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Address by the Minister for JUSTICE, EQUALITY & Defence
Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D.,
at the 2013 Annual Delegate Conference
Permanent Defence Force OTHER RANKS Repesentative Association (PDFORRA)
Whites Hotel, Wexford
2nd OCTOBER 2013
Mr. President, Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General of the Department, Assistant Chief of Staff, General Secretary, Distinguished Guests and Delegates.
It is a great pleasure and honour for me as Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence to address this, your 22nd Annual Delegate Conference.
The last 12 months have seen some of the most significant organisational reforms in the history of the Defence Forces. These reforms have played a very significant role in maintaining defence capabilities and outputs within the current reduced resource envelope. This has resulted in the strength of the Permanent Defence Force being stabilised at 9,500 personnel.
The successful consolidation of Army Units within a two Brigade structure is something which could not have occurred without the cooperative engagement of PDFORRA and its members. Great credit is due to you for your constructive and professional engagement and I want to thank you for that.
The current White Paper has served the organisation well over the last 13 years. However, the preparation of the new White Paper on Defence provides an opportunity to review the future defence and security environment.
I have always said that I believe that the preparation of a new White Paper on Defence would benefit greatly from an informed and wide-ranging debate on Ireland’s defence policy. To that end I obtained the approval of Government to prepare and publish a Green Paper on Defence.
The Green Paper is intended to inform and stimulate consideration of defence policy issues. It provides an overview of the current policy framework. It sets out a comprehensive assessment of the defence and security environment, and the challenges that we face in the domestic, regional and global spheres. The threats that have emerged since the last White Paper are more complex, diverse and interrelated. A key challenge is to ensure that we identify and develop appropriate capabilities to address these new threats and potential future demands.
The preparation of the new White Paper provides the opportunity to develop a new vision for Defence taking account of the current and evolving environment. This is of fundamental importance to the State, and as key stakeholders, it is particularly of relevance to personnel within the wider Defence Organisation.
I know PDFORRA are actively engaged in preparing a submission. I am sure it will make for some interesting reading and I look forward to receiving it in due course.
Broader International Context
Ireland’s defence policy does not operate in isolation. It sits within the broader context of foreign and security policy.
The Common Security and Defence Policy will be on the agenda at the December 2013 European Council meeting. There, Heads of State will discuss how to enhance defence capabilities, to strengthen the European defence industry and to improve the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP. Decisions taken at Council will have a crucial bearing on the future direction of the CSDP and Ireland’s engagement with the European Union on defence issues.
A key element of Ireland’s contribution to international peace and security is the commitment of personnel to international peace support missions under a UN mandate.
Ireland is currently contributing 570 Defence Forces personnel to fourteen (14) different missions throughout the world. This follows the recent deployment of the 43rd Infantry Group comprising 115 personnel to Syria for service with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights. I would like to take this opportunity to wish them well on their tour of duty.
The deployment of the Force Mobile Reserve to UNDOF will help ensure that the mission can continue implementing its mandate. I believe that the Defence Forces contingent can make an important contribution to the success of the mission, as they have done throughout the world on so many occasions in the past.
The other main overseas mission, in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed, is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 361 personnel including the Deputy Force Commander. The Irish Battalion has been working alongside a contingent of 170 personnel of the Finnish Armed Forces as part of a joint Irish/Finnish Battalion since June 2012. Ireland currently holds command of the joint Irish/Finnish Battalion. Finland, in accordance with agreements entered into on the deployment of the joint battalion, will assume command of the joint battalion in November 2013.
This year marks the Centenary of the Foundation of the Irish Volunteers. The State Commemoration planned for November will have particular relevance for the Defence Forces.
The military professionalism and tradition of loyalty which was set by the Irish Volunteers a century ago is evident in today’s Defence Forces. Many of you here today will play a significant role in this ceremony and in other centenary commemorations as we move through this decade of commemorations.
Domestically, our Defence Forces remain a key constituent of the State’s security architecture and continue to deliver a broad range of security and other support services on a day-to-day basis.
The Army and Air Corps continue to provide armed support to An Garda Síochána, for example in the transit of cash and in prisoner escorts. The use of improvised explosive devices by criminals within the State requires a major ongoing response from Defence Forces Explosive Ordnance Disposal, which continues to increase.
The Naval Service is the State’s principal sea-going agency and continues to undertake a range of security and support tasks including, in conjunction with the Air Corps, surveillance and patrolling of the State’s very significant maritime domain. The Air Corps also undertakes other tasks in support to the civil authority utilising both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
I know that these roles as with the many other duties that the Defence Forces fulfill, both at home and abroad, will continue to be executed with distinction.
The capacity to be able to deploy highly-trained, professional and well-equipped personnel in a wide variety of missions, including international lead-roles, remains a national strategic policy requirement. In this regard the acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a priority for me.
However, the budgetary situation will continue to dictate the level of funding available for new equipment and upgrades. Decisions will be made accordingly on a strictly prioritised basis.
For this year, our focus is on the acquisition of a range of priority defensive equipment and munitions such as Force Protection Equipment, a new Ground Surveillance Radar system, a replacement programme for the 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun. In addition, there is the continued implementation of a Rifle Enhancement Programme for the Steyr Rifle which has been in service for nearly 25 years.
The provision for 2013 also provides for the upgrade and refurbishment programme of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal HOBO robots. This is one of the most important current programmes for the Defence organisation given the increased levels of call outs witnessed in recent years by the Defence Forces.
As the process of the acquisition of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels is coming close to a major milestone, I am very much looking forward to the arrival of the first vessel. This is scheduled for delivery in early 2014, with the second ship to follow one year later.
Promotion and Recruitment
One of the reforms you achieved under the Croke Park Agreement was the roll-out of the new promotion system. A total of 475 personnel have been promoted to Sergeant and higher in the period September 2012 to September 2013 under this new system. While up to September 2013 a further 300 personnel were promoted to Corporal rank.
As you are aware, Non Commissioned Officer vacancies will continue to be filled throughout 2013. Following a review of the revised Non Commissioned Officer promotion system, it is planned that further competitions will be held in 2014. All of which I am sure is welcome news for members of PDFORRA.
Despite the difficult economic situation we are in, recruitment is ongoing for enlisted personnel. This is necessary to ensure that, into the future, the Permanent Defence Force can continue to deliver all operational outputs required by Government both at home and overseas.
The recruitment of the first tranche of 190 recruits from the existing competition panels for General Service recruits has already taken place. In addition, targeted recruitment will continue and there will be recruitment of Cadets, Aircraft Mechanic Apprentices and Engine Room Artificers to the Naval Service.
Post 1994 Soldier
As many of you will remember, the unsatisfactory age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force was an issue of serious concern during the 1990’s and was the subject of severe criticism by a series of external reports, mainly Price Waterhouse Consultants and the Efficiency Audit Group. One of the key areas identified for urgent action by the Efficiency Audit Group was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel.
In an effort to alleviate the situation, the Government had already decided in 1993 to enlist personnel on a five year contract basis, following consultation with PDFORRA. The five year contract solider has been extended on two occasions following claims and negotiations with PDFORRA. Such personnel now have the possibility to serve for up to 21 years.
I am acutely aware that with the approach of 2015 the first effects of the agreement, whereby Privates and Corporals may not serve beyond 21 years, will be felt by Permanent Defence Force members in those ranks and that PDFORRA are seeking a further review of arrangements. I am confident that PDOFRRA will bring the same level of professionalism in respect of this issue in further discussions on the matter. However, it must be recognised that, in dealing with this issue from the management perspective that the manpower and operational needs of the Defence Forces must be a primary consideration.
Haddington Road Agreement
Painful and difficult steps have been taken over recent years which have brought the country to the brink of regaining its economic sovereignty.
Public servants have been to the forefront in playing their part in that process. Let me assure you that the Government recognises that the necessary reforms or difficult decisions, such as the recent reorganisation, or the commitments entered into under the ‘Haddington Road Agreement’, continue to impact on the lives of serving members of the Defence Forces right across the entire organisation.
It is noteworthy that despite the significant challenges faced during the past year that industrial relations within the Permanent Defence Force have remained good. In this regard, I would like to thank PDFORRA. I acknowledge the significant input and the open, positive engagement of its officials and executive members on behalf of you the membership.
Your Association showed a determination to engage professionally in all matters relating to the reorganisation of the Defence Forces and the difficult negotiations surrounding the Haddington Road Agreement. This culminated in your vote to accept the LRC proposals. I am confident that you will continue in this process with the implementation of the new Agreement. In that regard we need now to move quickly to implement the provisions of the Agreement so as to realise the savings which will enable us to continue the recruitment, promotion and equipping of our personnel.
The Defence Forces has faced many difficult challenges throughout its existence, and will I am sure, face many more in the years to come. Having had the benefit of seeing at first hand, both at home and abroad, the character and calibre of the members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, I am more convinced than ever that these challenges will continue to be met in a manner that reflects all that is good about the Defence Forces. I am also confident that PDFORRA, which represents the vast majority of the Defence Forces, will also continue to meet those challenges in a similar manner.
Again, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your Conference here today. I wish you all the best with the remainder of your Conference, including the social aspect, as you once again renew old friendships or make new acquaintances.
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