I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee for its consideration of the Defence and Army Pensions Estimates for 2004.
The amount of gross expenditure provided in the two Votes comes to a total of about €900m which is a significant amount of Exchequer funds. It represents an overall increase of 5% on 2003 expenditure. About three quarters of total expenditure is accounted for by the pay, allowances and pensions of the Defence Forces, the pay of civilians employed with the Defence Forces throughout the country, and the pay of the civil service staff of the Department. The Defence organisation has at present a total manpower level of close to 12,000, comprising 10,500 in the Permanent Defence Force, almost 1,000 civilian employees and about 450 full-time and part-time civil servants. In addition there are over 13,900 members of the Reserve Defence Forces.
As the Committee will be aware, there has been an unprecedented level of expenditure on equipment and infrastructure for the Defence Forces in recent years. This was made possible by the Government decision that pay savings arising from the re-organisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, together with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be re-allocated for investment in modern equipment and facilities.
The requirement to exercise prudence in regard to the level of public spending means that in the case of Defence, as in other areas of Government activity, the amount of funds available to us is never as much as we might wish. However, with careful management of our resources and by prioritising our expenditure programmes, I am satisfied that we can continue to maintain a reasonable level of investment in new equipment and infrastructure in 2004 and beyond.
From 1997 up to the end of 2003 over €174 million has been expended on the Capital Investment Programme for the upgrade of barracks accommodation and facilities. During the same period expenditure on non – capital maintenance works amounted to €61 million. The results of this expenditure are now to be seen in many parts of the country. This year’s Defence Estimate includes a further sum of €19 million for capital works and €11 million for maintenance works.
For the Committee’s information, major projects completed in 2003 are as follows :-
Combined Vehicle Workshop at the Curragh €9m
Coolmoney Camp - Refurbishment of accommodation €2.6m
McKee Bks., Dublin - Upgrade of accommodation €2m
Cathal Brugha Bks., Dublin - Upgrade of accommodation €2m
Dun Ui Mhaoliosa, Galway - New Cookhouse / Dining Complex €3.6m
Custume Bks., Athlone - New Armoury €2m
Major projects currently in progress and due for completion this year include :- Cost
Naval Base - New Technical Stores €2.6m
Naval Base - Upgrade of accommodation €2.4m
Curragh - Special storage building €2.2m
Custume Bks., Athlone - New NCO’s Mess €1.2m
Major projects due to commence this year include :-
Curragh - New Stores / Offices €1.8m
Custume Bks., Athlone - Refurbish office accommodation €2.5m
Sarsfield Bks., Limerick - Upgrade Cookhouse/Mens Dining
Club and accommodation for
living-in personnel €3.4m
Dún Ui Mhaoliosa., Galway - Refurbish Armoury and upgrade
Cathal Brugha Bks., Dublin - Refurbish office and living-in
Casement Aerodrome - Upgrade accommodation €1.3m
It is Government policy that the Defence Forces should be fully equipped to undertake the duties assigned to them at home and overseas. Significant progress has been made in recent years in the acquisition of modern equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.
This year sees the delivery of twenty-five additional Armoured Personnel Carriers from Mowag of Switzerland, which will give the Defence Forces sixty- five Mowag APCs in total. The initial contract for forty APCs saw deliveries completed by March 2002 and was valued at €51m inclusive of VAT. The value of the additional contract is some €33m inclusive of VAT, with payments spread over the period 2002 to 2005, giving a total expenditure of €84m on APCs. A total of 48 APCs have already been delivered with the remaining seventeen due by October 2004.
Currently, six APCs are deployed in Kosovo and twenty-two in Liberia. I am advised by the military authorities that the vehicles have worked very well in these varied overseas environments.
Another significant contract relates to the acquisition of the Javelin missile system from Raytheon / Lockheed Martin in the USA at a cost of some €13m. The purpose of this acquisition is to give Defence Forces personnel an effective, anti-armour capability while on peace support operations. The system will replace the Milan system. Some items under the contract have been delivered recently to allow for the training of personnel. The main delivery is scheduled for 2005.
In addition, 10 Artillery Ground Surveillance Radars have been purchased from Thales Defence in England at a cost of €3.8m. The acquisition of Light Tactical Vehicles (LTVs) for the Defence Forces will also be considered in the light of the ongoing availability of resources.
The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting its members in dealing with Nuclear, Biological or Chemical (NBC) threats identified from time to time.
The requirement for additional NBC equipment is kept under continuous review by the Director of Operations and the Director of Ordnance. A programme for the purchase of NBC equipment is ongoing and whatever equipment deemed necessary is purchased expeditiously to meet the changing requirements.
The Defence Forces hold an extensive range of modern NBC equipment that meets their current requirements. In particular, a total of 8,000 new NBC suits have been acquired. In addition, the Defence Forces have sufficient stock of Respirators for each individual soldier. They also have 98 of the most technologically up to date Chemical Agent Monitors and Defence Forces personnel are being trained on their operation. Other equipment on hands includes Biological Agent Detector and Screening Kits, Group Decontamination Equipment and Personal Decontamination Equipment.
The main priority for the Air Corps has been the purchase of eight turbo propeller aircraft to replace the Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. These aircraft will allow for the continued training of young cadets to the highest standard and are a very realistic response to the needs of the Air Corps at this time.
The new aircraft is the Pilatus PC-9M, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft Limited, Switzerland. The cost of the eight aircraft is approximately €60m. The first three aircraft have already been delivered and the rest are expected during the summer. While these aircraft are being obtained primarily for pilot training, they will be capable of being armed and as such will have a limited defensive capability.
As you are aware from my appearance before you recently, one of the new aircraft is in Austria for Weapons Systems Certification testing. This should be completed by mid-July 2004. The certification of one aircraft will cover all eight aircraft.
I have also announced the process to replace the ageing fleet of helicopters in the Air Corps. Following examination of the relevant issues, specifications have been prepared for light utility helicopters and a competition for the supply of up to six aircraft will be advertised shortly in the official journal of the EU. The acquisition of these helicopters will enable the Air Corps to continue to meet its commitments to the Defence Forces and the community.
A significant amount of the funding allocated in recent years for the investment programmes in new buildings and equipment represents monies provided by the Government in anticipation of property sales, the net proceeds from which went directly to the Exchequer as they were realised. In the three year period up to the end of 2003 a total of almost €60 million was raised through such sales. The main sales involved were 97 acres at Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, Co. Cork for €42 million and the sale of Devoy Barracks, Naas, Co. Kildare for €9.2 million. The sale of Clancy Barracks, Islandbridge for €25.4 million was completed earlier this year and, as an exceptional measure, the proceeds from that sale are included in the appropriations-in-aid for this year’s Defence Estimate. It is expected that other sales this year will generate an additional income of almost €8 million.
On 1 July, 2003 the Government decided that lands at Gormanston Camp, Co. Meath and Magee Barracks, Co. Kildare would be among State lands released under the Sustaining Progress Affordable Housing Initiative. In December, 2003 the Government decided that lands at the Camp Field, Collins Barracks, Cork, and at St. Bricin’s Hospital, Dublin, would also be made available for the same purpose. It is intended that this Initiative will be targeted at those who in the past would have expected to purchase a house from their own resources but find that they are unable to do so in the current market. The modalities regarding the transfer of the properties are under active consideration in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is the lead Department for the development of the Affordable Housing Initiative.
The major progress we have made in terms of equipment and infrastructure are just part of the picture. I believe firmly in the White Paper vision that the Defence Forces should also have the best possible organisation and the best possible personnel development plans. I believe, equally strongly, that the Defence Forces should continue to offer rewarding and challenging careers to its people.
On the organization side we have made a lot of progress but there is still more to do. In recent years we have created new organisation and management structures in the Naval Service and the Air Corps and these are working very well.
Our immediate priority on the organization front is to develop an organisation plan for the Army, building on the progress made in the earlier phase of the modernisation process. The objective will be to ensure that the Army can continue to meet needs arising and in particular the need for maximum flexibility and deployability. To this end, a civil-military review of Army organisation will commence in June.
As I have said on many occasions, getting organisational structures right is very important but we need also to get the human resources strategies right. This is a very complex and difficult challenge, mainly because of the broad scope of the issues which arise. The White Paper and the Programme for Government commit us to developing plans in this regard and very good progress has been made.
In January, 2003 I approved, in principle, the report of the Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation Board on the recommendations of the special Reserve Steering Group which had carried out an earlier detailed study on the Reserve Defence Force.
The Army is now organised in a three-Brigade structure and a Defence Forces Training Centre. The Reserve Defence Force will be similarly restructured. These important changes will take place over approximately six years.
The full organisational details of the new Reserve will be determined in the course of the detailed implementation process. The new structure will require the amalgamation of FCA units in line with the philosophy of the Steering Group Report. The end objective of this process is to ensure better training and facilities for all members of the Reserve Defence Force. No decisions have yet been taken on the location of proposed amalgamated units. The military authorities have advised me that all proposed amalgamations will provide an optimal environment for personnel in the relevant areas to participate in the new enhanced Reserve.
The new organisation will replace An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil with an Army Reserve consisting of both integrated and non-integrated elements. The integrated element will provide personnel to Permanent Defence Force units to bring them up to full operational strength in a contingency situation. The larger non integrated element will provide the Army Reserve, organised into three Reserve Brigades.
Members of the FCA already enjoy better clothing, improved equipment and better quality training. As the process develops, there will be additional benefits in a more dynamic role for the Reserve, better organisation and structure, and opportunities for certain suitably qualified Reserve personnel to serve overseas.
I remain very mindful of the need to preserve the many traditional and well established strengths of the current Reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nation-wide geographical spread.
The amount provided for full-time Reserve training has been significantly increased in recent years. This year’s Estimate will provide for approximately 116,000 training man days. The corresponding figure for 1999 was 64,000 man days. The objective is to achieve standardisation and greater inter-operability between the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force over time.
Currently nearly 800 Defence Forces personnel are serving on 21 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to KFOR in Kosovo with nearly 260 personnel and to UNMIL in Liberia with about 430 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the UN, the OSCE and the EU. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the OSCE, the UN , NATO and the EU.
In the past year, Ireland reconfigured its commitment in the Balkans replacing the existing Military Police Platoon in SFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina and the Transport Company in KFOR with an APC Mounted Infantry Company Group in KFOR. The Defence Forces are serving as part of a Finnish Battalion with a Swedish led Multinational Brigade.
Ireland’s other current major contribution to peacekeeping is in Liberia where, together with an Infantry Company Group from Sweden, we provide the Rapid Reaction reserve to the UNMIL Force Commander. Despite the difficult start to this mission, with the tragic death of Sergeant Derek Mooney of the Army Ranger Wing in a road accident, the mission is proving very successful. Ireland was specifically requested by the UN to participate in a substantive manner in this mission which is a tribute to the high regard in which the UN holds the Irish Defence Forces.
While recognising the larger contingents involved in overseas operations, we should not forget the men and women who serve professionally and with distinction in smaller numbers in a range of other missions including UN, OSCE, and EU monitoring and observer missions. While these mission may not grab the headlines, the Defence Forces do vital work in these areas. In other locations Ireland also contributes small numbers of Headquarters staff.
Later this year we will conclude our participation with ISAF in Afghanistan, UNIFIL in Lebanon and UNFICYP in Cyprus.
The reason our Defence Forces can work so effectively on Peace Support Operations is due in no small way to the very extensive investment which has been made in the equipment, infrastructure and training of the Defence Forces over the past number of years. Defence Forces personnel deployed to overseas missions can hold their heads high and see themselves on a par or indeed ahead of other nations in terms of their equipment and training.
I would now like to turn to defence and security developments within the EU. The ability of the Union to contribute to peacekeeping and crisis management continues to be of primary importance to Member States and is carried out within the context of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Significant progress in a number of key areas of ESDP was made during 2003.
In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council set out the Headline Goal in terms of military capabilities, i.e., being able, by the end of 2003, to deploy within 60 days, and sustain for at least one year, up to 60,000 military personnel capable of carrying out a range of humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks, known as “Petersberg Tasks”. At the European Council meeting in June 2003, the Council noted the progress made in the field of military capabilities and the fact that the EU now has operational capability across the full range of Petersberg tasks, limited and constrained by recognised shortfalls.
A significant development in the process of addressing the military capability shortfalls in relation to the Petersberg tasks was the decision by the European Council at Thessaloniki to task the appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments. In the context of our Presidency of the EU, Ireland has a major role in advancing this project in order to meet the 2004 deadline.
In 2003, the operational capability of the European Union was demonstrated through the launching of four ESDP operations - two military and two police. Operation “ARTEMIS”, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the EU’s first autonomous military operation. It was launched on 12 June 2003, in response to a request from the United Nations, and officially concluded in September 2003. Ireland contributed three personnel to the Operational Headquarters in Paris and two to the Force Headquarters in Entebbe.
The first EU-led military crisis management operation, “CONCORDIA”, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM), was completed on 15 December 2003. This EU-led operation followed-on from a NATO-led mission and was conducted with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities. An EU Police Mission, “PROXIMA,” was deployed to fYROM on 15 December 2003.
The EU Police Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina , which took effect from 1 January 2003, is also ongoing. That mission as well as the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrate the level of cooperation between the EU and the UN which continues to be developed and enhanced at EU level.
Operation “CONCORDIA” represented the commencement of the implementation of EU-NATO co-operation arrangements, known as Berlin Plus arrangements, which are intended to enhance the operational capability of the Union and provide the framework for a strategic partnership between the two organisations in the field of crisis management.
In the coming 12 months, we are looking forward to the takeover by the EU of the current NATO led mission in Bosnia Herzegovina. Subject to the approval of the Government and Dáil Éireann and an appropriate UN Mandate, I plan that Ireland will make a substantive contribution to the EU mission in SFOR, taking account of available resources and ongoing developments in other Peace Support Missions in which we are involved.
On the subject of emergency planning, I continue to report regularly, on a confidential basis, to Government on emergency planning issues that have arisen. I presented the most recent of these confidential Annual Reports to Government last October. I am pleased with the level of co-operation across all Government Departments and other public authorities involved in emergency planning and response. However, there is a requirement on Government to continue building upon what has been achieved, to ensure that confidence in the emergency planning process is sustained and that public trust in this process is enhanced.
The report noted that the year had been one of consolidation of emergency planning development. Steps have been taken to build on the work done since 2001, to formalise the arrangements that have been put in place and to lay the groundwork for the future. The vision continues to be that all State bodies will react quickly and effectively to any large-scale emergency. Responses will be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning and by a high level of public confidence in all response arrangements.
The Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, under my chairmanship, continues to meet to address emergency planning issues. The Task Force is an important mechanism, which works to ensure that a co-ordinated response to possible emergencies is provided by public authorities charged with such responsibilities.
Potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by those involved, principally An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. While the threat to Ireland continues to be assessed as low, vigilance has to be maintained as there is an awareness that the situation could change with little notice.
The Interdepartmental Working Group on Emergency Planning encompasses all Departments with lead roles in the various Government emergency plans and those key public authorities which plan to support such activities. This Working Group, under the guidance of the Government Task Force, has been a forum for the discussion and sharing of information as well as providing strategic guidance to all those involved in emergency planning.
In May 2003 responsibility for the management and development of civil defence at national level passed from my Department to the Civil Defence Board which was provided for in the Civil Defence Act 2002. The Board includes representatives of the principal stakeholders in the wider civil protection community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Civil Defence volunteers for their dedication to training to respond to major emergencies and the valuable assistance they so freely provide to their local communities and the major emergency services in areas such as search and rescue missions and first-aid cover.
Before I conclude, I would like to up-date the Committee in regard to compensation claims for hearing loss. By 30 April 2004 a total of 16,713 claims had been received from current and former members of the Defence Forces in respect of loss of hearing allegedly caused during their military service. 15,222 claims have been disposed of, mainly through settlements. That leaves a total of 1,491 claims outstanding at the end of April. In the current year new claims continue to be received at a rate of 1 to 2 per week which is a huge reduction compared to previous years.
The Early Settlement Scheme has continued to operate successfully and the current position is that by the end of April 2004, over 5,700 claims had been resolved by direct negotiations with plaintiffs’ solicitors. However, in July 2002, I announced the cessation of the Early Settlement Scheme for claims received after that date. I had come to the view that as the issue had been in the public domain for over ten years it was time to bring it to a conclusion. Claims initiated on or before that date are still eligible for settlement under the Scheme.
New claims are being contested in Court on the grounds that they are now Statute barred. 246 such claims have been received to date, 26 of which have been disposed of.
To date a total of €275.5 million has been paid in respect of hearing loss claims including €92 million in plaintiffs’ legal costs. The average settlement figure has decreased from €39,431 in 1996 to a current level of about €8,605. When plaintiffs’ legal costs are included, the cost of settling the outstanding claims currently in hands is estimated at about €20 million.
Details of individual subheads for both the Defence and Army Pension Estimates have been circulated to the Committee. I will, of course, be pleased to answer any queries from Committee members and to assist in any way I can.