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Speech by Mr Willie O’Dea T.D., Minister for Defence
at the commissioning cermony for the 81st Cadet Class

3rd July 2006

Secretary General, Chief of Staff, Deputy Chiefs of Staff, GOC Defence Forces Training Centre, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman. I am delighted to be present in the Curragh Camp for this afternoon’s Commissioning Ceremony.

Each annual Commissioning Ceremony marks the coming of age of a new generation of leaders. Having been selected to serve their country, the 53 young men and women of the 81st Cadet Class have risen to the challenge of a rigorous programme of preparation and training. Over the last 21 months, their resolve, character and stamina have been tested to the limit. To reach this memorable day is a significant achievement by 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 81st Cadet Class is now a commissioned officer of the Permanent Defence Forces. A few moments ago they took an oath that pledges each one of 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 and I know that they have not taken on these responsibilities lightly. Their training as future leaders of our modern Defence Forces 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.

As the Defence Forces continue to modernise across all areas, so too does its training function. These new officers have already benefited from the constant development and updating of training in the Cadet School. Earlier today, they all received their HETAC Bachelor of Arts degree in Leadership, Management and Defence Studies and I congratulate them on that accomplishment.

Of course their training as officers does not end today but will continue for the duration of their military career. There will be opportunities to undertake further third level studies in keeping with best international practice for officer development. Then, at a later stage in their professional development, many of these officers will go on to study for the MA in Defence Studies at NUI Maynooth, which is an integral part of the Command and Staff Course.

This careful combination of military and academic disciplines is considered the best preparation for officers for the complex and varied tasks that they will be required to perform both at home and overseas.

I am delighted to see that the 81st cadet class includes 12 young women. This is the highest number of female cadets ever commissioned in a single cadet class and it is gratifying to note that, over the last five years, the Defence Forces have doubled the percentage intake of female Cadets to 20%. In addition, last year over 10% of enlistments for general service were by females.

As you probably know, I am keen to increase the number of women applying to join our defence forces. To this end, I announced yesterday that I have decided to reduce the minimum height requirement for enlistment in the Defence Forces to 5’ 2” This means that 90% of females in the country will now be eligible to apply to join the Defence Forces.

Of course height isn’t the only factor in encouraging more women to join the Defence Forces and that is why I had sought the views of a number of other Bodies and organisations seeking their views and recommendations on how more women might be encouraged to enlist in the Defence Forces. Having examined their responses,
I now propose to carry out some further research.

To this end, I have invited tenders from companies willing to undertake 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. I envisage that the research will include interviews with females serving in both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve, with members of the general public and with special interest groups. The contract for this research will issue later this week and I expect the findings to be available in the autumn.

Another area in which I am anxious to see more progress being made is the removal of the perception of a “glass ceiling” to promotion in the army. Every recruit joining the defence forces should have a reasonable expectation of being promoted to senior officer level by virtue of their ability and character.

I am pleased to report that significant progress is being made here too. The cadetship competition has been revised to increase the maximum entry age to 28 and to award bonus marks to candidates with previous experience in the PDF or RDF. The results for the 2005 competition were encouraging with 14% of PDF and 8% of RDF applicants being successful in obtaining cadetships as against 4% of candidates without any military experience.

A Commissioning From the Ranks competition will take place later this year - the first in almost five years. This will give existing non-commissioned officers an opportunity to compete for promotion to the commissioned ranks. The outcome of this competition will inform my approach to this important issue into the future.

These welcome developments are tangible proof that our Defence Forces are continuing to modernise

These newly commissioned officers take up duty at a time of exciting change for the Defence Forces. We are now more than half way through the implementation of the White Paper on Defence. This is transforming the capacity of the Defence Forces to meet the challenges of the modern era at home and abroad. The continuing programs of investment in new equipment and infrastructure have had a positive impact on all areas of the Defence Forces.

Since my appointment as Minister for Defence I have visited our peacekeeping troops in Liberia, Kosovo and Bosnia. It was a matter of great satisfaction for me to see for myself how professionally they are performing their tasks. We are now in a position to send our personnel overseas as well, if not better equipped, than any of their peers. The ongoing modernisation programme has made this possible and our Defence Forces deserve no less.

As well as the investment programme, I am determined to implement the organisational changes as set out in the White Paper and reiterated in the Programme for Government. Working in tandem with the military authorities, commitments, including a new Army organisation, an Integrated Personnel Management System and the Implementation Plan for the Reserve must be fulfilled. Significant progress is being made across all these fronts and I am determined that we deliver on this in the shortest possible time.

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 moulded these young men and women into officers over the last 21 months must be acknowledged and I would like in this regard, to thank the Commandant of the Military College, Lt Col Colm Campbell, the Class Officer Captain Larry Heffernan, Company Sergeant Eddie Whitford and all of the personnel of the Cadet School, for their fine work.

Finally I would like to compliment everyone involved here today in the arrangements for this impressive ceremony, with particular thanks to the Band of the Western Brigade under the baton of Captain Declan Whitston.

Thank you very much.

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