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8 June 2006

Chairman, Deputies

I am pleased to appear before the Committee today to put forward for your consideration the Defence and Army Pensions Estimates for 2006. The combined Estimates provide for gross expenditure of €958m.

The Defence Estimate includes provision for the pay and allowances of 10,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, 900 civilians employed with the Defence Forces throughout the country and 420 civil service staff. It also provides for the pay of 7,500 members of the Reserve while on full-time training.

As the Committee will be aware, a policy of continuous recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force has been in operation for the past number of years and this will continue in 2006 to maintain the strength at the approved level of 10,500.

I am pleased to say that significant further progress is being made on the programme of investment in modern equipment and facilities for the Defence Forces.

The programmes of investment in equipment which have taken place in recent years have clearly benefited all sections of the Defence Forces and enable them to discharge their roles at home and overseas in an effective manner.

In the period from 2001 to 2004 the Defence Forces acquired a total of sixty-five Mowag APCs at a total cost of €84m inclusive of VAT. Twenty- eight of the APCs are currently on operational duties with our troops in Kosovo and Liberia. The vehicles continue to work well in these, sometimes challenging, overseas environments.

In December 2005, a contract was signed with Mowag for the supply of fifteen additional Piranha Armoured Vehicles which will be delivered in 2007. Nine of the vehicles will be fitted with a Kongsberg Remote Weapon Station with a 12.7mm machine gun, and six will be fitted with an Oto Melara turret armed with a 30mm cannon. The fifteen vehicles will be used mainly in the Surveillance and Reconnaissance roles on overseas missions.

The contract value is €36.5m including VAT. A down payment of €15m was made in December 2005 and further payments will extend to January 2008.

The tender competition for Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles was cancelled in July 2005 on foot of a recommendation by the military Project Evaluation Team that the procurement project be deferred until the market for such vehicles was more mature. The military authorities indicated at that time that a suitable configured Armoured Personnel Carrier platform would meet their needs in the interim and it was in that context that the contract for the supply of fifteen additional Piranha Armoured Vehicles was signed in December 2005.

Another significant contract which came to fruition in 2005 was the Javelin Medium Range Anti-Tank Guided Weapon System which was acquired from Raytheon / Lockheed Martin via the US Foreign Military Sales at a cost of some €13m inclusive of VAT. This provides Defence Forces personnel with an effective, anti-armour capability while on peace support operations.

There have been ongoing programmes for the acquisition of Nuclear Biological and Chemical equipment in recent years and these programmes will continue. The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with NBC threats identified from time to time. This range includes approximately 9,500 NBC suits, 800 of which were delivered earlier this year. The Defence Forces have a sufficient stock of Respirators for each individual soldier and also have 98 of the most technologically up to date Chemical Agent Monitors. Other equipment on hands includes Biological Agent Detector and Screening Kits, Group Decontamination Equipment and Personal Decontamination Equipment.

Good progress has been made over the past four years in the purchase of Night Vision Equipment with the acquisition of weapon sights and observation goggles.

Further acquisitions of equipment are ongoing as follows: A tender competition was initiated in 2005 to replace the existing FN 9mm Browning Automatic Pistol within the Defence Forces. The requirement is for up to 1400 new pistols. It is likely that a contract for the acquisition of the pistols will be placed in the near future and that they will be delivered by the end of this year.

Also on the weapons front, an order was placed in 2005 for the provision of 400 General Purpose Machine Guns for delivery this year at a cost of €4.4m.

The individual soldier is now required to carry an array of equipment on operational duties. In that regard, one of the essential ongoing equipment acquisition projects relates to the provision of a modern integrated protection and load carrying system for members of the Defence Forces on operational duties. This involves, inter alia, personal protective equipment consisting of body armour and helmet. The requirement for new helmets and body armour was driven by the need to provide members of the Defence Forces with the best available protection during their operational deployments both at home and overseas.

An order has recently been placed for 6000 units of body armour for delivery later this year. The new body armour will provide significantly greater protection, comfort and coverage than the old model as well as a doubling of the range of sizes available. The value of the order is just over €6m.

In addition an order has been placed recently for 12,000 helmets, which will also be delivered this year, at a cost of €2.5.

A tender competition was held in 2005 and a contract has now been placed for the delivery of six Field Deployable Command Post Containers in 2006. The value of the order is almost €3m.

On the general transport side, the focus in 2006 is on the purchase of 6x6 trucks and EOD replacement vehicles.

In relation to the acquisition of aircraft for the Air Corps, the eight Pilatus aircraft delivered in 2004, at a total cost of €60m, have replaced seven Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. The aircraft are capable of being armed, giving the aircraft a limited defensive capability. Arrangements have now being made for the disposal of the seven Marchetti aircraft by tender competition.

Two light utility EC 135 helicopters have been acquired from Eurocopter S.A.S. at a cost of €12.8m, inclusive of VAT. The two helicopters were built at Eurocopter’s facility in Donauworth, Germany. They were delivered in the latter part of 2005 and are operating primarily in the military pilot and aircrew-training role.

Four utility AW 139 helicopters are being acquired from Agusta S.p.A. at a cost of €48.4m, inclusive of VAT. The four helicopters are being built at the Agusta facility near Milan, Italy. Two AW 139s will be delivered in November 2006 and the other two will be delivered in 2007. Payments for the helicopters are spread over a number of years from 2004 to 2008.

The four AW 139 helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps in a general purpose military operational and training role. They will also be used to perform air ambulance, inland Search and Rescue and aid to the civil community tasks.

A tender competition is now in train for the disposal of four Dauphin and one Gazelle helicopter. It is expected that the sale will be completed by the end of 2006.

A contract has been signed with EADS, Spain, for a major mid-life upgrade for the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft at a total cost of over €16m. The upgrade on the first aircraft will be carried out in 2007 and the second in 2008.

The replacement programme for Naval Service vessels is at present under consideration. As a general guide, the objective would be to replace vessels after approximately 30 years service. On this basis, two vessels would be due for replacement in the period 2007 to 2009.

From 1997 up to the end of 2005, capital expenditure on the upgrade of barracks accommodation and facilities amounted to more than €220m. During the same period expenditure on non-capital maintenance works came to over €80m. Major projects have recently been completed at McKee and Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin; Coolmoney Camp, Co. Wicklow; Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick; Kickham Barracks, Clonmel; Naval Base, Haulbowline; Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel; Kilworth Camp, Co. Cork; Custume Barracks, Athlone and Dún Ui Mhaoliosa, Galway.

Other major projects are being undertaken at the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh; Custume Barracks, Athlone; Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick; Monaghan Barracks; Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin and Collins Barracks, Cork.

Turning to our overseas commitments, the position is that at present there are approximately 680 Defence Forces personnel serving in 19 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), with 334 personnel, to the NATO-led International Security presence (KFOR) in Kosovo, with 213 personnel and to EUFOR, the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 60 personnel.

In UNMIL ,Irish personnel together with an Infantry Company Group from Sweden, provides the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to the UNMIL Force Commander. In addition to conducting normal patrolling and security operations in Liberia, the Irish contingent also conducts limited operations in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in support of the Special Court for Sierra Leone at the request of the UN.

It was intended that Ireland would withdraw its contingent from UNMIL in November, 2006. However, following a request by the UN Secretary–General to the Taoiseach to postpone Ireland’s withdrawal and following consultations with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, the Taoiseach advised the UN Secretary-General on 19 May, 2006 that I would recommend to the Government that there should be one further rotation of Irish personnel beyond November 2006 to May 2007. This will give the UN time to find a suitable replacement for the Quick Reaction Force capability.

This is clearly the maximum extension that could be countenanced by the Government, taking account of factors relating to the sustainability of personnel and equipment. That said, Ireland remains committed to UN Peacekeeping in Africa and we will consider further operations in consultation with the UN once we complete our deployment in Liberia.

On 9 May, 2006, the Government authorised me to despatch members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the EU military operation in support of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). The main purpose of the proposed EU operation is to be available to support MONUC for a four month period during the upcoming election process, due to take place under UN supervision in July 2006.

Seven members of the Defence Forces will serve in this mission, 5 in Potsdam (Germany) at the Operational Headquarters and 2 in Kinshasa in the Force Headquarters. Two Defence Forces officers have taken up duty in Potsdam. The deployment of the remaining personnel will take place over the coming weeks.

I would like to turn now to defence and security developments within the EU. The ability of the EU 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). ESDP forms an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and is aimed primarily at conflict prevention, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and crisis management. Ireland’s participation in the development of ESDP is fully consistent with our policy of neutrality and our commitment to international peace and security.

The main priority in the area of ESDP is the continued improvement of the EU’s capability to undertake the agreed range of tasks to meet the objectives of the 2010 Headline Goal. A key element of the Headline Goal is the ability of the EU by 2007 to be able to deploy, with full operational capability, force packages at high readiness - commonly known as Battlegroups - in response to a crisis. A Battlegroup can act either as a stand-alone force or as an initial part of a larger operation, enabling follow-on phases.
Following a detailed review of the Battlegroups concept, I announced on 9 March, 2006, that Ireland will participate in EU Battlegroups and will contribute Defence Forces capabilities to them, subject to final Government approval. Discussions in this regard are ongoing with Sweden which is the framework nation for the Nordic Battlegroup. Informal exploratory discussions have also taken place with Finland and Austria. As of now, 23 of the 25 Member States have signalled their intention to participate in Battlegroups. Denmark has an opt-out and Malta is not currently participating.

Ireland will seek to contribute effectively to ESDP operations, military and civil, within the context of our available resources. We will also continue to encourage and foster the ongoing development of EU-UN co-operation in the area of humanitarian action, crisis management, peacekeeping and conflict prevention, with a particular emphasis on EU action in support of UN operations.

At the same time as I announced proposals for the Defence Forces to participate in Battlegroups, I also announced that I intended to amend and update the legislation in relation to the despatch of the Defence Forces outside the State. On 16 May, 2006, the Government approved the draft heads of a Bill dealing with these amendments to the Defence Acts. The legislation will provide for training and exercises by Defence Forces personnel overseas; participation by Defence Forces personnel in humanitarian operations; and, for the avoidance of doubt, the wording in the Defence Act will be updated to more closely reflect current practice in the formulation of UN Security Council resolutions endorsing Peace Support Operations. I expect to have the necessary legislation enacted before the Summer recess.

The Reserve Defence Force Review Implementation plan, which was officially launched in July 2004, sets out an ambitious programme of reform and modernisation for the Reserve for the period up to end 2009.

The primary goal of the plan is to significantly enhance the capabilities of the Reserve and improve interoperability with the Permanent Defence Force, whilst retaining the traditional strengths of voluntary commitment, strong links with local communities and a nationwide geographical spread.

To date work has been completed, as per the plan target, on the reorganisation of the Reserve. On 1st October 2005 the Reserve was reorganised along similar lines to the Permanent Defence Force and the Army Reserve is now organised into three brigades and a Reserve Defence Force Training Authority. Each Reserve Brigade comprises combat, combat support and combat service support units, mirroring the Permanent Defence Force structure. In addition to the Army Reserve there is also a dedicated Naval Service Reserve.

The newly reorganised Reserve provides an essential platform for further implementation of the plan. Work is ongoing on the development of the integrated element of the Reserve. This will comprise approximately 265 personnel who will integrate with Permanent Defence Force units in contingency situations. These personnel will receive additional training, which will be conducted by the PDF, and extra equipment. It is planned that the first elements of the integrated Reserve will be established, on a pilot basis, in 2007 across all units. The plan provides for all elements of the integrated Reserve to be established by end 2009.

In addition to the reorganisation and integrated element of the Reserve outlined, other aspects of the plan are also proceeding on schedule. The equipment programme is being implemented with the Steyr rifle programme ahead of schedule and the support weapons programme on target. The Reserve have already received issues of new clothing as provided for in the plan.

The establishment of the Reserve Defence Force Training Authority alongside the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh, which was provided for in the reorganised Reserve, represents an important development that facilitates further enhancement of the quality of training available to the Reserve. The “twinning” of Reserve Units with their PDF counterparts has also improved the availability of specialised equipment and expertise and will further contribute to the quality of training available.

The revised organisational structures, the development of the integrated element of the Reserve and the improvements in training and equipment are significantly enhancing the capabilities of the Reserve. These factors are key enablers in facilitating future participation by Reserve personnel in overseas missions. In other countries, service by Reservists on overseas missions is quite common although, as specified in the plan, such participation by members of the Reserve is likely to be in specialised areas. While there are no immediate plans for participation by members of the Reserve in overseas missions, policies to support the selection of suitably qualified personnel for overseas duties will also be developed over the lifetime of the plan.

As Minister for Defence, I chair the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning which was established in October 2001. The Task Force is assisted in its work by the Interdepartmental Working Group on Emergency Planning and by the Office of Emergency Planning in my Department.

The Task Force continues to meet on a frequent basis with the aim of promoting the best possible use of resources and compatibility between different planning requirements. Some of the main issues which the Task Force has dealt with recently include, the review of the Framework for Co-Ordinated response to Major Emergencies, planning for the provision of a National Emergency Co-Ordination Centre, promoting the value of structured exercise programmes, and discussing lessons learned from the London Terrorist attacks of the 7th July 2005.

The aim continues to be that State Bodies will react quickly and effectively to any large scale emergency. Response arrangements must continue to be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning, thereby ensuring a high level of public confidence in such arrangements.

The Task Force is briefed on an ongoing basis by both the Department of Agriculture and Food in relation to avian flu and the Department of Health and Children in relation to a possible human flu pandemic. Avian Flu or H5N1 is primarily a disease of birds and to date there has been a very small number of human cases of H5N1 documented in situations where there has been very close contact with infected birds. There is no evidence of human to human transmission. A detailed plan for a response to an influenza pandemic was prepared in 2004. This plan is currently being refined to reflect the most up to date advice of the Influenza Pandemic Expert Group and the World Health Organisation.

The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant Government Departments as do the budgetary and resource management requirements. Emergency Plans are co-ordinated by the various lead Government Departments at a national level and through the Local Authorities, including the Fire Service, the Health Service Executive, and the Garda divisions at local and regional levels.

The current assessment by An Garda Siochana is that the risk to Ireland from International terrorism is low. However, this does not mean that there is cause for complacency as the situation can change very quickly. Potential threats to the State are continuously monitored and those involved in this work continue to be vigilant. The objective is to confine and control threats before they can be brought to destructive effect.

I am conscious of the need to keep the public fully informed of developments in the emergency planning area. My Department recently commissioned market research to ascertaining, amongst other things, the extent to which the public knew about emergency planning and what additional information they would like to receive. Based on the results of the market research, a communications strategy is being devised at present to decide what is the best way to keep the public informed in relation to emergency planning matters.

The new Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, as provided for under the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004, was established with effect from 31st August, 2005. Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC was appointed by the President as the first Ombudsman for the Defence Forces with effect from the 19th September 2005. In accordance with the terms of the Act, the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces is independent in the performance of her functions. The Ombudsman provides an ultimate and independent statutory point of appeal for all members of the Defence Forces within the context of the military ‘redress of wrongs’ grievance process. In general terms, the Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints made to her in respect of actions and decisions which date from the 1st December 2005 onwards, subject only to a few limited categories of exclusion as provided for in the legislation. The Ombudsman will produce an annual report for the Houses of the Oireachtas, in accordance with the requirements of the 2004 Act.

The White Paper of 2000 sets out the Government’s policy on defence for the period up to 2010 with a view to ensuring an appropriate level of defence capability, having regard to the changing defence and security environment at home and abroad. While I am satisfied with the progress made in implementing the vision set out in the White Paper, particularly in terms of improved equipment and infrastructure, I am not complacent. The review of White Paper implementation currently underway by a joint civil/military group will give us an opportunity to take stock of where we are and to focus on the key priorities over the next few years. There are a small number of important issues that I want to see brought to fruition quickly, in particular completion of the new Army organisation structures consequent on the reduction in overall numbers and publication of the Human Resources strategy for the Defence Forces.

Before concluding, I would like to refer briefly to the Army Pensions Estimate. The Estimate provides for the payment of over 9,600 service pensions and about 1,200 disability payments to former members of the Defence Forces and their spouses and children. It also provides for the payment of pensions and allowances to surviving veterans of the War of Independence and their spouses. In that regard I was very pleased to be able to announce recently a substantial increase in the War of Independence pensions. I felt that the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising was an appropriate time to show the country’s appreciation of the major part played by Veterans in the foundation of the State. The pensions are being increased by 50% retrospectively to the 1st April 2006, having been last increased in mid-2004 when a 50% increase was also applied. The revised rates and arrears will be paid later this month.

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.

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