ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE,
MR. MICHAEL SMITH, T.D.,
TO THE 10th ANNUAL DELEGATE CONFERENCE OF THE REPRESENTATIVE ASSOCIATION OF COMMISSIONED OFFICERS
TRALEE 12th NOVEMBER 2002
Mr. President, General Secretary, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Deputy Chief of Staff, fellow guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers for inviting me to address your Association's tenth Annual Delegate Conference in Tralee today. This is the fifth RACO annual conference that I have attended as Minister for Defence - so I have been to half of your Association’s ADCs since its establishment - I wonder how many of the delegates here today can match that record!
Many of you will remember that at last year’s Conference I took the opportunity to reflect on my term as Minister for Defence. I recalled the situation which I had encountered on my appointment in 1997 and outlined the changes which had taken place over the ensuing five years. It seems appropriate therefore, having been re-appointed as Minister for Defence, that I take this opportunity to address the issues which face us as we go forward to build on the successes of the past.
Following the general election, a Programme for Government was agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The programme includes a number of specific commitments, including:-
w following through the implementation of the White Paper, designed to equip our Defence Forces to meet peacetime challenges at home and abroad and to develop our Reserve Defence Forces;
w maintaining a full complement of 10,500 in the Permanent Defence Force, with the option
of an extra 250 recruits at any one time;
w implementing a new career development plan, involving the continuation of a policy of regular recruitment;
w introducing a new Integrated Personnel Management System;
w Irish troops will continue to be available to serve abroad on international peacekeeping missions.
The Government believes that maintaining a defence capacity related to our security needs is an important expression of national sovereignty - and, bearing in mind the massive increase in investment in military equipment and infrastructure that has occurred over the last five years, I am sure you will agree that we have backed up this commitment with resources, rather than regarding it as mere lip service.
Medium Lift Helicopters
Before going any further I want to mention a difficult and very painful decision that I had to take earlier this year. This was my decision last July to cancel the tender competition for the acquisition of medium lift helicopters for the Air Corps. As you know, this decision was taken due to budgetary constraints which meant that the level of Defence expenditure had to be adjusted this year.
The decision was an extremely difficult one for me to take as I am committed to the long term involvement of the Air Corps in a search and rescue role. I was conscious of the huge effort that had been put into the procurement process by Air Corps personnel and of the acute disappointment that they would feel when the decision was announced.
When the decision had been made, I immediately instructed my officials to initiate a review of the provision of helicopters services, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to determine how best to meet the State’s obligations in Search and Rescue. An interdepartmental working group has been established to seek alternate solutions to the funding issue, such as Public Private Partnerships or leasing arrangements, with a view to providing helicopters for the Air Corps by other means. The PPP Unit in the Department of Finance is also involved in assessing possible solutions. The question of including an option for general purpose transport helicopters in any future tender competition will be considered in the light of the report of the working group.
In the short term, a decision has been taken to lease a medium lift helicopter for three years. From early next year, the Air Corps will be flying the Sikorsky S-61 helicopter out of Sligo Airport. Training of Air Corps personnel for this task is well under way. The lease of this helicopter through the Irish Coast Guard is a sign of my commitment to ensure that the Air Corps stays at the forefront of the search and rescue business.
The current priority for the Air Corps is the purchase of fixed wing training aircraft and, notwithstanding the budgetary pressures, I will not allow anything to take precedence over this requirement. The procurement process for the acquisition of eight trainer aircraft is well under way and I am optimistic that I will be in a position to make a substantive announcement on the award of the contract before the end of the year.
I am pleased that a revised Service Commitment Scheme for Air Corps pilot officers has been put in place. This together with the acquisition of the fixed wing training aircraft, the arrival of the second Garda helicopter and the lease of the S-61 for search and rescue in the North West should clearly demonstrate to all Air Corps personnel that there is a very positive future for them in the organisation.
Earlier this year I approved the use of the Naval Service vessel, L.E. Niamh, to undertake a re-supply mission to the Defence Forces contingent currently serving with UNMEE in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I also approved a request from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that, as part of their Asia Strategy, the L.E. Niamh could be used as an aid to the promotion of Ireland and Irish trade links in a number of key centres in Asia. The promotional programme involved visits to ports in India, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan. The L.E. Niamh hosted a number of important promotional events designed to support export marketing by Irish companies.
I understand that the promotional initiative proved to be very successful, and I wish to congratulate all involved and especially to acknowledge the efforts of the ship’s commander Lt. Cdr. Gerard O’Flynn, his officers and crew and the 11 Naval Service cadets who participated on this mission.
The recent re-organisation of the Naval Service and the purchase of two new ships over the last three years has led to a 30% increase in fishery protection patrol days by the Naval Service. In fact, notwithstanding the Asian deployment, the level of fishery protection this year will be even greater than last year.
White Paper Implementation / IPMS
Substantial progress has been made in implementing the White Paper. I am conscious that without the commitment, leadership and management skills of the commissioned officers of the Defence Forces, the necessary organisational changes could never have been achieved. Much has been achieved, but a significant amount still remains to be done and I look forward to the officers of the Defence Forces playing their part as we set about reaching our common objective.
We need to finalise an organisation plan for the Army, an Integrated Personnel Management System (IPMS) and an Implementation Plan for the Reserve. The Chief of Staff has submitted proposals to me in respect of each of these three areas. I have been considering the sets of proposals carefully, as I am determined not to rush this process. I am conscious that the decisions that I make now will be critical to the future success of the Defence Forces both operationally and in terms of overall cost effectiveness. It is important, therefore, to make the right decisions and to strike the correct balance between the needs of the organisation, cost effectiveness and the legitimate needs of the men and women serving in the Defence Forces.
Getting organisational structures right is obviously very important but getting the human resources strategies right is vital. It is also a very complex and difficult challenge, mainly because of the broad scope of the issues which arise. In this regard, the IPMS will have to deal with the full range of issues, right across the Defence Forces. These issues include recruitment, induction, training and development, career development and promotion, equality issues, retention and retirement. All of these issues are inter-linked and a decision on any one element can have implications for other elements. The IPMS will be a major challenge but we will have to meet that challenge. Any failure on our part to tackle the issues - and I believe that we can all tackle these together - will have long term adverse consequences for the Defence organisation.
The whole area of equality is important also and the IPMS will have to address that fully. I will talk about the related issue of harassment and bullying later.
I hope that we can finalise the implementation plan for the Reserve in the near future. Implementing this new plan will take about six years to complete. This does not mean that there is a lack of urgency about the reorganisation of the Reserve and I am intent on seeing marked progress each year over the next six years. I believe that the results will justify our efforts.
The policy of continuous recruitment which I introduced has proved very successful to date and I intend to to maintain it. I launched the Defence Forces Recruitment Campaign on 12 February, 2002. This is a two year campaign, the main purpose of which is to promote the role of the Defence Forces and to highlight the variety of rewarding career opportunities available in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.
The 2002 Cadet Competition was advertised last January. A total of 1,047 applications were received and as a result 71 Cadets, have been enlisted. This number is made up of 49 Army, 2 Army Equitation, 4 Air Corps and 16 Naval Service cadets.
I am pleased to see that the pace of voluntary retirements has decreased considerably in the past two years. This trend, if it continues, will in the near future see, for the first time in many years, a full complement of Army line Officers.
I know that the recruitment of medical officers has always been particularly difficult. The advent on new registrations requirements for doctors will add to those difficulties. My Department and the military authorities remain committed to providing members of the defence forces with the required medical service. To this end we will in the coming months be looking at all possible ways of addressing the medical officer recruitment problem and would welcome any suggestions that your association might wish to make.
2002 has seen a total of 165 Officer promotions. I believe that a merit-based promotion scheme that will enable the best and brightest young officers to progress swiftly up the ranks is absolutely essential, and it is my sincere hope that your association will work with the official side to devise a scheme that meets this objective. The planned review next year of the 1997 promotion agreement will provide an opportunity to address these issues.
As you know, the Ombudsman Bill was published last January. It is my intention to proceed with this legislation in the Oireachtas during the forthcoming legislative session and I expect the Bill will advance significantly before year end.
Your Association had raised some matters of concern with my officials regarding certain aspects of the Bill as originally published. These essentially relate to the precise definition of the concept of a “military operation” and to the proposal within the legislation to remove the role of the Minister entirely from the present statutory “Redress of Wrongs” process, provided for by Section 114 of the 1954 Defence Act, upon the introduction of the statutory Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.
These issues have been examined in some detail by the civil and military branches of the Department. In the light of the views of the two Associations, two significant material amendments to the published text are under consideration. It is proposed to amend the definition of “military operation” so as to restrict the term to circumstances of active service, aid to the civil power and operations at sea.
The question of maintaining a reserved role for the Minister within the statutory redress and complaints process in a very small number of defined circumstances remains under consideration. However, it must be remembered that the entire rationale for the creation of the new statutory Office of Defence Forces Ombudsman centred upon the replacement of the Minister by a new investigating authority entirely outside the environment both of the Defence Forces and of the Department of Defence secretariat. Moreover, it would be entirely impractical from all points of view to have two parallel and competing systems of investigating complaints involving a new Ombudsman and the Minister. In the very near future I will be bringing forward new proposals which will, I believe, strike a fair and reasonable balance and meet with the approval both of your Association and of PDFORRA.
Last year I told this gathering of my deep concern when I read reports in the media regarding occurrences of bullying and sexual harassment in the Defence Forces. I stated that such conduct was simply unacceptable. Since then, the Report of the External Advisory Committee has provided us with a measure of the extent of the problem.
The Report has served as a wake up call and I am pleased to note that considerable progress has been made in rooting out this pernicious and distasteful practice. Once again may I urge everyone here to give the fullest support to the Implementation Group as it continues to tackle this very serious matter. The message must go out loud and clear that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated anywhere in the Defence Forces.
I wish to emphasise that there is a strong and united resolve to address this problem. Implementation is in the hands of a committee on which the General Secretaries of both Representative Associations’ sit as full and equal members. This is not a problem that can be solved by higher authority acting alone. It's a problem which can only be solved if you give it your full and active support.
I am very pleased that the Implementation Group is functioning as a team with both Associations playing a positive and constructive role. In fact the Group serves as a model of what can be achieved by co-operation and partnership, which leads me to the issue of partnership.
The creation of an effective partnership within the Defence Forces presents a particular challenge because of the nature and structure of the Defence Forces and the provisions of the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1990. Because of this, the process of setting up Partnership arrangements in the Defence Sector has been in train for some time. Notwithstanding the difficulties involved all participants remain committed to an active relationship based on recognition of a common interest in the Defence Forces. It involves a continuing commitment by military personnel to improvements in efficiency and effectiveness and acceptance by the Government of military personnel as stakeholders with rights and interests to be considered in the context of major decisions which directly or indirectly affect their employment in the Defence Forces.
Arising from ongoing discussions involving all parties the Defence Forces National Partnership Steering Group Committee will be set up in the near future and once fully established and operating it will consider the establishment of individual Partnership Committees at formation level. This is a development which I very much welcome. Although long overdue, it is important that we get the process right from the outset.
I believe that the partnership approach, with its new set of relationships between the various stakeholders in the Defence Sector, can be used to good effect in the management of the changes being undertaken throughout the Defence Forces.
We have always been fortunate in the calibre, professionalism and dedication of the men and women in our Defence Forces, some of whom have given their lives in the cause of peace at home and overseas. As I speak to you today, I am aware that many of your colleagues are working in very difficult circumstances in places as far away as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Middle East and with SFOR and KFOR. As you know, I have visited our people in these and other places and have first-hand knowledge of the difficult conditions being faced and the first class job being done.
The last contingent of Irish soldiers returned home from East Timor recently and next year our involvement in Eritrea and Bosnia will cease. Future overseas commitments will centre on UN missions in the Balkans and in Kosovo in particular where 250 soldiers will be based next year. There is an ongoing training programme in place to ensure that Ireland can meet its UNSAS commitment for up to 850 personnel on overseas service at any one time. Future missions will give practical effect to that training.
We remain committed to our policy of military neutrality and to the UN. We see no conflict at all between this position and our participation in the European Security and Defence Policy, our commitment to the Headline Goal, and PfP. We have a lot of expertise and a lot to offer and I believe that we have the resources needed to make a significant contribution in the cause of international peace.
There is a continued determination on the part of the Government to ensure that the reputation of the Defence Forces, gained from their long standing and wide-ranging experience on United Nations mandated humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, is maintained and developed. Great progress has been made in recent years both in relation to the reorganisation and the re-equipment of the Defence Forces. The Government has ensured that savings made from the reduction in strength and revenues obtained from the sale of properties are reinvested in order to ensure that the Defence Forces will be properly equipped for all their roles, including the making of a valuable contribution to peace and stability in areas of the world affected by strife and conflict.
This reinvestment of savings against the current economic background has enabled discussions to take place with Mowag which will shortly lead to the placing of a contract for up to 25 additional APCs. I regard the acquisition of these additional APCs as a priority - indeed I recall your President mildly rebuking me, a couple of years ago, for talking too much about the first tranche of these APCs!
With a relatively small Defence Forces in comparison to other EU member states, Ireland’s commitment of up to 850 members to the Headline Goal from within our existing commitment of 850 personnel to UNSAS must be seen as significant. However, this is not just about numbers. I am convinced that we can make a major qualitative contribution but to do this we will need to be able to retain our very best people and deploy them in the best possible way.
Pay / Benchmarking
I would now like to talk about pay. As you know, payment of the final phase of the PPF last month was conditional on the verification of achievement of key objectives in ongoing modernisation of the Public Service particularly in the areas of the SMI modernisation process, design and implementation of performance management systems and service standards. The progress made with the modernisation programme in the Defence Forces justified the payment of the final 4% of the PPF. This increase together with the standard round increases awarded under PPF and the substantial tax reductions in recent Budgets ensured that take-home pay has grown during the programme. These PPF standard round increases provided an average annual increase of over 6%. Under the previous four national agreements average annual standard round increases ranged from just over 2% to 3.5%.
However, more importantly, the wage increases under the PPF were in excess of our competitors. Over the past five years employee earnings in Ireland rose by about 35% compared to 12% to 15% in our European neighbours. If we are to protect the gains of former years we must consolidate the gains we have made and ensure our ability to compete. We have seen in the pre-partnership period what high wage increases and high inflation can do to our economy and jobs. Therefore, going forward and taking account of our need to be competitive and the state of the public finances, we need to ensure that wage increases in the economy are set at a rate that will not worsen our position but rather enable us to remain in line with our competitors.
With projected midterm economic growth expected to be about 3% this year, Ireland is still an economy on the move and compares most favorably to our fellow EU members where the average projected growth rate is 1.5%. This Government was re-elected on a strong record of achievement which has seen genuine and lasting improvements in the quality of life for all our people. The achievements since 1997 across so many areas - jobs, tax reduction, social welfare and pensions, child benefit increases, infrastructure, etc., are impressive against any measure. We are entering tighter economic circumstances, but are determined to protect the gains that have been made. While the upward spiral in the standard of living could not continue progressing at the rate at which it was, it is important to maintain existing levels. The extra 14%, or €3.6 billion we are spending this year, will see improvements across all State services, with particular emphasis being placed on improving the health service and a more socially inclusive education system.
The Report of the Public Service Benchmarking Body (PSBB) was published last July. This report was a groundbreaking development in public service pay determination. It is the first time that an attempt has been made to compare both the jobs and pay rates in the public service with equivalent jobs in the private sector.
Under the PPF the first quarter of the increase under Benchmarking is to be paid with effect from 1 December 2001. The Body recommended that the payment of the balance of the increases should be conditional on real outputs from modernisation, flexibility and change and that the outputs be capable of verification. Talks recently commenced with the main public service unions on this and parallel talks with your association and PDFORRA on how this process can be mirrored in the Defence Forces are now under way.
Discussions have also commenced with the social partners on a programme to follow on from the PPF. A new programme will have more chance of success if the parties can agree in advance on the medium to long term issues facing the country and what role a programme can have in achieving these. We face changed circumstances since the negotiations of the PPF and it is incumbent on us all to recognise this and to seek to reach a new agreement in the spirit of cooperation and partnership. Your Association will be facilitated in this process with a set of parallel procedures similar to those which applied during the PPF agreement. These discussions which are likely to encompass the Benchmarking issues will begin shortly.
President, delegates, some of the most significant changes in the history of the Defence Forces have taken place in recent years. And you have led from the front and ensured that the changes have worked - For this, I thank you all and urge you to keep up the good work - we have travelled far, but there is still more to be done. I am immensely happy to be here again as Minister for Defence and look forward to progressing even further the work we have begun. As Minister for Defence, I pledge myself over the coming years to work from within Government to ensure that Defence is adequately resourced and supported
Representation in the Defence Forces has come a long way since your first ADC took place, although we still have the common goal of developing and sustaining a system of representation in the Defence Forces that works for RACO, for the Defence Forces and for the common good. I am aware that over the past year both sides have conducted the business of representation in a positive and forward-looking manner. Considerable progress has been made and I look forward to continuing to deal with your Association constructively in a manner which will enable both sides to achieve our shared goal. And here I would like to complement your Association’s General Officers, Comdts. O’Keeffe and Ryan for their commitment and professionalism. I would also like to congratulate Paul Allen on his re-appointment as your President and to wish him well as he guides your association over the coming 2 years.
I would like to wish you every success with your deliberations and hope that you will enjoy the rest of this Conference.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.