ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE MR. TONY KILLEEN, T.D.,
AT THE SENIOR COMMAND AND STAFF COURSE
IN THE DEFENCE FORCES TRAINING CENTRE
ON THURSDAY 13TH MAY 2010.
GOC Defence Forces Training Centre, College Commandant, School Commandant, Staff and Students.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address you here today. Since my appointment as Minister for Defence, I have tried to avail of every opportunity to visit Defence Forces personnel in their various places of employment. I have been to a number of barracks such as Renmore and Sarsfield and I look forward to visiting many more.
I understand that the course you are currently undertaking is designed to prepare you to fulfil command and staff appointments at Battalion, Brigade and higher level formations, both in Ireland and overseas on international assignments. I was impressed by the scope and content of the course and it undoubtedly requires a major commitment from all participants over the course of both semesters. I would also like to welcome the participation of four personnel from overseas (U.S.A, Germany, Pakistan and Cyprus) and hope that you will benefit from the course as I am sure that the other participants in the course have benefited from your contribution.
The introduction of the MA in Leadership, Management and Defence Studies in 2002, delivered in partnership with NUI Maynooth, was a progressive and positive development. This is representative of the continuous modernisation that is evident throughout the Defence Organisation and over the last number of weeks, I have received extensive briefings from both the military authorities and the civil element of the Department in this regard. Whilst I was aware of the modernisation agenda in Defence and the fact that this is widely acknowledged as a public service success story, I now have the opportunity to fully appreciate the gains that have been made.
Since the introduction of the first White Paper on Defence in 2000, the Defence Forces have been transformed into a more effective force, delivering more outputs of a higher standard at a lower real cost. This has delivered significant enduring savings to the exchequer, in contrast with the trends elsewhere in the economy.
A key goal of the White Paper was to ensure that the State had modern and sustainable Defence Forces with the capacity and flexibility to undertake all roles assigned by Government. The adjustments in size and organisation allowed for the necessary investment in equipment from within the existing Defence allocation.
The policy adopted by Government of reinvestment of the proceeds of property sales (including barrack closures), allowed for the development of defence assets from what was objectively identified as a low base level.
Over recent years the Defence Forces have progressively improved capabilities and are now capable of operating with high-tech European armies on demanding peace support operations. This interoperability is crucial in overseas peace support operations, which have seen an increased reliance on more robust Chapter 7 UN mandates and increased use of regional organisations such as the EU, to lead such missions. The Irish involvement in the EU deployment to Chad, led by Lt. General Nash, demonstrates the significant advancements that have been made.
A culture of change and continuous improvement is now firmly embedded within the Defence Organisation. Business process reviews of the various branches within the Department and the Defence Forces, coupled with value for money reviews and action plans under successive pay agreements, have ensured that the Defence Organisation continually strives to deliver enhanced value for money. Critical analysis of defence equipment and infrastructure expenditure by the joint civil/military High Level Planning and Procurement Group has ensured that such expenditure is prioritised and explicitly linked to capability priorities.
I expect that civil and military personnel will continue to collaborate very closely at all levels, with the common objective of delivering the required defence outputs, to a very high standard and to deliver value for money.
You are all aware of the challenges that are currently facing the State. The economic downturn and its associated impact on the public finances has required firm and decisive action by Government.
The Government has set out a multi-annual framework to restore order to the public finances and to reduce the General Government Deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2014. The most recent Exchequer Returns show that the Government’s actions are having a positive effect and we are on track to meet our budgetary targets.
Although economic output has fallen by around 11½ per cent since 2008, there are clear signs that economic activity is stabilising. The unemployment rate has stabilised at less than 13½ per cent for the first four months of the year. The average unemployment rate is expected to peak near this level and to begin declining thereafter.
Consumer confidence is beginning to recover. The first quarter of 2010 saw the first annual increase in retail sales, since the final quarter of 2007. Considerable fiscal consolidation has already been undertaken to restore sustainability to the public finances. Revenue and expenditure measures amounting to 5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product were taken to improve the 2009 deficit.
However, further measures have to be taken to reduce public expenditure and to broaden the tax base. These actions are necessary in order to maintain the credibility of our consolidation plan. They involve considerable challenges and difficult choices but the Government is determined to meet these challenges and make these choices.
In March 2009 the Government introduced a moratorium on recruitment and promotions within the public sector. I am acutely aware of the impact of the moratorium on the Permanent Defence Force, particularly in light of the very high turnover rate that is part of any military organisation. Within the available resources, the Government is committed to maintaining the strength of the Defence Forces at a level of 10,000 all ranks, for which Government approval has been secured in the context of Budget 2010. This reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes.
Officials from the Department are currently engaging with the Military Authorities in relation to a review of structures and posts required to meet the operational requirements of the Defence Forces within a complement of 10,000 personnel.
As the numbers in the Permanent Defence Force have now dropped below 10,000, some recruitment will be carried out in 2010 in order to bring the numbers back to this level. The focus will be on the areas of greatest priority. I am aware that planning is ongoing.
Like other areas of the public service, the Defence Organisation is operating on a reduced budget for 2010. The 2010 Defence Estimate represents a reduction of €46m gross on 2009 expenditure. This is largely accounted for by a reduced provision for pay, which is in turn due mainly to the pay cuts announced in Budget 2010 and reduced numbers of both military personnel and civilians. There were also cuts to the capital provision and reductions in the non-pay provision.
The investment in improved equipment and training made over the past few years means that the Defence Forces are in a healthy state, both in terms of personnel and equipment, to meet the challenges that lie ahead. In the current economic situation, it is not possible to continue the same rate of expenditure on equipment as has taken place in recent years. Nonetheless, it is the intention to maintain investment in priority equipment programmes. The ten-year Equipment Development Plan for the Defence Forces, which was completed and approved in 2009, will provide the way forward on the acquisition of defensive equipment on a prioritised basis to match operational capabilities.
It had been envisaged that reductions in the number of Permanent Defence Force personnel deployed overseas to Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina would arise about this time. As you are aware the mission in Bosnia-Herzegovinia is continuing until later in the year. The necessity to withdraw the Irish contingent from the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad was unforeseen. This is not a decision we wanted to have to make and I can assure you that the decision to withdraw the Irish contingent from MINURCAT was not taken lightly.
This decision does not lessen Ireland’s commitment to the UN. Neither was it a decision based on cost saving measures. It was simply a decision forced on the Government for mainly logistical reasons.
Our absolute preference would have been to continue to fully participate with the MINURCAT mission. However, under both national and international law, Ireland could not remain in Chad without the cover of a substantive UN mandate.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to address an Irish-Finnish seminar on modern challenges in peace operations. That seminar gave us the opportunity to look at twenty-first century, peace support and crisis management operations which have become an increasingly important concept incorporating conflict management, conflict resolution, capacity building and security sector reform. Peacekeeping operations are a fundamental component of Irish foreign policy and a reality for our Defence Forces personnel.
In 2008, the Irish Defence Forces commemorated the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in a peacekeeping mission. Ireland’s first involvement in United Nations peacekeeping was in 1958, three years after Ireland gained membership of the United Nations Organisation. On that occasion, fifty (50) Irish Officers were deployed to the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon and tasked with ensuring that there was no illegal infiltration of personnel, or the supply of arms, or other material across the border between Lebanon and Syria. Ireland’s first troop contribution came shortly after, in 1960, with its contribution to the UN mission in the Congo.
Since 1958 members of the Defence Forces have manned observation posts, stood guard or patrolled a zone of separation somewhere within the world’s most volatile places. This is a unique record and one of which the Defence Forces and the Irish people are justifiably very proud.
Indeed, Ireland is regularly approached as a source of peacekeeping personnel and expertise. Relative to our size, available resources and capabilities, both financial and military, Ireland has been proportionately a very large peacekeeping contributor within the international community. I know that collectively you have significantly contributed to this effort.
Withdrawal from Chad leaves Ireland with no major overseas Defence Forces commitment for the first time since we deployed to Lebanon in the late seventies. The Government remains deeply committed to international peacekeeping and, over the coming months, we will be looking at possible options for future deployments. However, there is no particular mission in mind at this time.
The Defence Forces deliver a range of services such as Naval Service patrols and cash and prison security escorts on a low-key basis. EOD call outs can attract more attention by their nature. However, the severe weather conditions during the past winter months, and the response by the Defence Forces when requested, showcased the significant resources and expertise that the Defence Forces can bring to bear in responding to these incidents. All elements of the Permanent Defence Force were engaged in the response effort. The activities of Defences Forces personnel, during these times of crisis, demonstrated in a concrete way the benefit to be derived from the maintenance of a contingent capability.
I was struck last week by a sentence in the homily delivered by Dr. Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, at the 1916 commemorative mass in Arbour Hill. He said, recent statistics show that there has been surge in the growth of distrust by the public in the church, the Government, banks, hospitals and the media. He added that the Defence Forces seem to have retained the respect of the public. This is testament to the loyalty and integrity that the Defence Forces have demonstrated down through the years.
Looking forward, as you know the Government is committed to preparing a new White Paper on Defence for the period 2011 to 2020. It is planned to submit a draft White Paper for Government approval in spring 2011. I have outlined the important contribution that the current White Paper, which was published in 2000, has made to shaping the Defence Forces and enhancing capabilities. The new White Paper will chart a course for the continued development of the Defence Organisation and will be instrumental in guiding successive strategy statements. The Department and the Defence Forces will collaborate on this important project, which will also require broader Government consultation and a public consultative process. I am looking forward to formally initiating the White Paper process in the near future.
As leaders within the Defence Forces you have a key role in delivering change. You can do this by showing leadership, by making sure you have the big picture firmly before you, by thinking critically and initiating change and by encouraging your peers and junior personnel to play their part. I hope that many of you will have the prospect to go on to even more senior appointments in your careers with further opportunity to shape the future of the Defence Forces.
There may be a great deal of doom and gloom on the economic front both nationally and internationally. However, the current difficulties will pass and there is a brighter future ahead. A future which will see the continued modernisation of the Defence Forces, as an organisation which continues to lead by example in the commitment to public service.
Finally, I would like to congratulate all of you on making it to the end of the course and I wish you every success in your careers in the future.
For further information please contact: Derval Monahan Press Adviser to Minister Killeen, Department of Defence, on Tel +353 1 8042170 and Mobile + 353876781608
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