The Government and the Minister fully understand that the current reorganisation is a major change in the organisation and structure of the Defence Forces. It will impact on the lives and future careers of serving and future members of the Defence Forces right across the organisation. However, it was a necessary action given reduced resources and the need to maintain operational capability and capacity.
The implementation of the current reorganisation is being undertaken in a manner which best addresses the future organisational needs and capability requirements of the Defence Forces. At the same time, the Minister is anxious that it should facilitate, as far as possible, the circumstances and expressed preferences of individual members of the Defence Forces. PDFORRA, have been closely engaged in the implementation planning process as part of the Croke Park Agreement. I would like to take this opportunity to thank PDFORRA and acknowledge the significant input and the constructive engagement of its officials and executive members into the planning of the implementation process.
The current reorganisation, taken with the earlier barrack closures, is far reaching and challenging. I fully appreciate that it is not an easy or painless process for those who are significantly impacted by the proposals. It is perfectly understandable, in that context, for individuals to be concerned about the implications for themselves. In implementing the reorganisation the Department and Defence Force management have, at the request of the Minister, taken account of the personal impact of these changes. To that end, the implementation plan has been designed to limit, as far as possible, the relocation of personnel. That said there will have to be some mandatory movements. That will be unavoidable even with the best will in the world so that we can get the right people into the right places.
The reorganisation and its implementation demonstrate the proactive implementation of the Croke Park Agreement within the Defence Sector. Successful implementation will depend on the continuing leadership of civil and military management in the Department of Defence, and on the positive and constructive engagement of the Representative Associations, on behalf of their members, under the provisions of the Croke Park Agreement. This is where you all have a crucial role to play and I encourage you to fully participate in the process.
The issue of allowances is of course a matter of particular interest to PDFORRA’s members. As you are aware Security Duty Allowance and Technical Pay are matters that are currently being reviewed under the Croke Park Agreement. It is also the case that the Government have recently made decisions on other allowances, and whilst these will likely have the greatest impact on new beneficiaries, the Department is currently examining the decisions in the context of current Defence Force Regulations. PDFORRA will be kept fully informed of progress in these areas.
While I am aware that the current reorganisation poses many challenges and some difficulties, it will also deliver significant opportunities for current and future members of the Defence Forces. The reorganisation enables the organisation to now commence to fill significant gaps in the management structure of the Defence Forces through promotion and
re-training. The promotion of enlisted personnel to fill senior NCO posts has already commenced. Over the next few months, this will percolate right down through the rest of the organisation, providing further opportunities for personnel. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the role of PDFORRA in signing off the new NCO Promotion Agreement earlier this year. You now have a merit-based promotion system which reflects modern HR standards which will provide opportunities for advancement for many of your members.
It is a feature of the Defence Forces that it requires continual renewal through recruitment of energetic and committed new personnel. The Government fully recognises the need for ongoing recruitment in the Defence Forces. In contrast to what has happened in other sections of the public service, the Government has approved ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. The implementation of the reorganisation plan will allow for significant recruitment of new personnel as the management structure is filled out under the reorganisation proposals. Approximately 600 new recruits are to be inducted into the Defence Forces over the coming months so as to maintain the approved strength of the Defence Forces under the reorganisation plan. A huge response was received to the recruitment announcement, with a very high quality of candidates. The quality and level of this response is testament to the career and professional opportunities which today’s modern Defence Forces continue to offer to young people right across the country.
You, members of Oglaigh na hÉireann, are all part of a vibrant, modern and purposeful organisation of which you can be proud. The Government and the Minister are committed to maintaining that vibrancy and purpose through this reorganisation and through the implementation of promotions and recruitment so as to maintain the capacity and capability of the Defence Forces. On behalf of the Government and the Minister, I would like to complement all those involved in the reorganisation process and in its implementation, and in the recruitment process for the work they are doing to maintain the high standards and professional capacity of the Defence Forces.
You do not need me to tell you that an essential part of maintaining an effective Defence Force is a continued investment in equipment, infrastructure and training. Notwithstanding the challenging economic conditions, the Government is committed to ensuring our Forces have equipment that meets – if not betters – international standards.
In 2012, some €27.5m has been allocated specifically for the purchase of defensive equipment and ammunition. This allows for the acquisition of a range of priority defensive equipment and munitions such as Force Protection Equipment, Chemical Agent Detection Equipment, Protective Visors, Body Armour and the implementation of a Rifle Enhancement Programme for the Steyr Rifle which has been in service for almost 25 years.
The Rifle upgrade programme is a multi annual programme which represents one of the most significant investments the Government is making in terms of the impact it will have on Defence Forces personnel at the coal face. The project is currently the subject of a number of tender competitions, the results of which will dictate the value of the programme going forward.
The provision also allows for the commencement of an upgrade and refurbishment programme of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal HOBO robots. Given the increased levels of call outs witnessed in recent years on the Defence Forces for these services I am of the view that this will be one of the most important programmes to be carried out in the Defence organisation in the coming years.
The provision for 2012 also allows for the acquisition of ammunition types needed to maintain stocks given the training and overseas requirements throughout the year. The 2012 allocation stands at €16m for the placement of new and existing contracts.
In addition, as many of you will be aware, the Department, in conjunction with the Naval Service, is overseeing the acquisition of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels. The first ship is scheduled for delivery in early 2014. The second ship will follow one year later.
In relation to the Air Corps, there are no plans for the acquisition of new aircraft at present but this has to be seen in the context of significant expenditure on the Air Corps in recent years.
The budgetary situation will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment and upgrades in that period. Decisions will be made accordingly on a strictly prioritised basis with a view to maintaining the capability of all roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces.
Whilst our economic reputation has taken a battering in recent times, our continuing excellent reputation in the field of international peacekeeping has resulted in a considerable volume of international goodwill. This is something for which all members of our Defence Forces deserve great credit.
The Government is committed to maintaining a significant overseas presence within the available resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces. Ireland’s continued participation is essential to the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces. The practical application of military skills and training in overseas missions contributes to the capacity of the Defence Forces to carry out its defence, security and support roles both at home and abroad.
In the international arena, Ireland is currently contributing 433 Defence Forces personnel to 11 different missions throughout the world. The main overseas missions, in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed, is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 356 personnel. Another battalion rotation will begin next month, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish them well on their tour of duty.
On the domestic front, the Defence Forces continue to deliver value for money professional services in accordance with Government policy. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams, for example, provide a unique and efficient response capability within the State at a time when the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has substantially increased. In 2010, the number of EOD callouts was 198 and in 2011, it was 237.
In addition to the increased level of threat, the EOD teams have also faced the challenge of dealing with the increasing level of sophistication of the IEDS. Significant levels of training and the provision of specialized modern equipment have enhanced the capabilities of the EOD teams which is reflected in the national and international reputation that they enjoy.
Other domestic roles which the Defence Forces execute with distinction include the cash in transit escorts, security duties at Portlaoise Prison and Government Buildings, and prisoner escorts.
In addition, on the 4th of June last the Air Corps commenced operations out of Custume Barracks, Athlone as part of a twelve-month pilot Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS) service that has been established by agreement between the Departments of Defence and Health in support of the HSE’s National Ambulance Service. The purpose of this is to assess the level and type of dedicated emergency aeromedical support that may be needed to assist National Ambulance Service operations in the west of Ireland. Particular focus is placed on implementing the requirements of HSE Clinical Care Programmes such as Acute Coronary Syndrome and Stroke.
A full evaluation of the EAS service will be undertaken by all stakeholders, including the Air Corps, three months prior to the end of the pilot. This pilot is being provided in addition to the existing inter hospital air ambulance service that the Air Corps has been operating for a number of years now.
Despite the enormous challenges ahead for Ireland and the part that the Defence Forces will continue to play in addressing these challenges, there remains much to be positive about as a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann. I have now had the benefit of seeing first-hand, over another year, the calibre of the individuals that make up our Defence Forces. I am convinced that the further challenges to come will continue to be met head on in a manner that reflects the professionalism, capabilities and resilience of the membership of Óglaigh na hÉireann. PDFORRA has confronted very difficult circumstances in the past and have consistently managed to move forward and to look to a better future. I am confident that you and your members will continue to do so.
I would like to thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to address your Conference here today. However, before I conclude, I would like to pay tribute to your outgoing President, Mr. William Webb. I understand he has served with PDFORRA since 1994, firstly, as a member of your National Executive, and as your President since 2004. I also extend to his successor, my very best wishes.
Finally, a 21st of any kind is a significant celebration of a coming of age. I wish you all the best with the remainder of your Conference, including the social aspect, as you renew old friendships and make new acquaintances.
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