|Check Against Delivery|
Address by Mr. Paul Kehoe T.D.,
Minister of State at Dept of Defence,
Representative Association of Commissioned Officers’ Biennial
Brooklodge Hotel, Macreddin Village, Co. Wicklow.
Tuesday 3rd December, 2013.
Mr. President, General Secretary, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, fellow guests and delegates, I am delighted to be here to address you at your Conference today. Unfortunately Minister Shatter can’t be here tonight and sends his apologies.
Since your last conference, in 2011, I am glad to report that Ireland’s outlook has improved significantly. Employment is growing and the level of unemployment is falling. The difficult process of adjustment we have endured means that Ireland will exit the EU/IMF programme, on 15th December next as planned, without the need to pre-arrange a new precautionary credit facility from our EU and IMF partners. Ireland’s achievement in keeping to the terms of the bailout programme and seeing its bond yields fall to 3.5 per cent is proof that the tough decisions that were taken by this Government to put our economy back on track are working. To put it clearly, Ireland is now a good-news story.
Despite the challenges this country still faces, exiting the programme is a national achievement for which we can all take credit. Regaining our national credibility is a testament to the will and endurance of the Irish people. History will recognise the scale of our collective success in exiting the bailout programme on schedule.
Public servants have played their part in the process of regaining our Country’s economic sovereignty. The Government is fully aware that the necessary reforms and difficult decisions, such as the commitments entered into under the ‘Haddington Road Agreement’ have impacted on the lives of all public servants. Your Association’s positive role in completing the Haddington Road Agreement is appreciated. Implementation of the provisions of the Agreement will realise the savings which will support the ongoing recruitment, promotion and equipping of Defence Forces personnel. Despite the challenges we are dealing with we have continued to maintain the positive environment for industrial relations within the Permanent Defence Force and this is reflected in the substantial achievements delivered.
The Defence Budget, in tandem with all other areas of the public service has had to bear its share of cuts. However, the stabilisation of the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, together with the re-organisation and other reforms has facilitated the retention of key capability. This strength level is significantly higher than that which the previous Government’s National Recovery Plan would have necessitated.
The last 12 months have seen some of the most significant organisational reforms in the history of the Defence Forces. These reforms have played a very significant role in maintaining defence capabilities and outputs within the current fiscal constraints. I have been impressed by the efficiency with which the reorganisation was implemented and complement RACO for your contribution.
On the equipment front, plans have been revised in accordance with operational priorities. The procurement of two new Naval Service vessels has been successfully managed within a constrained resource envelope. The first of these new ships is scheduled for delivery early next year, with the second ship due for delivery the following year. Other priorities in the Army and Air Corps are also being pursued in accordance with operational requirements. These actions have ensured that the Defence Forces can continue to fulfil the roles assigned by Government.
You, as officers of the Defence Forces have sought out not only a very challenging and demanding career, but one that is also very fulfilling and rewarding. You are part of an organisation which has adapted and implemented change and delivered the reforms required of it, while continuing to deliver the operational effectiveness required by Government.
I can assure you of our commitment to maintaining the essential capabilities of the Defence Forces, so as to contribute to the National Security and to the Defence Forces’ continued participation in international peace support operations. I fully understand the importance of such operations to maintaining military capability and the professional development of the Defence Forces.
This is a decade of important commemorations in Ireland. A time when we mark some of the significant events which led up to, and brought about, the formation of the State. One such event was the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Irish Volunteers. The commemoration of this event, which took place on the 24th November last, has particular relevance to anyone who has served with the Defence Forces. I am proud to see that the commitment and tradition of loyalty which was set by the Irish Volunteers a century ago, is still evident in today’s Defence Forces.
I would now like to refer to Ireland’s commitment to overseas missions.
Participation in overseas peacekeeping missions is a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy and has been an important dimension in meeting Ireland’s international obligations as a member of the United Nations and the European Union. Irish foreign policy is directed at supporting co-operative arrangements for collective security through the development of international organisations, especially the United Nations. Notwithstanding our current economic difficulties, Ireland will play a full role in contributing to the security of Europe and the world, providing professional peacekeepers to a wide range of missions throughout the world.
An essential element of Ireland’s substantial contribution to international peace and security depends on the ongoing commitment of Defence Forces personnel to serve overseas often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service continues to contribute significantly to the high regard in which Ireland, and indeed Irish peacekeepers, are held throughout the world. You, as members and leaders of the Defence Forces not only enhance the reputation of this country internationally, but you also help bring peace and stability to many people across the globe.
Ireland is currently contributing Permanent Defence Force personnel to fourteen (14) different missions throughout the world. As you are aware, the largest contingents are serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights.
Minister Shatter was in the Middle East last week to mark the hand-over of command of the Finnish/Irish Battalion in UNIFIL to Finland. Partnership with other like-minded States has become an increasing element of our overseas peacekeeping operations. Working as part of a joint battalion also improves inter-operability, and significantly contributes to the range and nature of operations we could undertake in support of the United Nations.
While in the Middle East Minister Shatter received comprehensive briefings from the Head of Mission of UNTSO, Major General Michael Finn and from our Commanders in UNDOF on the situation in the Golan Heights. You will be aware from media coverage of an incident involving Irish UNDOF personnel. We know that our troops are deployed to the Golan Heights at a time of increased instability, but that they are fully trained and equipped to undertake their important duties on behalf of the United Nations.
I want to put on record my appreciation for the valuable work the Defence Forces do in many troubled areas of the world. As we near Christmas, we particularly remember our personnel who are serving overseas and their families. I am pleased to say that this year for the first time, the Defence Forces carol service from Arbour Hill will be broadcast to our overseas missions and in barracks around the country and will be available on the internet.
I would now like to turn to developments in the area of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The primary and fundamental role of CSDP is to provide the Union with the capacity to support international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. In November, Minister Shatter attended the Foreign Affairs Council meeting with Defence Ministers and they discussed substantial Council Conclusions on CSDP. The conclusions agreed will feed into the European Council meeting later this month (19th Dec) where defence issues will be discussed by Heads of State and Government for the first time since 2008.
The Council Conclusions address a number of topics that were high on Ireland’s list of priorities during the Irish Presidency. These include issues such as:
- the comprehensive approach to crisis management,
- military and civilian capability development,
- cyber and maritime security,
- Countering Improvised Explosive Devices,
- and partnerships between the EU and International and regional organisations.
In summary, the conclusions are focused on progressing the EU’s objectives for CSDP, protecting the EU’s interests and projecting its values, all of which are to be welcomed.
Looking towards the future, completion of the new White Paper on Defence is a priority. The recent economic downturn has created an environment where all public sector organisations, including Defence, must manage the delivery of services within constrained resources. In this context, the expertise and long track record of reform and innovation in the Defence Organisation will inform the White Paper. I am conscious that this track record of success is as a result of civil and military personnel across the Defence Organisation working closely together towards shared objectives. The next White Paper must build on this success.
The public consultation process, launched as part of the Green Paper process, has provided the opportunity for individuals and organisations, to contribute their opinions, ideas and suggestions. I am pleased to say that it has generated considerable interest with 120 submissions having been received. Speaking with Minister Shatter, he has read a broad selection of these submissions and they cover a wide range of subjects and contain many diverse views, some of which challenge the status quo. He firmly believes that in facing the future we must learn from the lessons of the past, without dwelling there. We must build upon past successes whilst recognising that future success requires ongoing effort and innovative thinking. We must also anticipate the demands that may be made of Defence in the emerging security and defence environment.
The RACO submission reflects the careful consideration that you have given to the next White Paper. I would like to thank you for your valued contribution and can assure you that the points raised are receiving careful consideration. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the other Representative Associations for their submissions.
Minister Shatter and myself remain committed to ensuring that the next White Paper provides a robust framework that is capable of meeting the demands of the next decade. We are also very much looking forward to hearing the views of senior civil and military management from across the Defence Organisation when they come together next week to discuss the White Paper. Clearly there is much work to be done in order to meet a target of publishing the new White Paper in 2014.
2013 has been another busy year and a year of significant change for the Defence Forces and indeed for the Defence Organisation as a whole. There was the continued implementation of the major reorganisation, which commenced late last year and the implementation of the reorganisation of the Reserve as part of the new single force concept. We have had significant change at the top of the organisation with a new Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff (Support). Despite all this change, the Defence Organisation has continued to deliver all that has been asked of it. All of you continue to perform your roles with continued professionalism and commitment. I want to take this opportunity to thank you, for your continued leadership, flexibility and dedication without which the Defence Forces huge range of activities both at home and overseas would not be possible.
Finally, I understand that this will be the last Conference for both your General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary who have been at the helm of your Association since its inception. Brian and Adrian will have seen many changes since they first took up office. While representation was a major departure for military personnel it has proven to be a very positive and beneficial development for the Defence Forces. Much has been achieved through representation and I know both Civil and Military personnel look forward to working with Brian’s successor Earnán O Neachtain. I have no doubt that you will continue to be well represented in a positive manner in order to achieve what we all desire, a well equipped force that continues to meet Government requirements at home and overseas.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address your Association’s Biennial delegate Conference 2013. I wish you well for the remainder of your Conference and I look forward to meeting some of you at your Banquet later this evening.
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