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ADDRESS BY WILLIE O' DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
TO RACO’s BIENNIAL DELEGATE CONFERENCE
29th NOVEMBER 2005
Cavan Crystal Hotel
President, General Secretary, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, distinguished guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank you for inviting me to address your Association's Biennial Delegate Conference 2005. While this is my first opportunity as Minister for Defence to address Conference, I have, since my appointment, met with members of your Executive and with individual officers and discussed matters of interest and concern. I would like to think that a positive and productive working relationship has developed and I am confident that relationship will continue to develop as we move forward.

Since my appointment as Minister for Defence I have had many opportunities to see the excellent work being done by members of the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. When visiting Irish troops serving overseas I have been struck by their dedication and professionalism in bringing comfort and hope to those who are less fortunate than us. I want to assure you, as Minister for Defence, that the Government are fully appreciative of the efforts and sacrifices being made by individual members of the Defence Forces and their families for the cause of others.

I am pleased to hear that Partnership has developed well since your last Delegate Conference. Since agreement was reached on the introduction of partnership structures in the Defence Forces, the Defence Forces Partnership Steering Group has been functioning successfully. Issues that are currently under discussion in this forum include decentralisation of Defence Forces Headquarters to the Curragh and the provision of childcare facilities in the Curragh and Newbridge and the review of the Defence Forces medical services.

The rollout of partnership structures to the Brigades and Services has commenced and as a consequence partnership committees are currently being established in each of the Formations. The need for the training of members of the Formation Partnership Committees is currently being assessed and it is hoped to have these committees fully functional early next year.

Much progress has been made on the review of the Defence Forces medical services under the Partnership structures and your Association has played a major role in this review. At the outset the parties agreed on the medical services that are to be provided in the revised scheme, and defined the specific medical functions that are to be provided solely by officers of the Medical Corps. The Review is now focused on service delivery mechanisms, which include: Primary care provision, Secondary care provision, the delivery of a Patients' Charter, the numbers of medical officers required, and recruitment and retention issues relating to medical officers. The progress being achieved under partnership, and the open manner in which all parties are approaching it, clearly demonstrates the benefits of an inclusive approach to problem solving.

Over the past year I have also observed with interest how the representative process in Defence operates: how Council and the various Subcommittees function and how successfully both parties utilise the C & A process. It is clear from the level of progress being made that the changed atmosphere created in Partnership has carried forward into the more formal procedures. This is to be welcomed.

This year saw the Arbitration Board system available under the C & A Scheme being used for the first time when your Association's claim on the Benchmarking of allowances was heard. While disappointed at the findings of the Board, I was happy to see that both sides were satisfied that the Board had operated in an open and impartial way. This clearly shows the way forward in terms of 3rd party intervention, should the need arise.

It is evident that the representative process is being utilised to the full and I would like to thank everyone concerned for their dedication and hard work in this area.

There has been some recent comment, much of it ill informed, about the level of Defence spending. The position is very clear. In recent years there has been an unprecedented level of expenditure on infrastructure and equipment for the Defence Forces. It is my clear intention to continue with the investment programme for the foreseeable future.

Expenditure on the Defence and Army Pensions Vote has gone from €566m in 1995 to €934m in 2005 - an increase of 65% over 10 years when inflation in the same period was only 28%. Over the past six years, over €200m has been expended on the purchase of armoured personnel carriers, the Javelin missile system, personal protective equipment, new patrol vessel for the Naval Service and new trainer aircraft and helicopters for the Air Corps to mention but a few items.

I have seen the fruits of this investment in my visits to military barracks around the country and overseas. Soldiers are very well equipped with modern equipment to carry out their roles both at home and overseas. My experience is that the morale of members of the Defence Forces is very high particularly from the equipment and infrastructural perspective.

The equipment issued to the Defence Forces is in keeping with the most modern requirements and the highest international standards. The programmes to which I have referred reflect that massive steps have been taken in recent years to modernise Defence Forces equipment and that substantial efforts are continuing on the equipment front. The continuation of investment in equipment for the Defence Forces remains a top priority for me. I totally reject any suggestion that the Government is not committed to investment in the Defence Forces.

As you know the Defence Forces has undergone much change in recent years. The White Paper on Defence sets out the key policy parameters and a comprehensive programme for the development of Defence and the Defence Forces for the period 2000 to 2010. We are just past the halfway point. Major elements of the White Paper have been implemented, including the rebalancing of Defence resource allocation and unprecedented investment in new equipment, continuous recruitment to the Defence Forces and a continued commitment to overseas participation.

It is my intention, and that of the Government, that the White Paper will be fully delivered on, within the original schedule. A civil-military review of White Paper implementation has commenced recently. The Representative Associations will be consulted as part of this review. The review, which is to be completed in 2006, will assist by providing us with a renewed focus.

There are many other positive developments in the Defence Forces. Efforts are continuing apace to tackle bullying and harassment. Structures are now in place to ensure that every single member of the Defence Forces is treated with respect and dignity. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from all harassment, bullying and discrimination

Recently, the Government approved the appointment of Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn as Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. She will bring her considerable knowledge and expertise to bear on this most important role and I wish her well in her new appointment.

I have spoken publicly about my commitment to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activity. The number of women recruited each year is almost in direct proportion to the number applying.

Whilst eight of the fifty-five cadets inducted this year are female, the percentage of females in the officer corps remains at 10%. While a lot is being done already to encourage more women to apply for a career in the Defence Forces, there is clearly more to be done. To this end I am at present reviewing the measures with a view to maximising the number of women applicants into the Defence Forces.

I have written to the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, along with a number of outside organisations seeking their views and recommendations on how more women might be encouraged to join the Defence Forces.
One organisation asked for further time to prepare its submission. When that has been received and examined with the others, I propose that civil and military officials will meet with representatives of those who made submissions, along with the Representative Associations, to consider the ideas and suggestions and see what can be done.

There has been much discussion in recent times on the Rapid Response Elements concept, commonly referred to as “Battlegroups”. Ireland supports the development of the EU's Rapid Response capability in support of UN authorised missions and is positively disposed towards participation, in this regard.

In order to assess the full implications of our possible participation, I established an Interdepartmental Group, comprising representatives of my Department, the Defence Forces, the Taoiseach's Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General's Office. This group met in December 2004 and established three subgroups to address the policy, legislative and operational issues arising.

I have received the advice of the Attorney General in the matter – and he has advised that no constitutional issues are involved. Some days ago I received the final report of the Interdepartmental Group. I am currently studying it and propose to bring the matter to Government for consideration of the way forward.

Should Ireland decide to participate in the Rapid Response concept, then any decision regarding deployment will continue to be a matter for national decision-making on a case-by-case basis, while maintaining the existing Government policy of the requirement for UN authorisation, Government decision and Dáil approval, i.e. the triple lock.

It is not possible to state at this point what level of commitment we may offer, as we have yet to have any substantive discussions with potential partners. Any commitment will be within the overall commitment provided for under the United Nations Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS) under which the State offers to provide up to 850 personnel on overseas service at any given time. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations.

Our peacekeeping commitment has now grown to the point where over 140 Officers are serving overseas in various missions. This is a very laudable contribution on the international stage but the long-term sustainability of such a level of commitment is very much open to question. The proportion of Officers within the overall 850 will have to be reviewed, in order to ensure that we balance our obligations to Ireland’s foreign policy with our obligation to the other roles of a well-managed Defence Forces.

In a recent speech at the Royal Irish Academy my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs outlined his plans to set up a Volunteer Corps Unit within his Department to harness the strong volunteer spirit which exists across the country. My Department and the Defence Forces will provide advice, as required, to this unit.

In the course of his speech, Minister Ahern mentioned his intention to pre-position humanitarian supplies, including tents and ready to eat meals, which would be deployable at short notice in order to contribute to the immediate saving of lives. The Department of Foreign Affairs has sought assistance from my Department and the Defence Forces in the development of this concept. An interdepartmental committee, which will include representation from the Defence Forces, is being established to proceed with this task. The first meeting will take place shortly. I have instructed that every support possible should be provided for this initiative.

As a nation we have achieved much over the last number of years. We have seen a continuing and steady growth in our economy. Much of this can be attributed to the Partnership agreements forged between Government and the Social Partners. The last three agreements have included measures to achieve public service modernisation.

Sustaining Progress, in particular, set out an extensive agenda for all the main sectors of the public service including the Defence Forces. While the national consensus approach to pay determination is under some pressure at the moment - it remains the Government's preferred approach. Whatever emerges over the coming months, the Government is determined that pay will be linked to measurable progress on the implementation of the next phase of modernisation across the whole of the Public Service.

In Defence terms, this will be linked to further modernisation under the White Paper. Given the active involvement of your Association in shaping and delivering on the Action Plans under Sustaining Progress, I believe that the Defence Forces are fully committed to modernisation. I know that the next phase, while providing some challenges, will be seen by all as more of an opportunity than a threat.

Finally, I want to thank you again for affording me the opportunity to speak to you here today. You can be assured that the decisions you take at your Conference will be carefully considered by me and by my civil and military officials. I want to thank your full-time officials and all of you for your positive and worthwhile contributions.

I regret that other commitments prevent me from attending your banquet this evening. I hope that you have an enjoyable evening and I wish you every success for the remainder of your conference.

Thank you very much.


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Address by Mr. Willie O' Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence to RACO's Biennial Delegate Conference

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