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Mr. President, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, fellow guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank PDFORRA for inviting me to address your Association's 13th Annual Delegate Conference today in Letterkenny.

This is my first public engagement since being appointed Minister for Defence. I am very pleased indeed to have this early opportunity to address you – as the elected representatives of the men and women in the front line – on the issues and challenges that face us all as stakeholders in the Defence Sector.

I am deeply honoured to be appointed Minister for Defence. I look forward to developing a positive and productive working relationship with your Association. My presence here today is a positive indication of my support for the Defence Forces and the representative process. As the voice of enlisted personnel of the Permanent Defence Force, your Association continues to play an integral and valuable part within that process.

Circumstances prevented me from addressing you and attending the banquet yesterday. I suspect, however, that you will forgive me this absence when you realise the circumstances were my spending yesterday afternoon taking the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill through its Second Reading in the Seanad.

The speedy passage of this important piece of legislation honours the commitment given to PDFORRA by my predecessor, Michael Smith,T.D. I expect the Bill to pass all remaining stages within the next few weeks and I look forward to bringing it into effect immediately afterwards.

When it has passed the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill will be a fitting tribute to the hard work and dedication of your former General Secretary, the late John Lucey. John fought tirelessly to get an ombudsman for members of the Defence Forces. My predecessor brought John’s proposal to reality, in the form of the bill currently before Seanad Éireann. I am glad I will have the honour of bringing it to a successful conclusion shortly.

The provision of a statutory Ombudsman for the Defence Forces provides a further significant impetus in the major transformation in culture and practice which is underway within the Defence Forces.

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As some of your local representatives will know, I am very familiar with the Defence Forces in Limerick.

Since taking up my appointment I have been greatly impressed at the size of the overall defence organisation. Close to €1 billion will be spent on Defence this year - a significant amount of Exchequer funds, especially when you consider that the total take from income tax this year will be in the region of €10 billion.

About three quarters of expenditure is accounted for by pay, allowances and pensions. Almost 12,000 people are employed in the Defence organisation - 10,500 in the Permanent Defence Force, almost 1,000 civilian employees and about 430 civil servants. In addition, the Reserve Defence Forces have a membership in excess of 13,000 personnel. So, by any reckoning, the Defence sector is a very sizeable organisation.

In the past seven years over €174 million has been expended by this Government on the Capital Investment Programme for the upgrade of barracks accommodation and facilities. During the same period expenditure on non-capital building and maintenance work amounted to €61 million.

The results of this unprecedented level of expenditure can be seen in barracks all over the country – and I can assure fellow Limerick people here today that I’m going to check to see that Sarsfield Barracks got its fair share, at least!

It is Government policy that the Defence Forces are fully equipped and trained to undertake the duties assigned to them at home and overseas. I will ensure a continuation of this policy.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in the acquisition of modern equipment for the Defence Forces. The delivery next week of the last two of the twenty-five Armoured Personnel Carriers purchased this year will bring our total APC fleet to sixty-five. At present, twenty-two are deployed in Liberia and six in Kosovo. These new vehicles have worked very well in these varied overseas environments.

We have made excellent progress in terms of new equipment and better infrastructure and I will continue that process. The tax payer gets extremely good value for money both in terms of home operations and duties overseas. At the Cabinet table I will champion the cause of ongoing investment and development of our Defence Forces.

It is my desire that we continue to make substantial investment in new equipment and infrastructure in 2005 and beyond.

But the acquisition of new equipment and infrastructure is just part of the picture. People are the Defence Forces greatest asset. We must offer rewarding and challenging careers to our people. This requires a continuing commitment to re-organisation, to training and to career management. Much progress has been made but, to borrow a phrase from elsewhere, there is still more to do.

As Minister, I remain fully committed to achieving the objectives set out in the White Paper and endorsed by Government.

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As you are aware, payment of the final two phases of benchmarking and the Sustaining Progress increases are dependent on progress on modernisation, industrial relations stability, co-operation with change, and other specific commitments, in line with the recommendations of the Public Service Benchmarking Body. To achieve this a Modernisation Action Plan was agreed between the Department and both representative associations.

This Action Plan addresses the key outstanding modernisation issues as identified through the White Paper on Defence and contains a series of commitments, together with the specific actions to be taken in respect of these, and the dates by which those actions must be taken. Those commitments fall into two broad types, organisational and Human Resources.

On the organizational side we have successfully introduced new structures in Defence Forces Headquarters and in the Naval Service and the Air Corps. My immediate priority is to develop an organisation plan for the Army, building on the progress made in the earlier phase of the modernisation process. The objective will be to ensure that the Army can continue to meet the need for maximum flexibility and deployability. With this objective to the forefront, a civil-military review of Army organisation will commence later this year.

Turning to Human Resources, we are committed to the introduction of an Integrated Personnel Management System for the Defence Forces to deal with the broad range of human resources management and development issues. These include, manpower policy and planning, equality of opportunity and treatment and the right to dignity at work, recruitment, terms of enlistment, induction, training, education and development, physical and medical fitness, career planning and guidance, promotion, the regulatory framework, retirement, and pensions.

In effect, what is envisaged is the development and implementation of a fully comprehensive human resource strategy for all of the Defence Forces – Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

Last month the Independent Monitoring Group submitted its report entitled ‘Response to the Challenge of a Workplace’. The Report describes the progress achieved since the publication of the Doyle Report ‘Challenge of the Workplace’ in 2002.

I know that the Chief of Staff will be addressing you on this issue so I will not dwell on it other than to say that the first step towards tackling bullying and harassment is to recognise the existence of a problem and putting the right policies in place as quickly as possible.

As many of you will be aware, my immediate responsibility before coming to the Department of Defence was as Minister of State for Equality. I can assure you that the principles I advocated there will be to the forefront of my stewardship of the Department of Defence.

Every single member of the Defence Forces has a right to be treated with respect and dignity and to work within the Defence Forces free from harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. A very good start has already been made in addressing the problems and real, measurable achievements have been logged over the past few years.

As Minister for Defence I will do all in my power to ensure the elimination of unacceptable behaviour but the primary responsibility rests with you, the members of the Defence Force.

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The Partnership Process at National level has served this country well over the past few years. It was born out of the realization that problems are best resolved through dialogue and co-operation. The application of this partnership process in the local workplace provides the opportunity to maximise the benefits available to all sectors of the Public Service.

As you are aware, Partnership has been introduced to the Defence Sector and a National Partnership Forum and Steering Committee has been established. Partnership Sub Committees have also been established to deal with work/life balance issues and to carry out a review of the medical services. I understand that the Committees meet on a regular basis and that progress is being made on the various issues being discussed. The next step in this development is the rollout to Formations, which will take place in the near future.

I am acutely aware that the creation of an effective partnership in the Defence Sector presents a particular challenge because of the nature and structure of the Organisation. However, the arrangements now in place identify a process that recognises the very positive contribution members of the Defence Forces can make in the continuing development of the organisation. I have no doubt that this very important contribution will see the Partnership process continuing to develop and progress for the benefit of all concerned.

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In July, my predecessor approved the proposals of the Implementation Board on the reorganisation of the Reserve. I see this as the final piece of Defence Forces reorganisation. I am pleased that the implementation process is now fully underway. I am aware of concerns about certain implementation issues. If we work together, these concerns can be addressed through the normal channels and arrangements. It is vital, however, that we complete the work according to the schedule mapped out

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Representation in the Defence Forces has come a long way since its inception. I know that we share a common goal of developing and sustaining a system of representation in the Defence Forces that works for PDFORRA and for the Defence Forces. I understand that, over the last 12 months, both sides have continued to conduct their business in a positive manner, through constructive dialogue and discussion within the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.

The forum for dealing with pay and allowances issues that fall within the representational area is the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. I understand that over the last five years, out of a total of 59 claims brought forward by your Association and discussed at Conciliation Council, 46 have concluded with Agreed Reports and 13 with Disagreed Reports. The system is obviously working and is seen to be working. My message to you, therefore, is clear – work within the system and the representation process will be strengthened and progress will continue to be made. On that basis I look forward to dealing with your Association in a constructive and open-minded manner.

To conclude, I would like to thank you again for affording me the opportunity to speak to you here today. Rest assured that the points made and views expressed will be carefully considered by me as Minister and by the civil and military representatives of my Department. I would also like to thank your full-time officials, - whom I plan to meet again in the very near future in a less formal situation - and you the delegates, for your valuable contribution to the representative process.

I would like to wish you every success in your deliberations during the remainder of your conference. Thank you very much.

ENDS


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