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Private Members’ Business – Dáil Éireann
Motion on Defence – 4th April 2017
Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, TD
Ceann Comhairle, I am very glad to have this opportunity to speak on the important issue of Defence. This Motion has given the Government, and this House, a valuable opportunity to acknowledge the service of the Defence Forces and to re-enforce the policy framework provided by the White Paper on Defence and the significant commitment of funding by this and the previous Fine Gael led Government to the modernisation of the Defence Forces, the investment in equipment platforms and the continuous recruitment of personnel; even through difficult economic conditions when the rest of the public sector was not recruiting.
Can I say at the outset that I welcome the recognition that Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and Labour have given to the dedication and commitment of the members of the Defence Forces, Permanent and Reserve, and I also want to recognise the volunteers of Civil Defence.
We all owe a deep gratitude to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the State. I want to take opportunity to recognise their patriotic service.
While it is not covered in the Motion or amendments, I want to recognise the enormous contribution that the members of the Defence Forces have made, and to this day continue to make, to peacekeeping. For close to 60 years, the Defence Forces have played a vital role as peacekeepers all over the world in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The Defence Forces 66,000 individual tours of duty in UN and UN-mandated peace support missions to date is a tangible demonstration of this country’s commitment to the pursuit of international peace and security. Today, just under 600 members of the Permanent Defence Force are serving overseas in various parts of the world which reflects the Government’s continued commitment to our responsibilities in this area.
On Thursday morning, the 54th Infantry Group return from serving with UNDOF in the Golan Heights. I was privileged to meet them when I visited a few weeks ago and I hope that they now enjoy time with their families and loved ones. A new contingent has recently begun their deployment in UNDOF and I wish them the every success in carrying out their duties.
White Paper on Defence
The White Paper on Defence, approved by Government in July 2015, provides the strategic and comprehensive defence policy framework for the next decade. In this context, it was developed following an extensive consultation process with all interested parties and a comprehensive examination of all Defence requirements over a ten year planning horizon.
This policy framework is flexible and responsive given the dynamic nature of the security environment and enables the Defence Organisation to be adaptive to changing circumstances and to use resources as efficiently as possible.
The development of flexible and adaptive military capabilities is a pragmatic approach to dealing with future uncertainty and the roles assigned by Government. Capability commitments outlined in the White Paper include maintenance of a Permanent Defence Force (PDF) establishment of at least 9,500 personnel and retention of the existing two Brigade Army structure and Air Corps and Naval Service structures.
In terms of updates on the White Paper I have already indicated to the Oireachtas Committee that I will provide updates on the projects underway and that the Representative Associations are consulted where appropriate.
Investment in Defence
I want to state clearly that this Government is committed to supporting the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the one and only official army of the State. They serve our country, at home and abroad, with great distinction.
In 2011 the budgetary provisions for our Defence Forces were such that it risked reducing the numbers serving to below 8,000. That is the legacy of Fianna Fail while in office.
Back then the previous Fine Gael led Government secured additional funding to stop that happening and to stabilise the Defence Forces at 9,500. It also took steps to ensure that recruitment continued in the Defence Forces even when there was an embargo on recruitment across the public service; also introduced by Fianna Fail. The Fine Gael record is one of standing up for the Defence Forces and the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann who serve our country with loyalty and dedication.
Budget 2017 delivered an extra €16 million for Defence. This provides enough resources to pay for the Defence Forces at a full strength of 9,500. It is an extra €7 million for capital spending, bringing the capital allocation up to €74 million, a 10% increase. And it also includes an extra €6 million for pensions.
But it’s not just the men and women of the Defence Forces that we are investing in. We are also investing in the equipment and platforms that they have available to them so that they can carry out their duties in an effective and safe manner.
The Naval Service Ships Replacement Programme has delivered three new offshore patrol vessels. Last year the Government signed a contract for a fourth new fourth vessel. When complete the total contract value for the four ships, will be close to €270 million.
We are also investing in the Air Corps with plans in place to buy new aircrafts. A replacement Pilatus aircraft will be delivered this year, the process of replacing the Cessna aircrafts is underway and the White Paper also provides for replacing the Casa aircrafts.
Earlier this year I was delighted to award a €50 million contract for refurbishing the Army’s armoured personnel carriers. Investment is being provided for armoured logistics and utility vehicles which will further enhance force protection.
Capital funding is leading to the construction of significant work across the Barracks, including works in Baldonnel, the Curragh, Haulbowline, Kilkenny, Limerick, and in Dublin in Cathal Brugha and McKee Barracks.
Recruitment and Strength of Permanent Defence Force
At the end of February 2017 the effective strength of the Permanent Defence Force stood at 9,070. The Government are committed to maintaining the establishment of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel and recognises that a key challenge for the Defence Forces is to return to and maintain this strength.
That is why we are recruiting at historically high levels; so that we can reach the established strength.
This year the Defence Forces planning for the induction of around 900 new entrants.
Both cadet and general service recruitment campaigns are currently active. The cadet campaign covers requirement for line and specialist officers including engineers for the Army and Naval Service and pilots for the Air Corps.
Last year, 590 General Service Recruits were inducted across the Defence Forces, along with 100 Cadets between all services. The largest cadet class in decades.
Some Deputies want to portray that the Government is not taking steps to reach the established strength but that is not the case. Despite what some people say, in 2016 more people entered the Defence Forces than left it.
Yes, as with other areas of the public service, challenges have arisen in relation to the recruitment and retention of personnel with scarce and highly marketable skills, including pilots and Air Traffic Control staff. Significant work is underway by civil and military elements aimed at addressing these particular challenges including a range of actions to improve pilot retention and to return to a full level of Air Traffic Control services to the Air Corps. Whilst there are challenges in filling specific technical posts, the position at present is that Officer ranks are operating at 87% of the established strength.
In some areas of the Defence Forces we bring in direct entry recruits with specialist skills. I’ve tasked my Department and the Chief of Staff to look at where else this may be possible, including the direct entry of those with required skills to Air Corps.
In terms of remuneration, the new Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with providing objective analysis and advice to the Government on public service remuneration, including the Defence Forces, in the context of the FEMPI Acts 2009 - 2015 and is due to report in the coming months. Once this report is available, the Government intend to initiate negotiations on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement ahead of Budget 2018 considerations.
I also want to recognise that the Chief of Staff has raised with me the concerns brought to him by some serving members. I have reassured him that future remuneration of Defence Forces personnel will be dealt with within this process.
I welcome PDFORRA’s recent decision to sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. This will deliver noticeable increases for its members.
Regarding additional payments for Operation Pontus I can confirm that my officials are working with PDFORRA on finalising the conclusion of the negotiated settlement.
On my instructions my officials have also been in contact with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about measures to retain specialist personnel in the Defence Forces, including our highly skilled pilots.
I want to assure the House that there is significant work underway in the Defence Organisation, both civil and military, aimed at improving the capacity of the Air Corps.
Recruitment of new personnel is also taking place. Currently there are 27 cadets, in 3 classes, undergoing the various stages of the Air Corps cadetship to become pilots.
A return to previous levels of capability in the Air Corps will be a gradual process as pilots within the system progress to become aircraft commanders and newly qualified cadets become pilots.
Actions are also underway to return a full level of air traffic control services to the Air Corps. Air Traffic Control training is taking place and options to ensure the longer-term sustainability of ATC services in Baldonnel are being identified. Some personnel are nearing completion of their training and a new class has recently been inducted.
The Defence Forces take pride in being able to respond to requests for assistance but it has to be borne in mind that capabilities are not specifically developed to support other agencies and for civil contingencies but, of course, their utilisation for such tasks maximises the utility of defence capabilities overall and value for money for the State.
Some aspects of the Motions and Amendments want to turn back the clock five years. They are looking to the past, not the future.
The 2012 reorganisation of the Defence Forces, which was designed to maximise operational capacity, provide for an organisation that is flexible and can accommodate new or unexpected demands. The reorganisation was carried out on the joint advice of the then Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces and Secretary General of the Department of Defence.
It replaced the existing under-strength units with a smaller number of full strength units, achieved a reduction in the number of headquarters and brought about the associated re-deployment of personnel from administrative and support functions to operational units. As a result, the operational capacity of the Defence Forces has been maintained to the greatest extent possible, within the available resource envelope, and has led to an impressive improvement in the deployability and sustainability of the Defence Forces, both at home and overseas.
The emphasis must remain on maximising operational capacity and not HQ structures.
It should be noted that no member of the Defence Forces is exclusively or permanently based in any one location. There is a constant through flow of personnel into and out of their assigned Barracks and indeed other Barracks. This is because military service involves personnel moving into and out of particular postings as they serve at home and overseas, receive training and undergo educational and career development courses.
But yet, as a result of the reorganisation there are now more troops stationed in barracks along the west coast. There are now more personnel stationed in Donegal, Galway and Limerick.
However, I do recognise that there have been issues regarding personnel travelling between barracks. That is something that I and the military authorities are working to minimise.
I want to use this opportunity to restate the Government’s committed to Custume Barracks, Athlone.
Since 2009 over €6 million has been invested in the Barracks.
Following the reoganisation the establishment strength was maintained at around 1,000 personnel.
Last year a €2 million project for the planned refurbishment of the kitchen and dining hall complex in the Barracks was announced. This went out to tender and work on the design now is continuing.
It is planned to provide a permanent base for a Aeromedical service, which is currently operating from a temporary structure in Custume Barracks. This will involve the construction of a suitable hangar facility, it is a priority for me and I am working with my officials on this proposal. It is my intention to get it to Design Stage Tender by the end of the year. However, this is a joint service with the Department of Health and HSE, and all parties must be involved contributing to this project.
At the start of my contribution I mentioned members of the Reserve who give valued service to the Defence Forces. Last week in PQs and recently in the Committee I outlined my work with the military authorities to get more people inducted into the Reserve.
Regarding Brexit, I want to state that it does not give rise to fundamental strategic issues for Defence Forces operations or for Ireland’s continuing engagement within the EU in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The outcome from the negotiation process will be considered in the context of existing structures and relationships to ensure that the Defence Forces continue to fulfil the roles assigned to them.
I want to assure the House that this Government is committed to funding the Defence Forces and equipping them to do their duties safely and effectively. That is why we are investing money, that is why we engage with other countries on an international basis and that is why have continued to recruit to the Defence Forces, even in the most difficult of times. The White Paper provides the framework from which we will continue to develop and enhance our Defence Forces over the next decade.
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