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Speech by the Minister for Defence Mr. Willie O’ Dea, T.D. ,
at the RACO Biennial Delegate Conference

The Radisson Blu Farnham Estate Hotel, Cavan,
Tuesday 24th November 2009

Mr. President, General Secretary, Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Acting Chief of Staff, distinguished guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank RACO for inviting me to address your Association's Biennial Delegate Conference.

At the outset I would like to pay tribute to your two young Air Corps colleagues, Captain Derek Furniss and Cadet David Jevens, who tragically lost their lives while on a training mission on 13th October. Their untimely deaths is a loss felt not only by their families and friends, but by you, their Air Corps and Defence Forces colleagues. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a n-anaim.

I also want to express my thanks - and those of the Government - to all the officers, men and women of the Defence Forces who were both out on the ground and on standby over the past few days helping people cope with the flooding. It is an example of how our Defence Forces are constantly prepared, ready and willing to serve and help here at home.

In the two years since I addressed your last conference, the changes in the domestic and international economic landscape have been dramatic. The scale of the contraction in economic activity is without precedent in modern Irish history. The Government is addressing the economic and social challenges. We are taking exceptional measures in response to the exceptional circumstances we face. This includes bringing balance to the public finances, which undoubtedly, must result in cuts in public expenditure. The Department and the Defence Forces, like all areas of the public service, must contribute towards resolving the current challenges facing the country. This affects you both as members of the Permanent Defence Force and in your personal lives.

The Taoiseach has recently put on the public record the fact that the Defence modernisation is a singular public service success story. Each of you should be proud of the part you have played in that success. The Defence Forces has improved in every respect since 2000 through the implementation of the White Paper and cooperation on the modernisation agenda. Comprehensive reform of structure and human resources, together with the major investment has been achieved to the benefit of the organisation, the personnel of the Defence Forces and the exchequer. This transformation process has been achieved without recourse to additional public funding. This achievement will be acknowledged in the allocation of the reduced resources available for public services.

The Defence Forces is in a healthy state both in terms of personnel and equipment. I remain focussed on retaining the operational capability of the Defence Forces to perform across all roles. This will represent a significant challenge to all of us in the coming months. I am keenly aware of the impact that the moratorium on recruitment, promotion and payment of acting allowances is having on the Permanent Defence Force in the light of the very high turnover rate that is part of any military organisation. The turnover rate has increased in recent months. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 31st October 2009 was 10,013. The challenge of “doing more with less” faces the entire public service. I would like to record my thanks and those of the Government for the contribution of Officers of the Defence Forces so far in the continued delivery of a high quality public service.

Personnel and equipment are the key enablers of operational capability. We must maximise the return from these enablers in ensuring that we continue to have a modern Defence Forces capable of meeting the needs of the Government and the public, while delivering value for money.

I am pleased to announce that I have reached agreement with my colleague the Minister for Finance, to make up to 50 promotions across all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force over the coming months. These promotions will address operational and command requirements of the Permanent Defence Force. They are an acknowledgement of the modernisation and downsizing already delivered in the Defence Forces as well as the ongoing modernisation process.

As you know, I have also secured approval for the recruitment of 30 Army and 12 Naval Service Cadets this year. The successful applicants will commence their Cadet Training on the 30th of this month. Approval has also been received for 42 acting up positions for the current Chad contingent and 20 acting up positions for the current Kosovo deployment. Sanction has also been received to fill the posts of Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations), 2 posts at Brigadier General level and the post of Director of Military Prosecutions by way of promotion.

The extensive equipment investment programme for the Defence Forces implemented over the past 10 years has positioned the organisation well to deal with the reduced resource envelope for military equipment in the period ahead. It is my intention that investment will prioritise the delivery and maintenance of required capabilities, as well as continuing to provide our troops with the best protective equipment and weaponry necessary to enable them to continue to discharge their roles effectively and with the maximum safety. This will involve difficult and painful decisions across the organisation. We must prioritise. As the old saying goes “If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority”. It is important that we protect and consolidate the capability gains which have been delivered through the defence investment and modernisation programme.

Several important equipment purchases will continue to be advanced this year and in 2010. This includes the acquisition of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles, 4 x 4 vehicles and two Heavy Recovery Vehicles. The Light Tactical Armoured Vehicle programme will see sixteen vehicles delivered at the end of this year and a total of twenty-seven vehicles delivered by the middle of 2010 at a cost of €20m.

Regarding the Naval Service Vessel Replacement Programme, the overall tender process for the Offshore Patrol Vessels is complete and we have a preferred bidder. The decision to proceed with the final award of contract to purchase the vessels will be subject to Government approval and agreement on funding. I do believe that through the ongoing modernisation of system, structures and capabilities, we can arrive at a reasonable solution, which will fulfil the States requirements for effective maritime capabilities as provided by the Naval Service.

As we progress the estimates and budgetary process for 2010 I am highlighting the reduction in numbers and the dramatic modernisation delivered by the Defence Forces organisation over the past decade. This process, of course, includes consideration of the report of the Special group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure programmes. The decisions on all of these issues will be a matter for the Government.

Some months ago I accepted the recommendations of the PA Report on the Defence Forces Medical Services. The Consultants have recommended a programme of major change. These are changes to structure, work practices, clinical governance and management. Progress has already been made in areas such the structure of the Medical Corps, the alignment of Defence Forces and Medical Corps strategies and the development of medical information systems. I expect a quick turnaround on certain recommendations. Implementation of the more complex recommendations is likely to take up to 18 months.

I am pleased to say that valuable consultation has already taken place with the Representative Associations in the preparation of the PA Report. The Representative Associations have also been briefed on the implementation programme. Any issues within the scope of Representation will of course be addressed through the C&A scheme.

At previous conferences I have spoken to you about our overseas commitment and the value, importance and significance placed by the Government on the tremendous work being done by members of the Permanent Defence Force in many parts of the world. Over the past 50, years you and your predecessors have, deservedly, earned a very honourable track record of facilitating and enabling peacekeeping around the world in support of the UN. This has been done without compromising our military neutrality and has been consistent with our national interests and traditions. Within the new resource envelope the Government will continue to commit resources and personnel to support international peace, security and development. I, with the Government, fully acknowledge the huge demands placed on personnel and their families. I can assure you that the sacrifices made in helping others less fortunate is very much appreciated.

The health and safety of our personnel overseas is of paramount concern. I am confident that our personnel are fully trained and equipped to carry out their duties. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the Chad mission, for example, is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold Óglaigh na hÉireann.

I am pleased to see that the day to day work of representation is continuing under the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. I would hope that this good work would continue despite the difficult time we face. I can assure you that I will, as Minister for Defence, continue to put the strongest possible case at Government for continued support for the Defence Forces to ensure that we do not dilute and undermine the tremendous achievements that have been made in last number of years. I am confident this can be achieved with your help and support.

The effects of the current down turn in our fortunes can be seen all around us. The Public Sector has in times of crises provided stability and support to the Irish people. I have no doubt of your ability and willingness to provide that support. I also have no doubt given the skills, resourcefulness, and hard work of the Irish people that the challenges now before us can be overcome and before too long the pain that is being experienced by many people will be replaced by the hope and optimism that has been our trademark.

In conclusion I would like to wish you the best for the remainder of the Conference and I hope it is a successful and productive occasion.


Related Speeches
25 November 2009
Speech by the Minister for Defence at the RACO Biennial Delegate Conference
29 November 2005
Address by Mr. Willie O' Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence to RACO's Biennial Delegate Conference

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