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Speech by the Minister for Defence Mr. Willie O’ Dea, T.D. , at the PDFORRA Annual Delegate Conference

Mount Wolseley Hotel, Carlow, Wed 7th October 2009

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.

The bar has been raised for all of us in meeting the challenge of delivering a modern and capable Defence Force. In this my sixth address to a PDFORRA ADC, I want to put that challenge in context.

The role and importance of the Defence Forces is clearly acknowledged by me and by the Government. The Defence Forces have improved in every respect since 2000 through the implementation of the White Paper and cooperation on the modernisation agenda. The investment programme has improved capability. This represents a significant public service success story. The organisation is therefore in a healthy state both in terms of personnel and equipment.

I need hardly remind you of the economic and social challenges being addressed by the Government. The scale of the contraction in economic activity is without precedent in modern Irish history. We face exceptional circumstances and we must take exceptional measures in response. This includes bringing balance to the public finances which, undoubtedly, will result in cuts in public expenditure. The Department and the Defence Forces, like all areas of the public service, must contribute towards resolving the current challenges facing the country. This affects you both as members of the Permanent Defence Force and in your personal lives.

I am focussed on retaining the operational capability of the Defence Forces. We must therefore address ourselves to both personnel and equipment, which are the key enablers of operational capability. I am keenly aware of the impact that measures such as: the moratorium on recruitment, promotion and payment of acting allowances are having on the Permanent Defence Force in the light of the very high turnover rate that is part of any military organisation.

I would like to thank you for your efforts in continuing to deliver a high quality public service despite these restrictions. I am in ongoing contact with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, about exceptions to the moratorium. These limited exceptions are targeted at maintaining the operational capability and command arrangements of the Permanent Defence Force.

I have already secured agreement that certain advancements within the Permanent Defence Forces do not fall within the scope of the savings measures. This includes completion of training and qualification for apprentices and recruits currently in the system and advancement from Private 2 star to Private 3 star on completion of the necessary training. In addition, I have also secured the Minister for Finance’s approval for the filling of 42 acting up positions for the current Chad contingent. This was a very important decision both for the operational capacity of the mission and the individuals concerned. I am also pleased that within the last few days, we have seen the promotion of 10 NCOs who had commenced the promotion process prior to the moratorium.

The extensive equipment investment programme for the Defence Forces implemented over the past 10 years has positioned the organisation well to deal with the reduced resource envelope for military equipment in the period ahead. It is my intention that investment will prioritise the delivery and maintenance of required capabilities, as well as continuing to provide our troops with the best protective equipment and weaponry necessary to enable them to continue to discharge their roles effectively and with the maximum safety. This will involve difficult and painful decisions across the organisation. It is important that we protect and consolidate the capability gains, which have been delivered through the defence investment and modernisation programme.

Several important equipment purchases will continue to be advanced this year and in 2010 including the acquisition of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles, 4 x 4 vehicles and two Heavy Recovery Vehicles for the Defence Forces. The Light Tactical Armoured Vehicle programme will see sixteen vehicles delivered at the end of this year and a total of twenty-seven vehicles delivered by the middle of 2010 at a cost of €20m.

The Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles will complement the Mowag APCs in the conduct of conventional and Peace Support Operations. The vehicles will provide a discrete protected platform for the conduct of reconnaissance and surveillance by Defence Forces personnel on overseas missions and will prove a very valuable asset in the years ahead.

Regarding the Naval Service Vessel Replacement Programme, the overall tender process for the Offshore Patrol Vessels is complete and we have a preferred bidder. Financing for the Naval Vessel Replacement Programme will be dealt with in the context of the current estimates discussions. I do believe that through the ongoing modernisation of system, structures and capabilities, we can arrive at a reasonable solution, which will fulfil the States requirements for effective maritime capabilities as provided by the Naval Service.

As we progress the estimates and budgetary process for 2010 I am highlighting the reduction in numbers and the dramatic modernisation already delivered by the Defence Force organisation over the past decade. This process, of course, includes consideration of the report of the Special group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure programmes. The decisions on all of these issues will be a matter for the Government.

At previous conferences I have spoken to you about our overseas commitment and the value, importance and significance placed by the Government on the tremendous work being done by members of the Defence Forces in many parts of the world. I, with the Government fully acknowledge the huge demands placed on personnel and their families. I can assure you that the sacrifices made in helping others less fortunate is very much appreciated. In the difficult years ahead, the Government is committed to supporting the UN and international peace and security through participation in peacekeeping.

Our participation in Chad, Kosovo and Bosnia clearly demonstrates the role that we, as a proudly neutral nation, can play defending the values of human rights, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the upholding of international humanitarian law. Ireland recognises the important work undertaken by Defence Forces personnel serving with these missions and will continue to support these missions.

Wherever I have travelled, whether it be Chad, Kosovo, Liberia or Lebanon, I have witnessed the tremendous job our Irish personnel are doing and have experienced, at first hand, the extremely difficult conditions and terrain in which you and your colleagues have worked and lived.

The health and safety of our personnel overseas is of paramount concern. I am confident that our personnel are fully trained and equipped to carry out their duties. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the Chad mission, for example, is clear evidence of both the experience our troops have in crisis management operations and the regard in which our international partners hold Óglaigh na hÉireann.

We have just come through a few weeks where the broad issue of Irish Defence policy was debated and discussed. I am pleased that the debate this year was – for the most part - better informed and less histrionic. As Minister for Defence I am very pleased with the outcome of the referendum on the Lisbon Reform Treaty. It is time now to focus on the future. As the Taoiseach has said, “
we have said to the other countries of Europe that we stand with them as we seek to move forward together”. The European Union has brought peace to Europe and prosperity to Ireland. It now has a moral responsibility to become a force for good in the wider world in support of the United Nations. I am proud that the smaller neutral and non-aligned EU nations, such as Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland are playing a lead role in this.

I am satisfied that representation continues to function well through the formal Conciliation and Arbitration process. Nonetheless, I have been concerned at directions that the Association has taken recently in presenting its views. Both the Association and the official side have put a lot of work into the development of representation. You have only to look at the progress made within the last ten years to see the value of the scheme to your members. The provisions of the C&A scheme were not framed with a view to restricting the Association in any of its representative or advocacy activities. On the contrary, the Scheme has served to vindicate and protect the Association’s rights over the years and sustain representation in a manner that has met the needs of your members and the modernisation agenda of the Defence Forces.

I have always operated an open door policy in meeting with PDFORRA. At a meeting last week I had frank and useful discussions with your representatives on a number of pressing matters of concern to PDFORRA members. I am acutely aware of the pressures on workers, both private and public. This year’s budget will be tough. It simply has to be. But it will be informed, it will be measured and it will be designed to ask those who can help most to do so, and to protect those that need it as far as is possible.

I acknowledge the decision of PDOFRRA to continue to utilise the processes and procedures available to fully represent your member’s views. While there are issues of deep concern to PDFORRA members that are shared with Unions and other associations, the unique and specific nature of the Defence Forces role requires that PDFORRA operate within the already agreed processes. I look forward to maintaining an open dialogue with your representatives who skillfully and candidly present your views directly to me.

Since the last ADC, a number of difficult negotiations have been concluded through the C&A scheme. I would hope that this good work will continue despite the difficult time we face. I can assure you that I will, as Minister for Defence, continue to put the strongest possible case at Government for continued support for the Defence Forces to ensure that we do not dilute and undermine the tremendous achievements that have been made in last number of years. I am confident this can be achieved with your help and support.

It is easy to be despondent at this time but I am certain that the skills, resourcefulness, and hard work of the Irish people can be harnessed to rise to this current challenge. In this battle the Public Sector has an important part to play. In times of crisis the Irish people look to the public sector for stability and support to help overcome their difficulties. We can provide that support as we have done in the past.

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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