|Check Against Delivery|
Address by Minister for Defence, Mr. Tony Killeen, T.D.,
at the PDFORRA Annual Delegate Conference,
Knightsbrook Hotel, Meath, Tuesday 5th October 2010
Mr. President, General Secretary, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, fellow guests and assembled delegates. I would like to thank PDFORRA for inviting me to address your Association's Annual Delegate Conference today. I congratulate Lieutenant General McCann on his appointment as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and I look forward to working closely with him in the future. At this moment I would also like to remember Lieutenant General Dermot Earley who I know is in our thoughts today. He was a man who displayed unique leadership qualities, an extraordinary devotion to duty, in addition to his commitment and professionalism over many years of service in the Defence Forces.
I look forward to having an open and positive working relationship with your Association on Defence matters. I was happy to meet formally with your representatives on two occasions and several times informally since my appointment as Minister. Those meetings gave me an insight into the issues of concern to your Association.
We face difficult times in Ireland today. We are charting our way through the most challenging of economic circumstances, both globally and at home. The main focus of Government, as it should be, is on the economic challenges facing the country and our citizens. These challenges require Government to take tough and often unpalatable decisions. In the current economic environment it must be accepted that in bringing balance to the public finances it is not possible to sustain the level of public expenditure of previous years. In managing the major contraction of the Irish economy the Government is required to take stringent measures, which impact on you, both as members of the Defence Forces and in your lives as citizens of this State. However, these decisions are imperative and necessary if we are to chart our way successfully to a more sustainable future.
The current financial situation precludes the Government from providing the level of resourcing that was available to the Defence Forces in previous years and this is in line with the broader public service. However, despite the harsh economic circumstances the Defence Forces are in good shape to meet their obligations. Comprehensive reform of the Defence Forces and an extensive investment programme over the last decade has ensured that the organisation is in a healthy state to maintain outputs within a reduced budgetary provision. You are to be commended for continuing to deliver high quality public service in the face of very necessary restrictions in terms of personnel and resources.
At this point it is entirely clear that 2011 will also be difficult and that further pruning of public expenditure will be required. Ensuring value for money in the delivery of public services is a high priority of this Government. It is recognised by Government that the Defence Forces as an organisation have achieved significant improvements in the last 10 years. Since taking up my brief as Minister I have seen for myself the results of a decade long investment programme and it is clear that the sophistication of Irish military equipment is up there with the best. It is, however, still necessary to keep under review all aspects of our Defence expenditure while still maintaining the core capability of the Defence Forces. I look to you all to identify the ways and means by which we can, together, find solutions that enable us to maintain service levels within a reduced financial envelope. That is the essence of the challenge we face.
On a much more positive note, my colleague the Minister for Finance and I were very pleased to be able to announce during our visit last July to the Naval Base at Haulbowline that Government approval had been granted for the purchase of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Naval Service. The first of these modern new vessels is scheduled for delivery in early 2014. It is very heartening to be able to deliver such positive news for the Naval Service in these difficult times.
Several other important equipment purchases are being advanced in 2010 including the acquisition of 27 Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles (LTAVs), 45 soft skin patrol vehicles and 2 Heavy Recovery Vehicles for the Defence Forces. The first deployment of the LTAVs will be as part of the Nordic battle group with 10 LTAVs scheduled to travel to Sweden this week as part of the exercise.
Other acquisitions scheduled this year include ambulances, minibuses, and midi-coaches for troop transportation. I believe that not withstanding the reduction in available resources, we should maintain essential investment in Defence Forces equipment and capabilities.
I am aware of the impact that measures such as the moratorium on recruitment, promotion and acting appointments have had on the Permanent Defence Force. Its impact, particularly, in light of the very high turnover rate that is part of any military organisation has been monitored on an ongoing basis in conjunction with the Chief of Staff and the Department officials.
Specific requirements were identified and limited exceptions were obtained to the moratorium sought from the Minister for Finance i.e.
· Recruitment of 42 army and naval service cadets in 2009,
· The posts of Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations), 2 posts at Brigadier General level and the Director of Military Prosecutions were filled by way of promotion,
· To proceed with the promotion of 10 NCO’s who had commenced the process prior to the moratorium,
· 100 Acting up posts to service operational requirements both at home and overseas, along with 50 promotions to address priority operational and command requirements of the Permanent Defence Force,
· appointment of the Military Judge.
Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force.
Government approval was secured in the context of Budget 2010 for a level of 10,000 all ranks (this reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes). Targeted recruitment is being carried out in 2010 in order to maintain the operational capability of the Defence Forces. In this regard I have approved the recruitment of 40 Naval Service Recruits, limited recruitment to the Army and the intake of 30 Cadets from the Cadetship Competition 2010.
Following on from the Government decision on maintaining the strength of the Permanent Defence Forces at a level of 10,000 serving personnel a review is being undertaken to establish a new organisation structure to support the revised numbers.
Agreement has been reached with the Department of Finance on the Employment Control Framework (ECF) for the Defence Forces. The ECF is based on a figure of 10,000 all ranks Permanent Defence Force personnel, appropriately configured across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps to enable them meet the roles assigned by Government.
This agreement will result in recruitment and promotion being delegated back to the Department of Defence subject to ongoing control monitoring by the Department of Finance. The situation will also be kept under review in close cooperation between the Civil and Military elements of the Department of Defence.
Appointments and postings within the framework of the revised organisation will be managed in such a way as to generally eliminate the requirement for payment of acting up and substitution allowances and this is to be welcomed.
There is recognition that some promotions are required immediately. I understand that the issue of how and when they should proceed having regard to commitments under the Croke Park deal is currently being discussed by Civil and Military officials of the Department.
The Department, with the Defence Forces will complete the re-organisation of the Defence Forces and reflect this in Regulations and Instructions. During the period it takes to complete this process, it is expected that targeted promotions will take place. As I have stated targeted recruitment is already underway.
Turning to our overseas commitment, through my visits to troops at home and my recent visit overseas I have seen at first hand the dedication and professionalism of military personnel and the tremendous work done in those parts of the world in which you serve. At this point I would like to acknowledge the huge demands placed on personnel who serve overseas and on their families. In the last 50 years Ireland has proportionally been a very large peacekeeping contributor to UN mandated peace support missions. Irish military personnel and their families can be very proud of this fact.
If we look back over the last 50 years of our peacekeeping tradition we can see that the advance party of the 32nd Infantry Battalion who travelled to the Congo was the start of a new departure for the Defence Forces.
Through our involvement with the UN we demonstrated that though still a young and small State in 1960 we were ready to play our part on the international peace keeping stage. While deployment to the Congo was at a huge human cost in terms of those who lost their lives, the dedication to duty of those who served in the Congo became a benchmark for all future peacekeeping missions. In terms of our commitment to overseas missions while current deployment falls below our commitment of up to 850 personnel to the United Nations Standby Arrangements System, this is a temporary measure. I wish to assure you that I remain committed to maintaining a significant contribution of Defence Forces personnel to overseas operations.
Unfortunately, earlier this year, due to a lack of clarity regarding the future of MINURCAT, our troops were withdrawn from this mission, which is now scheduled to close in December 2010. From Ireland’s perspective, early termination of this mission was an unfortunate development, as we had originally planned on being in Chad until March 2012
However, we still contribute some 150 Defence Forces personnel to 12 different missions throughout the world. The personnel deployed overseas include our deployments to the EU led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR) and the KFOR mission in Kosovo. However, with the expected transition of the EUFOR mission to a training and support mission the drawdown of our personnel from this mission is scheduled to take place in December 2010.
I am pleased to let you know that, alongside our actual deployed forces, about 150 additional personnel will be on standby for rapid deployment from the beginning of 2011 as our contribution to the Nordic Battlegroup. Furthermore, the Government has approved Ireland’s participation in the Austrian/German Battlegroup, which will be on stand-by for the second six months of 2012.
We are currently examining a number of options for future deployment and in this regard, we have been in contact with the UN in relation to its requirements for missions. A number of options are being developed by Civil and Military management and subject to their advice I would expect to be in a position to consider the proposals and bring forward recommendations to Government as appropriate towards the end of the year.
The success, with which the Defence Forces meets its many challenges and commitments, both at home and overseas, reflects the high quality, professionalism and dedication of our personnel. The Government and I place high importance on the valuable work being done by members of the Defence Forces throughout the world. I fully recognise the importance of operational experience for the Defence Forces. Overseas operations enable the Defence Forces to exercise all the capabilities it has available to it. I believe that this practical experience is also essential to the development of soldiers and young officers and, indeed, to the ongoing modernisation of the Defence Forces and its overall effectiveness.
The evidence available to me suggests that representation has worked well through the formal Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. In addition, a framework exists which facilitates your engagement with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between the social partners at national level. The most recent example of the parallel process in operation was during the public sector pay discussions where on your behalf your officials were involved. It is clear that the considerable benefits of the Croke Park Agreement attach only to those who are on board. I understand that you have sought clarification on aspects of the agreement and I am aware that a response to you is being processed.
The current fiscal climate has posed challenges to the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. A prerequisite for conciliation and facilitation is the ability of each party to negotiate in good faith with a view to arriving at an agreement. It is worth noting that there are constraints on the Official side in agreeing any claim with a financial implication. Any claim, inclusive of recent adjudications, that has financial implications for the Exchequer cannot receive sanction from the Minister for Finance under the terms of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No.2) Act 2009. The position regarding public service pay, including outstanding adjudication findings, will be reviewed in Spring 2011 in accordance with the statutory requirement under the 2009 Act.
Before I leave you it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the efforts of Defences forces personnel during the weather related crises of late 2009 and early 2010.
The assistance provided by the Defence forces to the HSE, local authorities and the wider community reflected well on all involved. I know the whole community welcomed the professional support of the Defence Forces in alleviating the worst effects of the weather.
During the worst of the flooding, we were constantly reminded in news reports of the dedication of the Defence Forces in taking distressed families from flooded homes. Equally, in the New Year when we witnessed unprecedented amounts of snowfall and icy conditions, the resources of the Defence Forces were again deployed to assist those in danger and in need. For this we are grateful.
I have already acknowledged the commitment of all members of the Defence Forces to the significant agenda for change and modernisation achieved over the last decade. The implementation of the White Paper on Defence in 2000 has ensured ongoing reform making for a leaner and more effective organisation that has developed the necessary competencies to operate effectively and viably in a constrained resource environment. The challenge of managing the exceptionally harsh economic climate requires exceptional courage and public service in its purest form.
I know that if we work together in the true spirit of public service that a brighter future lies ahead. I am confident that this future will see the continued modernisation of the Defence Force. I wish you every success for the remainder of your conference and I look forward to working with you into the future.
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