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Speech by Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence at the PDFORRA ADC

Wednesday, October 4th 2006

Mr. President, General Secretary, Chief of Staff, Ombudsman, distinguished guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank PDFORRA for inviting me to address your Association's fifteenth Annual Delegate Conference today.

This is my third address to your ADC. I am sure I am not revealing any state secrets by saying that is probably the last opportunity I will have to address an A.D.C. before the General Election. Therefore, I want to reflect this morning both on the progress made since the last ADC and on the progress we have made together on the modernisation agenda over the last few years.

You only have to compare the Price Waterhouse Review of the Defence Forces of July 1994 with the Defence Forces of today to see how much the organisation has changed. The Defence Forces described in that Review bears no resemblance to the dynamic organisation of today.

I believe the White Paper’s vision statement: “that Ireland has a world class military organisation to enable the Defence Forces to meet the requirements of Government in the changing national and international sphere” has, to a very large degree, been met.

The development and modernisation of the Defence Forces in the past decade is one of the big success stories of public sector modernisation. Nowhere has the success of our modernisation agenda been more visible than in our ability to meet our international security commitments. The changing nature of peace support operations has raised the bar considerably in terms of the demands on the Defence Forces and you, the men women of the Defence Forces, have risen admirably to that challenge.

During my visits to our troops in Liberia and the Balkans I have witnessed, at first hand, the dedication and professionalism of our military personnel. We have a professional, well-trained army, equipped to the highest standards. Our troops not only stand up to comparison with other larger armies but are, in some areas, at the leading edge, with technology and expertise second to none.

The general public does not always sufficiently appreciate the tremendous work you do in these troubled countries. You not only serve courageously and loyally, you go beyond that. I have been proud to see how you voluntary contribute your time and your money adopting local charitable projects and helping those communities where you serve. One can only feel proud of the work being done and the commitment being made in the name of this country. You are the uniformed Ambassadors for Ireland.

Overseas missions are now a core activity of the modern Defence Forces. Nonetheless, I do appreciate that the support and encouragement of your family and loved ones is vital in enabling you to undertake these missions. I am committed to ensuring that the rewards offered to our personnel serving overseas should reflect their significant contribution to these operations.

The Defence Forces will soon face another challenging mission. Yesterday, the Government approved my proposals for the despatch of a contingent of the Defence Forces as part of a joint Finnish/Irish Unit to UNIFIL 2. While the final details are being worked out it is expected that the Irish contingent will comprise approximately 150 personnel. The Finnish engineering unit will carry out tasks in support of UNIFIL and also some humanitarian work, especially in dealing with unexploded ordnance clearance. The Irish element will be tasked primarily for reconnaissance, security and protection duties associated with these engineering works, while also being available to the UNIFIL Force Commander for other taskings.
We return to Lebanon in unfortunate circumstances and against the backdrop of massive destruction of infrastructure and of the communities whom we served for over 23 years. However, I am confident that there is a real and substantive role for the Defence Forces in supporting the rebuilding of Lebanon. This operation will provide a further opportunity for us to work closely and directly with one of our potential partners in the EU Nordic Battlegroup.

I should also bring you up to speed on the current situation with progress on our participation in the EU Rapid Response Concept. The parameters of a possible contribution by Ireland to the Nordic EU Battlegroup The Nordic EU Battlegroup will be on Standby from Jan 2008. have now been worked through. It will consist of an EOD/IEDD EOD / IEDD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal / Improvised Explosive Device Disposal) contingent with its own security detail, together with staff posts at the Operational and Force headquarters. I expect to bring the matter to Government shortly for a final decision.

As you will be aware, we currently have an APC Company serving in Kosovo with the Multi-National Task Force (Centre). The Government agreed last week that Ireland would assume the framework nation role for the Task Force Centre in August next. This will be a new development for the Defence Forces as we have never before commanded a brigade size force in multinational, PfP-led peace support operation. It will contribute significantly to the development of the Defence Forces, heightening our capabilities and our profile as a professional and well-organised force within the international peacekeeping community.

Effective human resources and a positive working environment are central to the success of the modern Defence Force and much has also been accomplished in these areas in recent years. New human resource management systems, revised internal complaints procedures, publication of a Dignity Charter, and the introduction of family friendly polices are just some of the changes introduced. A review of progress in this area as recommended by the monitoring group in their “Response to the Challenge of the Workplace” report is planned for 2007.

Partnership has also progressed with the setting up of Partnership committees and the completion of training to all formations. These structures should help significantly in providing opportunities for addressing issues at local level.

I see from your Conference agenda that Ms. Paulyn Marrinan-Quinn S.C. is a guest speaker in your afternoon session. It is just over a year since Ms. Marrinan Quinn was appointed. To date, the office of the Ombudsman has provided me with some twelve reports. The primary focus in these has been on selection for promotion, for courses and overseas service. Everyone here today appreciates the importance of effective selection, as did the “Response to the challenge of the Workplace” Report. The Ombudsman’s reports have made a real contribution to our work in these areas, in addition to reporting on behalf of individual complainants. This contribution is appreciated.

I have recently had discussions with your General Secretary and representatives of the Naval Service regarding the effects of patrol duties on personnel of the Naval Service. I am pleased that our meeting reached agreement on a process to examine the issue and find solutions. The issue is firmly on the agenda and I will be monitoring progress in this area closely.

A review of progress on implementation of the White Paper is currently underway. I intend to push ahead to complete the modernisation agenda as laid out in the White Paper. To this end discussions are ongoing with your Association on a number of outstanding modernisation issues. Following agreement these will be incorporated into the “Towards 2016” modernisation action plan.

Modernisation also needs capital investment. As I have stated previously, it is Government policy that the Defence Forces should be fully equipped to undertake the duties assigned to them at home and overseas and I will ensure a continuation of this policy.

Change has to be embraced by all parties for it to be successful. The representative processes consisting of the Council, Subcommittees and the Partnership function have a vital role to play in the implementation of change. Since the last ADC, 15 significant reports have been signed with the vast majority recording agreement. A substantial number of smaller individual claims have also been processed.

Agreements included an increase in annual leave, incremental increase for personnel on acting up appointments and establishment of a Foreign Language proficiency allowance.

Negotiations on major issues such as NCO promotions, technical pay and a revised pensions scheme are well advanced and are expected to be concluded over the coming months. The pensions issue in particular has been ongoing for a considerable time and I am pleased to hear that a package is being finalised which is a significant improvement on current schemes.

Another area in which I am anxious to see more progress is the opportunity for promotion to the officer ranks. There should be no perception of a glass ceiling within the Defence Forces. I am firmly of the view that every recruit should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to officer level by virtue of his or her leadership qualities, ability and character. I am pleased that progress is being made here too. The results for the 2006 competition were encouraging with 13% of PDF and 8% of RDF applicants being successful in obtaining cadetships as against 4% of candidates without any military experience.

A sub committee of Council has been set up to discuss the conditions for a Commissioning From the Ranks competition with your Association. This will give existing non-commissioned officers an opportunity to compete for promotion to the commissioned ranks. I will be watching the outcome of this competition closely - as it will inform my approach to this important issue into the future.

As you know, I am keen to increase the number of women applying to join our Defence Forces. To facilitate this I made changes to the requirements on height, which will enable more women and men to apply for enlistment in the Defence Forces. The changes mean that 90% of Irish women will now be eligible to apply to join.

However, height is not the only factor in encouraging more women to join. That is why I also commissioned research into the issue of recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Forces. The research will test women's attitudes to military life and a career in the Defence Forces. The research, by MRBI, has already commenced. It is important that your views and experiences are considered and I would urge you to assist with this, if requested. I have also invited PDFORRA to submit their views on the issue.

The coming months will be a busy time with both benchmarking and the new modernisation agreement: “Towards 2016” reaching critical stages. I am a strong supporter of the principle of Benchmarking. I believe our public service deserves to be paid on a basis commensurate with their private sector counterparts. But if there is equal pay there is the need to perform with equal efficiency and productivity.

As I have said earlier, I believe that the rewards offered to DF personnel should reflect their significant contribution to both the operation of the Defence Forces and the ongoing modernisation of the organisation.

In relation to the “Towards 2016” modernisation agenda, a formal offer has now been made to your Association. The Government has again determined that pay under any new agreement will be linked to real progress on the implementation of the next phase of modernisation across the whole of the Public Service. I am hopeful, based on past experience, that agreement can be reached on the deliverables to enable ratification of the agreement by your Association sooner rather than later.

It is clear to me that the Conciliation and Arbitration process is working well and I would reiterate my message of last year that the machinery in place should be used to the maximum extent when there are issues to be resolved.

On a personal note, I want to take this opportunity to mention again the magnificent display by the Defence Forces at the 90th Anniversary of the 1916 Parade. I received a great deal of positive feedback both from members of the public and from my Government colleagues. They were delighted to see the modern Defence Forces given an opportunity to parade through our capital city. I am sure that a number of you here today participated and I hope that any disruption to your family caused by your participation was alleviated to some extent by the pride they must have felt in seeing the enthusiastic reception given to you on the day.

Finally, I am mindful that this may be my last ADC as Minister for Defence, so I cannot let the occasion pass without paying a sincere tribute to your President, Willie Webb, to your General Secretary Gerry Rooney, to your Deputy General Secretary Simon Devereaux, your Executive and officials for the positive and constructive way in which they have represented you, the members, over the past 12 months.
On taking this appointment I was determined that I would operate an “open door” policy. I wanted, as far as practicable, to be available to you to listen to your concerns and, where possible, to address them speedily. I believe my approach has yielded some positive outcomes. Many of the initiatives I introduced over the past two years originated in things I heard or picked up in informal conversations with members, both serving and retired, across the country. By listening to each other, we learn, we adapt and make progress. That is the essence of partnership approach I have sought to encourage and foster.

I want to wish you well with the rest of your conference. I have greatly enjoyed working with you over the past two years and look forward to us working together over the coming months for the development and betterment of the Defence Forces.

Thank you.

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