An Ordnance/Transport School at a cost of £2.6m
From 1999 to 2003 more than £100 million will have been spent on new buildings and on upgrading existing buildings throughout the Defence Forces. Expenditure this year will be over £42 m.
The main source of funding for the building programme now in progress is the proceeds arising from the sale of surplus properties. The sale of six barracks identified as surplus to military requirements is being progressed. The barracks in question are located at Fermoy, Ballincollig, Naas, Kildare, Castleblayney and Clancy Barracks, Dublin.
The sale of Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy, to Cork County Council for economic development of the site in conjunction with the IDA has been agreed. The agreed price is £767,000 and the formalities of this sale will be completed in the very near future. The lands will be developed and marketed as a strategic industrial site to attract inward investment.
The former Devoy Barracks, Naas, Co. Kildare, comprises an area of approximately 22 acres. I agreed to cede seven acres free of charge to Naas Urban District Council and to sell one acre to Kildare County Council for £300,000, all for local community purposes. I have also agreed to sell the remaining 14 acres or thereabouts, which are zoned for housing, to Naas U.D.C. for £7 million. The legal formalities to give effect to these agreements are progressing.
In relation to Castleblayney, the sale of the property to the North Eastern Health Board for £600,000 has been agreed and it is anticipated that sale contracts will be signed in the near future. Pending completion of the legal and financial formalities, a caretaker's agreement was completed and the former barracks was handed over to the Health Board last year on foot of that agreement.
A comprehensive Integrated Action Area Plan was commissioned from independent consultants to provide for the future development of the largest of the barracks concerned - Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig which comprises an area of 138 acres. That Plan provides for a wide range of community, amenity, residential and commercial uses for the property. The development of the Murphy Barracks lands will be critical in the future overall development of the town of Ballincollig. My Department submitted the Integrated Plan to Cork County Council in April of last year for consideration in the context of a variation to the existing Cork County Development Plan. Discussions are ongoing between the Council and my Department to determine the best way forward to realise the potential of the Integrated Plan, while taking account of the aspirations of all parties. It is hoped to bring the matter to a conclusion at an early date.
Magee Barracks, Kildare is now providing accommodation for asylum seekers. I have also agreed to provide about one acre to the Local Authority for a temporary halting site for 20 persons for a period of one year. In view of those needs, it has not been possible to arrange for the disposal of the property. However, this matter is being kept under review.
Clancy Barracks, Dublin which comprises 13.65 acres, will be vacated in the near future when alternative accommodation becomes available. Following a tender competition, Hamilton Osborne King were appointed as selling agents. The property has been offered for sale by public tender, the latest date for the receipt of tenders being next Thursday 14 June.
In addition to the foregoing properties, agreements have also been reached for the sale of the following:
1.07 acres at Arbour Hill to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for £2.5 million;
6.39 acres, adjoining Collins Barracks to Cork to Cork Corporation for £1.2 million;
3.0192 acres at Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick, to Limerick Corporation for £915,000;
1.559 acres at Waterford Barracks to Waterford Corporation for £550,000;
20 acres of the Curragh lands to Kildare County Council for £215,000 to assist with the construction of the Kildare by-pass and,
100 married quarters at Orchard Park, Curragh, Co. Kildare to residents, which will realise £3 million approximately.
The prices for the foregoing properties were agreed on the basis of valuations provided by the Valuation Office.
Recently I announced the sale of some land at Gormanston Camp, Co. Meath. The precise area to be put on the market will be determined shortly. However, the military camp of 57 acres will not be disposed of. Casement Aerodrome is the principal base of the Air Corps. With the withdrawal of aircraft from Gormanston and the relocation of Air Corps Headquarters to Baldonnel, the Air Corps has the basis for better management of its resources.
In all, I expect that over £100 million will be realised from the sale of surplus properties over the next couple of years and, as I have indicated already, all of these revenues will be fully re-invested in the Defence Forces.
The White Paper provides for an organisation of 10,500 in the Permanent Defence Force with the option of up to 250 recruits in training at any one time. The Chief of Staff is currently preparing a plan to restructure the PDF in accordance with the Government's decision on overall numbers. My intention is to have the plan finalised and put in place by the end of this year.
Arising from the special study on the Air Corps undertaken by Price Waterhouse Consultants, and reflecting the policy parameters laid down in the White Paper, Air Corps management has submitted a draft Implementation Plan to me and I have approved in principle the proposed new Air Corps organisation. This will be put in place following the completion of consultations with the representative associations which are at an advanced stage.
As in the case of the Air Corps, the Naval Service prepared a detailed Implementation Plan which I have approved. Implementation is proceeding, including the putting in place of the new organisation provided for in the Plan.
The White Paper recognises the importance of the career dimension and provides for the preparation of an updated and very comprehensive Defence Forces integrated personnel management plan to address this and related issues. The Chief of Staff is currently drafting that plan and the process is well advanced. A key feature of the plan will be a continuation of the policy of regular recruitment which is now in place in order to achieve an improved age profile in the Permanent Defence Force.
The overall strategy for the development of the Reserve Defence Force will be based on the report of the special Steering Group which reported in 1999. I am pleased that the various recommendations contained in the report have been broadly accepted as providing a general foundation on which the future development of the Reserve can be built.
Given the dependence of the Reserve on voluntary service, I was anxious that there should be an ongoing process of consultation before proposals are finalised. To facilitate this, I published the report of the Steering Group last year and launched a consultative process to seek the view of members of the Reserve in advance of the drawing up of an implementation plan. The implementation of the new structural and organisational changes for the Reserve will require about six years to bring to completion.
Over recent months the Defence Forces and Civil Defence volunteers have played an important role in the national effort to combat the threat of Foot and Mouth disease. Members of the Defence Forces have been assisting the civil authorities by operating additional checkpoints along the Border with the Garda Síochána. They are also assisting at Dublin Port. To date the Defence Forces have spent a total of 14,000 man days on the operation. Civil Defence volunteers provided assistance at many centres throughout the country but especially in Dublin and Louth. I would like to avail of this opportunity to express the Government's appreciation for the very valuable contribution of the Defence Forces and of Civil Defence to this vitally important task.
There are at present over 800 members of the Defence Forces serving overseas under the auspices of the United Nations, the EU and the OSCE. Once again I wish to acknowledge the enormous contribution to peacekeeping made by our Defence Forces over several decades. This is an historic year in that regard as it marks the closing of a very distinguished and successful chapter in Ireland's record of UN service. I am referring, of course, to the fact that the 89 Infantry Battalion now serving in South Lebanon will be the final Battalion of the Defence Forces to serve with UNIFIL. Over a period of more than 20 years, the Defence Forces have upheld the UN mandate in Lebanon and made a huge contribution to the success of that mission. It is appropriate at this time that we should remember the high price that has been paid by personnel of the Defence Forces on active service with the UN. Eighty two members of the Defence Forces have lost their lives while on overseas service, including 44 personnel on duty in Lebanon.
The UNIFIL mission has been a particularly difficult one but, thankfully, the security situation there has greatly improved over the past 12 months or so. Two of the three objectives of the UNIFIL mission have now been achieved. The withdrawal of the Israeli Forces has been confirmed and the Lebanese authorities have been helped to return to the area vacated by the Israelis. The focus of UNIFIL now is on the remaining part of the mandate, which is to restore international peace and security and to prevent any further violence. An observer mission will most likely carry out these duties, and I am sure that while the Battalion now in Lebanon is the last Irish battalion to serve there, members of the Defence Forces will continue to be involved in the UN mission there in seeking to resolve outstanding issues.
The Government are fully committed to continue to contribute actively to UN peacekeeping. Our future contribution will, of course, take into account the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping, which involves additional tasks such as humanitarian assistance, the protection of human rights and civilian police work.
I understand that representatives of the Committee are making time available to visit the Battalion in South Lebanon on a fact finding mission in the near future. I very much welcome this initiative. I have no doubt that the Committee members will find the visit very informative, and that you will be impressed to see our troops carrying out their tasks in an operational situation.
As agreed, we will have a discussion at a later date on wider international security issues and I will make a further statement to the Committee at that time.
Before I conclude on the Estimates, I would like to up-date the Committee in regard to compensation claims for hearing loss. By 31 May, 2001 a total of 15,746 claims had been received in my Department from current and former members of the Defence Forces in respect of loss of hearing allegedly caused during their military service. 8,378 claims have been disposed of through out-of-court settlements while 253 claims were the subject of court awards. A further 391 claims were either withdrawn by plaintiffs or dismissed by the courts. That leaves a total of 6,724 claims outstanding at the end of last month.
Following the judgement of the Supreme Court in the leading Army hearing loss case of Hanley, which was delivered in December 1999, my Department in conjunction with the Chief State Solicitor's Office and in consultation with the Law Society of Ireland, established an Early Settlement Scheme for dealing with the outstanding claims. The Scheme operated successfully on a pilot basis during the year 2000 and almost 1,100 claims were settled by way of direct negotiations between solicitors representing plaintiffs and officials of the Chief State Solicitor's Office and my Department.
Given the success of the pilot scheme, it was decided to expand the Early Settlement Scheme in January of this year by appointing five firms of liability loss adjusters to augment the resources of the Chief State Solicitor's Office in conducting settlement negotiations.
The Scheme has continued to operate successfully and the current position is that by 31 May, 2001, a further 1,090 claims had been resolved, while settlements have been agreed with plaintiffs' solicitors in a further 217 cases. In addition, negotiations are ongoing or due to commence in a further 1,000 claims.
It is the policy of my Department to resolve the vast majority of outstanding claims under the Early Settlement Scheme. In response to an application by the State in the High Court on 25th April, 2001 for an adjournment of cases, Mr. Justice Johnson listed cases for two weeks in May and for four weeks commencing this week. Thereafter there will be an adjournment until the term finishes at the end of July. This will allow officials of my Department, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Loss Adjusters to put all their energies into the Early Settlement Scheme. I am hopeful that with the co-operation of plaintiffs' solicitors serious inroads can be made into resolving the outstanding claims as quickly as possible.
To date a total of £154m has been paid in respect of hearing loss claims including almost £48m in plaintiff's legal costs. The average settlement figure has decreased from a high of £35,000 in 1994 to a current level of about £7,500. When plaintiffs' legal costs are included, the cost of settling the outstanding claims currently in hands is estimated at about £80m. However, I should say that new claims continue to be received at an average rate of 14 per week.
Details in regard to individual subheads of both the Defence and Army Pensions Estimates have been circulated to the Committee. Accordingly, I do not propose to comment any further on individual subheads at this stage. I will, of course, be pleased to try to answer any queries and assist the Committee in every possible way.