MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, MR. WILLIE O’DEA ADDRESS TO THE PDFORRA ADC
WESTPORT 8TH OCTOBER 2008
Mr. President, Assistant-Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Chief of Staff, General Secretary of PDFORRA, distinguished guests and assembled delegates, I would like to thank PDFORRA for inviting me to address your Association's Annual Delegate Conference in the beautiful setting of Westport.
This is my fifth address to a PDFORRA ADC. As always, I welcome the opportunity to reflect come and talk with you aboutwith you the ongoing work we are undertaking together on ourto ongoing work together in ensureing that we have a modern Defence Force capable of meeting the needs of Government and the public. The progress made by leadership of tthe Defence Forces and the Department of Defence in delivering modernisation, productivity and value for money is rightwidely acknowledged. Indeed tThe delivery of excellence can be said to pervades the Defence organisation.
This ethos is now more important than ever in view of the economic challenges we face.
Nobody in this room should be under any illusion about the gravity of the situation we, as a Nation, now face.
These are difficult economic times and will require tough and decisive action. In the last week we have seen the The Government has acting quickly and decisively to address the difficulties that not only beset the banking sector, but. This action is intended to support potentially threatened the functioning of our economy and as a consequence, the continued distribution of the benefits of economic growth throughout society.
Next week my colleague Brian Lenihan, the Minister for Finance will present his Budget. It is no secret that this will be one of the toughest Budgets in decades and that some hard decisions the difficult decisionsare being taken which will result in considerable reductions in public expenditure.
Though these measures may be unpalatable, I have little doubt but but that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will rise to the challenge of responding to these budgetary restrictions. It is not just a challenge for the management of the Defence Forces. It is a challenge to each and every one of its members.
There will probably be some whoYou may feel that we havethe Defence organisation has done itsour bit with the modernisation already delivered. However, the Department and the Defence Forces, like all areas of the public service, must contribute towards resolving the current challenges facing the country. You should have no doubt that the role and importance of the Defence Forces is clearly acknowledged by me and by the Government. This has been clearly shown in the investment programme of recent years. Continual improvement and delivery of value for money in every activity supports the allocation of public funding for the Defence Forces.
Our experiences in re-organisation and modernisation will stand to us in the difficult times ahead. The White Paper will continue to guide our approach. We know from our past experiences what we can achieve and how we can best achieve it. We also know the benefits of change and modernisation. The progress that has been made has benefited all.
Members of the Defence Forces are now as well trained, as well equipped and, dare I say it, as well paid as the their counterparts across Europe. TMembers of the Defence Forces are now very well trained, well equipped and, dare I say it, well paidand the tax payer is now seesing a Defence Force that can hold its own with the best in the world. I am now asking you to cooperate in a positive and constructive way in delivering further value for money to support future development and to overcome the immediate challenges we face. Despite the difficult financial situation I have no doubt on the evidence of our past successes that we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of the Defence Forces.
The budgetary situation does not diminish my commitment, as Minister for Defence, to the continued modernisation of the Defence Forces. The Agreed Programme for Government sets out our policy priorities for the course of this Government. We have already made significant progress on these, particularly over the last twelve months. While the budgetary situation will, of course, impact on how we achieve these priorities, the Government – and I as Minister – are committed to Defence and to ensuring we have the ability to meet our commitments at home and on the international stage.
Significant investment in equipment and personnel has taken place in recent years across all facets and elements of the Defence Forces. It is my desire to see that investment continue. TThe acquisition of 80 Mowag Armoured Personnel Carriers over the last eight years, at a cost of €120m, has strengthened the armoured footprint of the Defence Forces and has allowed for an increase in the operational outputs of the Defence Forces with greatly enhanced protection of personnel on overseas missions. The Air Corps continues to play a very important role in the changing face of Defence. With this in mind six utility AW 139 helicopters are being acquired from Agusta Westland, at a cost of €75m. Four are already in service and the remaining two will be delivered later this year.
Preparatory work on the acquisition of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles (LTAVs) and the programme for the feasibility, scope and timing of our investmentthese projects will be reviewed and developed kept under close scrutiny in the context of the unfolding budgetary situation with a view to maintaining appropriate levels of investment in defence equipment and infrastructure.
So too must Mythe Department will continues to examine and review its property portfolio with a view to disposing of those lands deemed surplus to military requirements.
Another item in the agreed Programme for Government - and an important policy area for me as Minister for Defence - has been the provision of greater opportunities for enlisted personnel to advance into the Officer Corps. I can again point to recent progress in this area with the commissioning on June 10th of 24 personnel from the enlisted ranks. Discussions will commence soon with your Association on future schemes in this area.
All these important reforms and improvements leave the entire Defence organisation well placed to address the adjustments and savings needed to ensure sustainable Defence expenditure over the years to come.
I have spoken to you at length before about our overseas commitment and the value importance and significance placed by theis Government places on the tremendous work being done by members of the Defence Forces in many parts of the world. Such service places high demands on personnel and have an impact on family life – I can assure you that the sacrifices made in helping others less fortunate is very much appreciated.
This year we celebrate fifty years of Irish peacekeeping. The huge importance of this milestone was marked by a ceremony in McKee Barracks in June that was attended and addressed by an Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. In his speech the Taoiseach quoted from President John F. Kennedy’s Dáil address when he paid glowing tribute to the work of Irish peace-keepers, saying:
"From Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip, from this legislative assembly to the United Nations, Ireland is sending its most talented men to do the world's most important work - the work of peace."
Forty-five years on from John F. Kennedy uttering these famous words, and half a century on from our Defence Forces' first involvement in UN peacekeeping, our country remains resolutely committed to the cause of peace and deeply indebted to you and to all those who have served that noble cause.
The occasion was also marked by the launch of a special commemorative stamp by an Post. The committed and dedicated service shown by personnel, sometimes in the face of very demanding conditions, has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on the Nation as a whole over those 50 years.
Our participation in ALTHEA, KFOR and Since I addressed your last Delegate Conference there has been ongoing developments in our commitment overseas. the EUFOR mission in Chad is a continuation of our honourable tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security. The EU led mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, which is currently our largest mission was launched in response to a request from the United Nations to address the major humanitarian crisis resulting from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Darfur.
I travelled to Chad at the beginning of the summer and I met with personnel in the 97th Infantry Battalion and congratulated them on the tremendous job they are doing under extremely difficult conditions and terrain.
The Irish personnel in CHAD are making a significant difference on the ground and are enhancing Ireland's international reputation as a provider of neutral, impartial and professional peacekeepers. I was very impressed by the high level of morale amongst our troops and the energy and enthusiasm they have for their duties. It was heartening to learn that the mission is having a positive effect in creating a safe and secure environment for refugees, for displaced persons and for the wider population.
The health and safety of our personnel overseas is of paramount concern. As with all such missions there are difficulties but I am confident that our personnel are fully trained and equipped to carry out their duties. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake this mission is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold the Defence Forces.
The mission in Chad clearly demonstrates the role that we, as a proudly neutral nation, can play within the EU defending the values of human rights, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the upholding of international humanitarian law. These are the values that Ireland has continuously held dear in its contributions to international peacekeeping. These values are being upheld by those serving in Kosovo, Bosnia and across the globe, helping Ireland to fulfil its obligation to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet. The important work undertaken by Defence Forces personnel will continue notwithstanding the changed economic circumstances.
I am aware that the day-to-day work of the Association, on behalf of its members, continues through the formal Conciliation and Arbitration machinery. I am pleased to see that the process continues to work successfully for both the Association and the Department. Since the last ADC, a number of significant agreements have been reached. These include a revised pensions scheme, which contains significant improvements over the old scheme. The long-standing issue of flying pay has also been resolved. All major issues have also been resolved in relation to the NCO promotion scheme.
One of the issues still outstanding is the claim for an increase in Overseas Peace Support Allowance. An offer of a 5% increase in the Allowance was made to your Association in May 2007 and. This offer was only accepted by yourthe Association 11 months laterin April 2008. In the financial climate that now prevails, finding the additional funding to meet the increase in the annual pay bill resulting from this claim is difficult. I can assure you that this claim is being actively considered.
As you are no doubt aware proposals have been agreed with the Social Partners on Towards 2016 Review and Transitional Agreement. Over the coming weeks your Association will enter discussions on the Modernisation Action Plan for the Defence Forces which is part of the Agreement. The stability and certainty provided by this draft National agreement are vital ingredients in progressing our economic and social agenda. I believe that the proposals that will be submitted for your endorsement are the best that can be provided at this time and I would urge you to support them.
The current budgetary situation presents significant challenges to both the Association and the Department in the C&A process. Over the past year we have seen a number of negative influences on the world economy and a small open economy, like ours, is not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world. While the underlying strength of the Irish economy gives cause for considerable optimism, there will be some hard decisions to be made by the Government in the short term. I am satisfied that notwithstanding the current difficulties, unlike any time in the past, Ireland is well positioned to deal with the consequences of the international slowdown.
The last twelve months has been an extremely busy period for the Defence Forces as we progress with the modernisation programme and undertake very challenging missions abroad. I want to again assure you of my commitment as Minister for Defence and that of the Government to the ongoing development and modernisation of the Defence Forces. I want to thank your Association and all members of the Defence Forces for the efforts they continue to make for the cause of others.
Finally, I would like to wish you the best for the remainder of the Conference and I hope it is a successful and productive occasion.
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