Address by the Minister of State for Defence
Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
at the 18th Delegate Conference
Reserve Defence Force Reresentative Association (RDFRA)
in ceannt officers mess DFTC, Curragh Camp
on Saturday 8th SEPTEMBER 2012
Chief of Staff, President of the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, fellow guests and assembled delegates. It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to be here with you this morning to address your 18th Annual Delegate Conference.
The Minister for Defence, Minister Shatter, cannot be here today due to other commitments and he has asked me to convey his apologies.
As Minister of State for Defence, I am always impressed with the professionalism and the overall capability of our Nation’s Defence Forces. I am constantly struck by the enthusiasm and commitment of the personnel that I meet, both permanent and reserve. It is heartening that during this period of uncertainty for the Reserve, volunteer members continue to give willingly of their spare time.
As active members of the Reserve and of your communities you will be keenly aware of the priority that the Government has set in regaining our economic sovereignty. The Government is taking the difficult steps necessary to address the crisis in the public finances and to improve Irish economic competiveness and stimulate job creation.
This obliges us to live within our means. In the case of Defence the maintenance of operational capability within the available resources is the priority. The outcome of the Government’s Comprehensive Review of Expenditure in 2011 outlined the resource envelope that is 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 an austere resource provision.
As it was not viable to retain a three brigade structure within a strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel, the re-organisation encompassed a reduction in the number of Army Brigades from three to two. Implementation of the re-organisation is underway and is to scheduled to be completed by 30 November.
The re-organisation has implications for the Reserve. It has also overlapped with the Value for Money review of the Reserve. I am fully aware of the concerns of your members about the future of the Reserve. I am also aware of the resulting focus on the VFM review. It is regrettable that the VFM has taken longer to complete than expected. Other priorities, including the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure itself, diverted analytical resources.
If there is an advantage in the timing of the VFM it is that the recommendations in the report can now take account of the re-organisation of the Defence Forces. Had the VFM reported earlier, the recommendations on the structure and management of the Reserve would have been superseded by the re-organisation. As the Army Reserve organisation must dovetail with that of the Permanent Defence Force, changes to the Reserve organisation are now required. The recommendations of the VFM must ensure that RDF organisational structures dovetail with revised PDF structures. The recommendations of the VFM will also take account of the reduction in the number of PDF cadre personnel available to work full time with the Reserve. This should include alternative approaches to administration and support of the Reserve.
Overall, the VFM should draw on the lessons learned from the Reserve Defence Force Implementation Plan and bring forward recommendations regarding the future of the RDF. I understand that the draft of the VFM Review is expected to be completed by the end of this month. In line with the guidelines for the conduct of VFM Reviews, the final report will be submitted by the Chairman of the Steering Committee to the Minister and the Secretary General. The recommendations contained in the Review will be considered and I anticipate that decisions regarding the future development of the Reserve will follow within a short time-frame. The Review will subsequently be published on the Department’s website.
It is perfectly understandable, with any reform or re-organisation, for individuals to be concerned about the implications for themselves. While I would like to be in a position to allay all of your concerns here today, you will appreciate the necessity to inform the future direction of the RDF with the report of the VFM review. I can, of course, assure you that following consideration of the report by the Minister and the Secretary General that RDFRA will be consulted as appropriate.
The Reserve has been in what might be called a holding pattern in the light of the budgetary situation, the re-organisation and the VFM review. Recruitment was sanctioned last year to the Reserve aimed at replacing members who leave the Force. The number of new recruits who can be attested is linked to the level of funding available for paid training. The approach to recruitment will be kept under review in the light of the budgetary provision for the Department and of the recommendations arising from the VFM.
Reflecting the importance of training, the financial provision for paid training in 2012 has been retained at the 2010 levels, despite the considerable reductions in the Defence Vote in recent years.
I am also very pleased to say that it has been possible to have some promotions within the Reserve. I understand that competitive interviews for promotions are being conducted in both the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve to fill selected vacancies. Future developments on promotions will, as with all aspects of the Reserve, reflect the relevant recommendations that may be contained in the VFM Report.
I was very pleased to see that members of the RDF continue to secure cadetships. I see there are 8 Reserve Defence Force candidates,
(6 Army and 2 Naval Service ) being offered cadetships in the initial round of offers this year. This is twice as many as was last year, and bears testament to the benefits of membership to young people who have chosen a path in military life. Membership of the Reserve will have developed skills in these young people in leadership, discipline and self-reliance and self-confidence. It gave them an extra string to their bow when it came to competing for a cadetship in the face of fierce competition for places.
Let me say by way of conclusion that the Government of which I am a member values the spirit of service and voluntarism of members of the RDF. I recognise the time and effort which they freely give through participation in training and other reserve activities. The re-organisation of the Defence Forces has implications for the RDF as does the impending report of the VFM review. I am aware of the heightened concerns of members of the RDF as we pass through this period of uncertainty. I remain confident that the RDF possess the people with the commitment and capacity to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Everything we do in Defence is against the backdrop of the critical steps we are taking to re-balance the public finances, improve competiveness and facilitate job creation. The Irish people have confronted very difficult circumstances in the past and have consistently managed to move forward, to look to a better future and to look outwards. Everyone’s efforts to date means Ireland is now back in the world top 20 for competitiveness. Re-gaining our economic sovereignty remains a key Government priority and we will not rest until we do so. Much remains to be done and the Government is resolute in making the changes that the people know we need to make in Irish public and institutional life.
Finally, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your conference here to-day. The ADC is always an important occasion for any Association. As well as plotting the way ahead, it is a time for meeting up with old friends and making new friendships. I would like to wish you every success with the remainder of your Conference today and look forward to meeting you again in the future.
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