Kickham Barracks Clonmel Monday 26th July 2004.
Secretary-General, Chief of Staff, Distinguished Guests I would like to welcome you all to Kickham Barracks this afternoon. This is a very significant day for the Defence Forces because the launch of the Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation Plan signals the start of a process that will radically change the structure and configuration of the Reserve while preserving its traditional characteristics. These characteristics include such things as the spirit of voluntary commitment, the maintaining of strong links with local communities and a nation-wide geographical spread.
An additional feature of the Reserve has been its involvement in a diverse range of non-military initiatives. In particular, one recalls the splendid work undertaken so professionally by members of the Reserve during the Special Olympics.
The organisation has also played an important supporting role in the provision of civil assistance to local communities in responding to flooding and other local emergencies.
The origins of the Plan that I am launching today lie in the RDF Steering Group Report and the recommendations of the Brigade Planning Groups. It is the output of much careful deliberation, analysis and hard work and has been sensitively developed to devise a viable Reserve model for the twenty-first century while preserving the traditional strengths of the current Reserve.
The Plan defines the organisational framework of the new Army Reserve and provides for a greater concentration of units within each Army Brigade area. There will be extensive mergers both at battalion and company level as well as between sister technical support units. This will be the key to providing enhanced training facilities and opportunities for each member of the Reserve.
In producing detailed proposals for the restructuring of Reserve units within each Brigade area, the military authorities have taken due cognisance of the existing FCA presence within communities. And although no existing location will close, the level of that presence at some locations will have to change. Where the requirement for specialisation at a given location changes, personnel will be afforded the option either to remain at their present location or to bring their particular specialist skill to a new location.
The new Army Reserve will comprise a total strength of about 12,000. At any given time, just fewer than 2,700 personnel will be serving with Reserve sub-units integrated with PDF units - the so-called ‘integrated’ Reserve. Such ‘integrated’ service alongside the PDF will be on an entirely voluntary basis. The main body of the Army Reserve, some 9,300, will be organized in three Reserve Brigades, which themselves will be a mirror reflection of the comparable PDF Brigade structures. The Slua Múirí will become the Naval Service Reserve, 400 strong.
Each individual Reserve unit will enjoy a close relationship with a designated PDF “twin” unit, which will provide ongoing help and support in training and operations.
These developments will be brought about by means of a planned and structured programme of action over the course of the next six years. Consultation and communication have been a priority throughout the development of this Plan. They will continue to be important if the changes now proposed are to be carried through smoothly and effectively. Reserve units will be kept informed of developments on a regular basis.
The Plan that I’m launching today has its genesis in the report of the Steering Group on the Reserve. This comprehensive review provided an excellent overview of the structures and functions of the Reserve. Moreover, the report furnished us with an extensive, detailed and persuasively argued case for new initiatives and radical change. The key problems with the current reserve were clearly identified in the Report, as follows –
Ÿ The FCA, in common with other voluntary organisations, was experiencing increasing difficulty in recruitment
Ÿ Annual recruitment had fallen to about half of the 1990 level.
Ÿ The retention of trained personnel was becoming increasingly problematic and uncertain.
Ÿ The standard of training available was far too variable.
Ÿ Only about 50% of the members attended annual training camp.
Ÿ The Reserve had little or no presence in some major urban areas.
Ÿ Recruitment was not always being targeted at the type of individuals who were the more likely to give long and useful service or to provide valuable, scarce and ready-made skills.
Ÿ Many newly recruited reservists were serving only for a very short period.
I was encouraged to read that note that the Steering Group had identified a widespread desire for positive change among the members of the Reserve themselves. Well their wish has been granted! A process of change and modernisation will now embrace the Reserve. I believe that the new Reserve that will emerge will have retained the organisation’s current strengths and tackled its present weaknesses resulting in a better structured, stronger and more vibrant Reserve organization throughout the country.
As we all know, the FCA has a well-dispersed countrywide presence, and is particularly strong in rural Ireland. This is an important feature of the organization and one that will be retained in the future. However, the creation of a proper organizational structure for the new Reserve will require a sensible consolidation of units in throughout the country.
It is also accepted that there is a need to develop the organization in urban environments and a new Reserve centre serving West Dublin will be established at Baldonnel.
The Steering Group called for the introduction of a new training regime to enable the new Reserve to achieve a much greater operational capacity over time. The implementation process will include provision for modular and structured training to take account of the voluntary nature of the reservist and of modern methods of education. An essential objective of the new format training will be to ensure that most personnel will, in each 12 months period, undertake a total of 14 days paid training. Subject to financial priorities within the military budget as a whole, it is planned that the Reserve training should continue to be increased and enhanced as the reorganisation process continues and develops.
And here I’d like to mention that one of my proudest achievements during my period as Minister for Defence was to have increased the number of paid training days available to the Reserve from 63,000 in 1998 to 114,000 this year - an increase of 80% over a six-year period.
There is agreement that the general levels of equipment available should be significantly improved over a reasonable timeframe to maximise standardisation and inter-operability with the PDF. Reservists will be trained across the full range of PDF weapons. Certain new weapons will also be issued to the Reserve, such as the 60mm mortars. There are already sufficient Steyrs for training purposes and the Steyr rifle acquisition programme will continue until all Reservists will have this weapon as standard issue.
These issues are regarded as the keys to operational capability and training and should have a positive effect on Reserve morale and self-image.
There is a clear consensus that the Reserve needs a radical and integrated programme of real change - we now have such a programme. Some aspects of change will be popular, while others will be endured with varying degrees of toleration. Some parts of the programme may prove unpopular within some local communities. But the simple fact remains that some minor local sacrifices will have to be made now to secure major benefits in the overall future of the Reserve. The implementation process being launched today points the only way forward to a successful organisation.
It might be useful to recall that few of the widespread changes implemented within the PDF in recent years met with universal approval. However, the benefits of the essential modernization process within the PDF soon became manifestly clear. The programme of change went on to win widespread and enthusiastic support across all ranks and is now seen as a real and positive turning point for the PDF organisation.
We cannot simply let things drift on for the next six or seven years. We cannot not sit tight and to do nothing for our Reserve Forces. The problems so clearly identified by the Steering Group will not have gone away. Problems, which can be rectified now if the appropriate course of action is taken, will become irreparable after a few years of neglect.
Another dangerous fallacy would be to imagine that we can pick and choose which recommendations to implement. This too would prove to be a fatal error in the longer term. Short-term expediency provides no basis for securing the long-term future of the Reserve. I am not willing to settle for an ill defined, ‘second best’ option and its inevitable, third rate outcome.
I wish to emphasize that the objective of this entire process is to put in place a better trained, better equipped and better resourced Reserve Defence Force which can stand comparison with any other similar force in Europe – nothing more and nothing less. For only such a radically enhanced Reserve can realistically provide Reservists with the opportunities that they deserve in recognition of their personal voluntary commitment to this very important national organization.
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