SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, MR. MICHAEL SMITH, T.D,
AT THE LAUNCH OF THE REPORT OF THE MINISTERIAL STEERING GROUP ON THE RESERVE DEFENCE FORCE,
ANNER HOTEL, THURLES, 25 November 2000.
At the outset of this morning's important briefing programme, I would like to welcome you all and to record my appreciation for your attendance. The fact that so many people have been ready to come together in Thurles, on this winter Saturday morning, confirms yet again the very strong hold that the Reserve has always commanded in terms of the great loyalty and commitment of its members. Indeed, the only difficulty in holding this meeting was the necessary limitation on numbers attending, given both the capacity of the venue and the need to ensure that a cohesive and purposeful session resulted for the benefit of all concerned.
The report of the special Steering Group on the Reserve was finalised and sent forward to me in September 1999. I am convinced that this report will come, in time, to be seen as marking a major historical milestone in the development of the Reserve Defence Force. It would be correct to say that this very comprehensive and thorough review document, and its extensive body of recommendations, provides an excellent and balanced overview of the present Reserve structure and function. The overall strategy for the future development of the Reserve Defence Force will now be based upon the report of the Steering Group. Indeed, the wide body of recommendations contained in their report has been accepted as providing the general foundation on which the planned development of the Reserve Defence Force can proceed in the future. This gathering here this morning represents but an initial first element of the widespread exercise of information and consultation which was signalled at Chapter 5 of the Defence White Paper in regard to securing the future progress of the Reserve Defence Force.
The very many strengths and worthy attributes of the Reserve were quite rightly recognised and lauded by the Steering Group in their report. Similiarly, the various disadvantages and weaknesses of the present organisation and arrangements are also quite clearly set out and described in some detail. I would strongly emphasise, however, that none of this was done in any negative spirit of harping criticism - rather, such objective analysis must provide the foundation for any truly worthwhile and constructive review process. As Albert Einstein once memorably remarked, " if you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor". The objective of this entire review process is a better trained, better equipped and better resourced Reserve Defence Force.
The Permanent Defence Force has seen an enormous body of change over the course of the last several years. More recently, the Naval Service and the Air Corps have been subject to specialist reviews by the consultants and work arising from those reviews continues in progress. Earlier this year, we saw the landmark publication of the Defence White Paper. This very necessary process of change has at times been controversial and aspects of it were heavily contested at the time by certain interest groups. However, as we survey the transformed PDF landscape today, I do not think that you would now find any substantive or informed body of opinion who would actually wish to reverse the changes made in recent years.
This process of change and much needed modernisation within the Defence Forces must, by very definition, include the important Reserve element. Indeed, the toleration of or acquiescence in anything less would prove to be an absolute disservice to the interests of the Reserve Force in the longer term. I would emphasise in particular that this review process is not a paper exercise - it will lead to real change and over time, to an entirely new type of Reserve. As you will be aware, the Steering Group's review envisages the creation of an Army Reserve, comprising both a smaller PDF-integrated element and a majority of Reservists assigned to Reserve Brigades. These latter will be aligned with the parallel PDF Brigade structure established under the earlier Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan. The present Slua Múirí will also be developed in order to provide a capability for a more integrated Naval Reserve system of some 400 personnel. None of this is intended to provide some mere token change of title. Rather, it should be taken as a very serious public indication of a deep underlying commitment to move forward to the development of a totally new type of Reserve Defence Force, in a planned, structured and well thought out manner, over the course of the next six years.
While the Steering Group met on a number of occasions with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association (RDFRA), which made presentations to the Group, I have been quite clear in my own mind that there should be a further process of consultation before the military proposals are finalised. We must never forget that, at the end of the day, there is an absolute dependence within the Reserve on the concept and spirit of voluntary service.
This Brief here this morning is the first of a series of three such briefing exercises which will be held around the country, the others being in Athlone and Dublin. I would emphasise, however, that these Briefs represent the commencement of the process of informing and consulting with you all, the actual serving members of the voluntary Reserve.
The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is that it has a country-wide geographical spread. This particular aspect will, in general terms, be retained in the future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new Reserve Force as envisaged by the Steering Group will have to be determined in the course of a detailed implementation process. That process will comprehend the drafting and development of a Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation Plan by an RDF Review Implementation Board. The eventual Implementation Plan will be based upon the Steering Group's Report and will be informed by the recommendations of local Brigade area Planning Groups. The actual implementation of the structural and reorganisation changes, 'on the ground' so to speak , will require a period of about six years to bring to a full completion. This detailed process will require the military authorities to consider and to bring forward recommendations and detailed proposals for the restructuring of local Reserve units within each of the Army Brigade areas.
One really must emphasise that the Steering Group were particularly mindful of the need to preserve and to retain the very many traditional and well established strengths of the current Reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nation-wide geographical spread.
I am convinced that consultation and communication will be important if the changes and challenges proposed are to be carried through smoothly and effectively. Of course, formal consultation with your Representative Association will take place within the normal system of representation. In addition, measures will be taken to ensure that Reserve units are made aware and kept informed of implementation plans and developments. It is clear that the Reserve of the future will make greater personal demands on members. Experience shows that the commitment and dedication of members, and endorsed in submissions including that of the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, will be equal to these new challenges.
It was the view of the Steering Group that the Army Reserve should comprise a total strength of about 12,000. At any given time, just under 2,700 personnel from that figure would be serving on an integrated basis with Reserve sub units integrated with PDF based units, the so-called 'integrated' Reserve. The main body of the Army Reserve, some 9,300, would be assigned to the three Reserve Brigades, themselves a mirror reflection of the comparable PDF structure. While all 'integrated' service alongside the PDF would, of course, be on an entirely voluntary basis, I have no doubt whatever that the sheer challenge and inherent attraction of the concept will prove extremely popular with all members of the new Army Reserve. Indeed, I would imagine that it is the selection of personnel, for the 2,700 odd places available, from amongst the totality of willing potential applicants that will in effect prove to be the major practical difficulty.
The Steering Group was quite clear in its mind that there was a need for the introduction of a new training regime in order to enable the modernised Reserve to achieve a greater operational capacity. The implementation process will therefore include provision for modular and structured training to take cognisance both of the voluntary nature of the reservist and of modern methods of education, in areas such as distance learning and proficiency testing. An essential objective of the proposed training profile will be to ensure that most personnel will, in each 12 months period, undertake a total of 14 days paid training. In the year 2000, the overall training days provision has been increased by 50%. While the budget allocation for the training of the Second Line Reserve, specifically, comes to some £5.67 million this year, again a 50% increase, the overall annual budget for the Reserve as a whole would in fact be nearer to the £20 million mark, when all other costs properly associated with the Reserve are brought together from various other subheads of expenditure. Subject to financial priorities within the military budget as a whole, it is planned that the Reserve training and associated allocations should continue to be increased as the Reserve reorganisation process continues apace.
The new format of training will consist of an appropriate combination of nightly parades, field days, weekend training, annual training periods of two weeks duration and various courses.
Most importantly, in addition, an individual training log book will be introduced for each reservist, providing a detailed personal record of individual technical and tactical proficiency.
There was broad agreement also that the general levels of equipment available to the Reserve should be significantly improved. It is clearly desirable, over a reasonable time frame, to maximise the real achievement of both standardisation and inter operability between the PDF and the Reserve in respect of dress and individually issued personal equipment. This matter is regarded as a key and important issue for operational capability and training, apart altogether from having a positive effect on Reserve morale and self-image. However, bringing the entire Reserve fully up to the present PDF equipment standard would have very significant resource implications, most particularly if all the potential improvements were to be attempted over a short and restricted period.
A traditional and well described feature of the existing FCA organisation is that it has an extensive countrywide geographical spread. This feature will, in general terms, be retained. The full organisational and strength details of the new Army Reserve entities will have to be determined in the detailed course of the full implementation process. That process will involve a critical and careful examination of all current units and their actual strength numbers. An absolutely crucial aspect here relates to the critical balance which must be obtained between the extent of the traditional geographical spread, and the parallel need to have regard to the effectiveness of the Reserve in overall terms. Moreover, historical local factors and population demographics have often undergone quite an extraordinary degree of transformation over the years. The study of the Reserve provided some early indicative proposals in respect of possible unit amalgamations. These will form the basis of the more detailed restructuring of the Reserve. A greater concentration of units potentially holds the key to the identified prize objective of providing much better and more relevant modern training, and other associated asset facilities, in a somewhat reduced number of locations. The military authorities will have to consider and recommend detailed proposals for the restructuring of the present Reserve units within each new Reserve brigade area. This exercise should provide a useful opportunity to increase the Reserve presence in some of the larger urban areas, a structural weakness which was particularly evident to the members of the Study Group.
The overwhelming conclusion reached by the Steering Group was that a real and sustained change process is now required. The Group recognised in particular the marked desire for positive change among members of the Reserve themselves.
A number of issues are regarded as having contributed over time to a growing level of dissatisfaction among members of the Reserve. These issues were clearly identified in the course of the study and they require an integrated programme of change. The most significant included the fact that the FCA and Slua Muirí, in common with many other voluntary organisations, are experiencing an increasing difficulty in recruiting new members. Annual recruitment has fallen to about 50% of the 1990 level. The retention of trained personnel is increasingly problematic and uncertain. The Steering Group noted that the standard of training available is far too variable. While there are about 14,000 recorded members in the Reserve, only about 50% of members attend annual training camp each year. Crucially, the Reserve has little or no presence in some major urban areas. Recruitment is not always targeted at the type of individuals who are the more likely to give long and useful service or to provide valuable, scarce and ready made skills. Many reservists serve only for a short period. This in turn inevitably leads to repetitive, basic, induction-type training for all members due to a pattern of 'revolving door' entry and exit. All of these issues will have to be addressed in an integrated package.
We need to set out a clearer and well defined contingency role and function for the new Reserve, as a voluntary organisation, in training and preparing for the support of the PDF in a national emergency. An essential component of this will require an improved organisational structure, which is modern, rational and consistent with the development of a much closer and enhanced relationship with the PDF. The need for more and better quality training and improved equipment and resourcing has been recognised by the Steering Group and this will be addressed in a phased and ordered manner as overall resources permit.
I might mention the question of possible access to overseas peace support missions for members of the Reserve. An important change recommended by the Steering Group was that certain Reserve personnel should be considered for participation in overseas peace support missions, this, of course, being subject to appropriate qualifications, availability and advance training. Service by reservists on overseas peace support missions is common elsewhere. Such an initiative would serve as an important element to ensure the retention of a highly motivated and trained Reserve, in the best interest of the State and of the Defence Forces as a whole. This would however require appropriate consultation with all the representative associations.
The Steering Group clearly saw overseas service as significantly enhancing the status and role of RDF personnel and as providing an additional training objective and personal goal in both improving the morale of individual reservists and the esprit de corps of the RDF as a whole.
It would also further develop the inter-active relationship between the PDF and the RDF in both the operational and training contexts. While it may well be the case that, in practice, the actual numbers involved would be small, it would nonetheless be most important that these reservists take their place alongside their PDF counterparts overseas.
These then are the more significant issues which will predominate in the Reserve over the forthcoming years. I would like to make a few closing remarks of a more general nature about the difficulties which are so often encountered, but perhaps sometimes the less readily engaged, whenever structural reform is indicated in the public sector generally. There is a widespread consensus that the Reserve now needs a radical programme of change to be implemented on the ground - inevitably some aspects of the programme will be very popular universally, many aspects will be taken on board with varying degrees of toleration and sufferance, while some quite key modules of the necessary reform process may prove to be unpopular on first engagement. You know better than anyone that we cannot simply drift on passively for the next six or seven years, in effect doing nothing, in the belief that the problems so clearly identified by the Steering Group will either go away or remain in some sort of deep freeze steady state. Those problems will get worse at an ever accelerating rate - a situation which is manageable in today's terms could easily become irretrievable over the next ten years. On the other hand, another dangerous fallacy would suggest to us that we can pick and choose which recommendations to implement on an optional basis - rather as an individual might work their way through a box of chocolates, leaving to one side the less palatable flavours for others to select. This too would prove to be a fatal error in the longer term. Short term expediency would provide no adequate basis for securing the long term future of the Reserve. These two "cop out" options would effectively lead to the sure destruction of the Reserve.
The thorough and integrated programme of reform identified by the Steering Group points the way forward to a successful organisation which will be based on very solid, proven and lasting foundations.
This integrated programme of reform is sought because it is urgently needed for the benefit of the entire Reserve as a national entity. Indeed, a Reserve Defence Force can have no raison d'etre other than as a national entity. What this means is that some small sacrifices will have to be made today for the securing of major benefits in the future.
The future of the Reserve cannot be secured on the basis of a bizarre cocktail of nostalgia, sentimentality, demands for ill defined levels of additional resources and "anywhere else but not in my own backyard" parochialism. We seek to secure an attractive, dynamic and socially relevant future for the Reserve and not to return to some imagined vision of the past. Please remember that the objective of this entire exercise is to put in place a better trained, better equipped and better resourced national Reserve.
Once again, I would like to thank you all for your attendance and attention this morning and I hope that you will find the rest of this morning's programme to be interesting and rewarding.