In presenting the Army Estimates for the year 1926-27, Deputies will, doubtless, expect more informamation on Army matters generally than, from the circumstances prevailing, it was possible to give last year.
The Deputies are, of course, familiar with the original constitution of the Army. They are all aware of the circumstances in which the National Army was constituted early in 1922. It was a case of there having been no organised military administrative machine to enable the task that was thrown on the military to be adequately carried out. Officers, N.C.O.'s and men were hurriedly enrolled; hurriedly put into uniform, where such uniform was available; and hurriedly formed into military formations. Then came, almost immediately, the civil strife, when the National Army was supplemented by thousands of recruits from the civil population, the strength ultimately reaching the number of 55,000 all told. On the cessation of civil strife came the gigantic task of demobilisation. I am aware of the difficulties that various countries have had in the demobilisation of an army improvised for war, and I can assure the House that, relatively, the difficulties associated with our demobilisation were on a very extended scale. It was carried out ultimately with the success which, I venture to say, reflects the very greatest credit on the Army leaders of the time.
After this demobilisation came the reorganisation of the National Army on a peace basis; there, again, extreme difficulties were encountered, but, after various incidents with which the House is familiar, a peace army was brought into being. This peace army was, as is shown in the Estimates for the last two years, of greatly reduced strength. It became necessary, in regard to the officer personnel, to give some feeling of permanence of tenure to officers who were selected for commissions in the peace army. An establishment for the Army was constituted, showing the personnel to be attached to each individual Army formation down to the infantry company. It is not contended that this establishment was in any way approaching finality; it has, in fact, been found that the establishment requires extensive amendments. These amendments are inevitable, having regard to the nature of an army in itself. It must be remembered that the Army is only now four years in existence, but the progress made during that period must be considered to be, in the nature of the case, quite remarkable.
Having secured the formation of the peace army, and having put into operation military formation of the type ordinarily existing in modern armies, and having constituted technical corps of various kinds, and having established an air force adjunct of considerable value, we reach the stage now, at the opening of the present financial year, when it is possible to show that within the various limitations of the case we have constituted an Army which, I venture to say, compares well with any recently constituted army in any other country. At this stage of my remarks it might reasonably be asked: what is the objective of that Army in a country such as this? That point has been raised more than once, and pressure has been brought to bear to indicate what is the policy governing our Army. Well, I have no hesitation in stating the policy now. It is this:
The organisation of our defence forces should in the first place be such that it would be capable of rapid and efficient expansion in time of need to the maximum strength of the country's man-power. This will necessitate the training of all ranks in duties of a more advanced nature than those normally associated with each rank. The Army must be an independent national force, so organised, trained and equipped as to render it capable, should the necessity arise, of assuming responsibility for the defence of the territory of the Saorstát against invasion or internal disruptive agencies or against violation of neutrality on the part of an enemy.
I might add to that exposition of policy that in times of peace, such as we are happily experiencing now, there is a distinct tendency to overlook the necessity for the maintenance of a force in this country trained in arms and ready to repel attack. I may also add that the internal situation in the country does not yet justify the substitution of the Army, as it at present exists, for something in the nature of a militia force.
From this it will be seen that the primary object aimed at for our Army is that it shall be capable of the defence of Irish territory, and to resist invasion from any quarter. Having regard to the policy thus defined, Deputies will realise that many of the features brought out in this year's Estimates are imperatively necessary for an army such as that policy contemplates, and with these preliminary remarks I should like now to proceed to a consideration of the Estimates as a whole.
The first point to be brought out in connection with the Estimates now presented to the House is that they represent a decrease of £577,647 on the Estimates for last year. Every avenue of retrenchment has been explored, but, in the main, the reduction represents a reduction in strength. It will be noted that this year provision is being made for a total of 1,064 officers and 12,500 non-commissioned officers and men. This represents a reduction in number of 14 officers and of 3,990 non-commissioned officers and men. The reduction of non-commissioned officers and men is contingent on the constitution of reserve, concerning which I will make some remarks later on.
Regarding the officers, it will be within the knowledge of Deputies that the defence forces, as such, were formally promulgated on the 1st October, 1924, under the provisions of the Defence Forces Act. Officers selected for the defence forces then became fully commissioned, and were duly gazetted. The officer corps thus became an established institution in the sense that the officers gazetted were considered to have adopted the Army as their career. I am not going to say that every one of the officers who were gazetted will ultimately find that the Army is their vocation, as it were, but I am going to say that the gazetting of these officers in the defence forces gives them certain rights which cannot be ignored. The reduction which has already taken place in the number of officers represents voluntary resignations and actual removals. It may reasonably be argued, I think, that the proportion of officers to other ranks is, perhaps, at the moment, slightly on the large side. Various comparisons in this connection have been made from time to time with other armies. These comparisons, in my opinion, are to a large extent ill-considered, there being no real basis of comparison between an army which has been in existence only four years with other armies which have been in existence for hundreds of years and are highly developed, intensive organisations; but, taking the averages for what they are worth, it is observed that the proportion of officers to other ranks in the defence force is 1 to 11.75. In the British Army it is 1 to 15; whilst in the United States Army it is 1 to 10.
It is recognised that, as our Army must be capable of extension at any moment, a proportion of officers, somewhat larger than would normally be admissible, should be in the service. We may, of course, come to the formation of a reserve of officers, but, meanwhile, there are arguments for having in the defence forces a relatively larger number of officers than the strength of other ranks would normally justify. Nevertheless, it has been decided that, whilst no compulsion whatever will be used, officers who feel that the Army is not their vocation, and who desire to re-enter civil life, will be allowed to do so in terms of being granted a year's pay and allowance as a gratuity on their relinquishing their commissions. Deputies will note that a separate sub-head has been created in these Estimates to cover the grant of such gratuities. It is anticipated that a number of officers will take advantage of this opportunity, but I should like to repeat that there is no intention of forcing efficient officers out of the Army.
As regards non-commissioned officers and men, it will be noted that whereas last year provision was made for 3,237 N.C.O.'s this year we are asking for provision for 1,965 only of non-commissioned officers. And in regard to privates, the number this year is 10,535 compared to 13,261 last year. This reduction in the strength of N.C.O.'s and men has only been found to be possible by the creation of the reserve, for which powers exist in the Defence Forces Act.
The reserve will be composed of fully trained soldiers of exemplary character who have completed their period of service with the forces. Reservists will be paid while on the reserve at the rate of 9d. per day. They will be subject to annual training for a period of twenty-one days, during which they will be paid at the normal army rates. The scheme may not be in full force this year, but my idea is to have a reserve of about 4,500 men at the end of the financial year—the regular army being correspondingly reduced. In this particular year it is contemplated to train reservists for seven days only. The total cost of the reserve for this year, it will be noted, including clothing and provisions whilst up for training, amounts to £65,385. The clothing and equipment included in that sum is expected to last ten years, and to that extent such expenditure can be described as non-recurrent. A similar number of men on full time in the Army would cost £600,000.
Another new aspect of affairs in the personnel of the Army is indicated under sub-head "A"—pay of cadets. It will be understood that the ultimate officering of the Army will be in one or other of two ways—the appointment of cadets or promotion from the ranks. A start is being made in regard to cadets. A number are immediately required for the air service; some will be required for the corps of engineers; one or two will be required for the army bands; and later on, as I have said, there will be the introduction of cadets for the other arms, infantry, etc.
The general scheme for the cadets is largely contingent on the establishment of our military college, but, meanwhile, we are making a start, as indicated, in connection with the air service, corps of engineers and bands. And, mentioning the military college, it will be noted that provision is being made for sending a number of officers to the United States for the purpose of undergoing courses there in the United States military colleges, so that we shall have a nucleus of officers to take up the work in the military college when that institution commences to function.
In dealing with the personnel of the Army, I should not omit to mention the army air service. I may say at once that it is the policy of the Government that an air service, however small, should be in existence. It is an essential part of every existing Army. All have their air services in operation. Our air service is small, and it is not contemplated that it should ever be very large. Apart from the purely military value of the air service, it must not be forgotten that civil aviation is now a permanent feature in most countries, and that it must eventually be developed in this country. It would certainly be a matter of grave importance to any developments in civil aviation that, apart from military necessities, there should be a military air service to lead the way. Before I conclude my observations on military personnel, I should like to refer to the headings, "wages to civilians attached to units" and "medical services."
In regard to civil personnel, it will be within the recollection of Deputies that on the evacuation by British troops at the Curragh, there was left behind a large body of civilian labour employed in the various services at the Curragh Camp. The Army, in its initial stage, was unable to take over the services performed by these men, and the office of works was, accordingly, deputed to undertake the administration of these various services at the Curragh. That Department, accordingly, took over all the various civilians as employed by the British Government. As things developed in the Army, it became desirable that the control of these services should be undertaken by the Army itself, and, accordingly, the office of works transferred the services to the Army, and incidentally transferred the civilian labour referred to. We have continued to employ this civilian labour and auxiliary clerical staff, although at one time it was contemplated to substitute a large portion of the civilian labour by military labour. This was found, however, not to be expedient, and the civil labour remains. Economies have been effected in regard to the numbers employed and the present number of civilian employees at the Curragh is 230. The remainder of the charge for the pay of civilians is in respect of those attached to the corps of engineers at other stations; of clerks and typists, and of a number of civilians employed on miscellaneous work.
In regard to the employment of civilians by the engineer corps generally, it has been found that the employment of soldier-tradesmen is uneconomical. The civilian workman works the normal number of hours per week applicable to his trade; on the other hand, the soldier tradesman, allowing for parades, orderly and other military duties, is found to do actual work of only about 30 hours a week. A further circumstance is that the number of civilians employed can be increased or diminished at short notice, civilian labour being more adjustable to meet the fluctuations of actual requirements. The ultimate idea, therefore, in regard to work services of the engineers in the maintenance of barracks, etc., is to employ civilians, in the main with a small number of soldier-tradesmen in pivotal positions, superintendents, etc. The full effect of this policy cannot be carried out this year, and hence, it is that we still have a considerable number of soldier-tradesmen drawing extra pay as such. As regards typists, a committee has enquired into the nature of the work, and the necessity for their employment. Considerable reductions have been made, and provision is made for 102 for the present year, chefs and waiters are included in the number of civilian employees. Here, again, civilian labour is essential in the present circumstances, owing to the fact that soldiers trained in these duties are not yet available. We propose to start a school of instruction in cookery, etc., as a result of which it will be possible to find a number of chefs, cooks, etc., to replace the civilians at present employed. Amongst the miscellaneous civilians employed is one rigger at Baldonnel aerodrome to examine machines and test the engines prior to flights. He is a highly-trained mechanic and his employment is essential.
As regards the medical service, it will be noted that there is a reduction in the charge as compared with last year. This service, besides attending to all the medical services for the Army, including treatment of pensioners towards reduction of disability, also provides medical boards in connection with army pensions; and with the reduction in the Army there will be a substantial reduction in the strength of this service. It must be remembered that the Army is still very scattered, there being some one hundred posts at which military are stationed. This, inevitably, adds to the work of the medical service, the medical officer of the unit being often compelled to travel long journeys to outposts.
Transport of troops by rail is a normal service, but it will be interesting to the House to know that arrangements have been made with the railway companies in the Saorstát whereby the military on duty are conveyed at substantially reduced rates. The effect of this reduction is that the transportation of troops is carried out under rates appreciably lower than those accorded to the British authorities for conveyance of troops in Northern Ireland. As regards the Army transport, there are two sides to this very important and essential Army service—the mechanical transport and horse transport. Possibly, Deputies will have noticed that there is an increase in horse transport. This is a policy which has been adopted, governing short journeys in cities, towns, etc., and is found to be both economical and efficient. As regards mechanical transport, I have mentioned on a previous occasion that we had the heritage of a mass of mechanical transport in a very advanced stage of depreciation. The cost of upkeep in respect of these vehicles was so excessive that it was determined that the more economical policy would be to dispose of them and purchase a small number of new vehicles in replacement. This has been done; we have disposed of practically all the old lorries and cars. Last year we purchased some new lorries and cars, and this year the process will be continued. There has been a material reduction, even since last year, in the number of cars in use. It is felt that in an emergency mechanical transport can always be obtained, and the policy, therefore, is to reduce mechanical transport to the necessities of the Army as it exists at the moment. As I have stated, it is wasteful to keep cars on the road for a long period; it is not proposed to run a car more than three or four years, and the present intention is to replace a number of cars regularly each year, thus spending the capital expenditure over a number of years.
The control of the use of cars generally in the Army has been thoroughly inquired into, with the result that a more extended "pooling" system has been adopted without in any way curtailing essential services. The use of petrol also has been rigidly investigated, and a system has been adopted which will secure that military users of Army vehicles will be required to show that their consumption of petrol has been on essential military services and has not been excessive.
The most important feature in Army expenditure, after pay of personnel, is that of supplies. The food of the Army, it will be noted, is expected to cost over £400,000. This estimate is based on the estimated cost of the daily ration for officers and soldiers. The estimated cost is 1s. 7d. per daily ration. Incidental to the supply of food for the Army, it may be mentioned that the Army runs an up-to-date bakery at the Curragh. The bread produced is of the best quality, and the cost of production compares favourably with the cost of bread by competitive tender. In that connection evidence of cost of bread from the Army bakery has recently been furnished to the Food Prices Tribunal.
Besides the bakery, the Army has an abattoir at the Curragh; for meat supplies in the Dublin area the Corporation abattoir is utilised. The meat from the abattoirs is of the highest quality, and, although the cost per lb. of meat produced is somewhat higher than the meat contract price at outstations, I am fully convinced that the abattoir meat is better value, apart from the administrative experience gained by the Army in the working of these institutions. The difficulty in regard to meat supplied by contractors is that, notwithstanding surprise inspections, inferior meat is regularly tendered. This means rejection and replacement by the contractor, or, alternatively, purchase in default. All purchases of food under contract are made under a system of rigid open competitive tender with close financial supervision.
Amongst the important supply services should be mentioned clothing. Clothing for uniforms is of Irish manufacture, but it was difficult to secure exact uniformity in supply. A standard sample is now being adopted, and Irish manufacturers will be in a position to manufacture cloth to this standard sample. This will secure a longer life for uniforms, and a better appearance in the dress of the men generally. The increase in the amount under this sub-head, as compared with last year, arises from the fact that at the beginning of last year there was a quantity of active service clothing on hand, and the estimate for that year was adjusted accordingly. The active service clothing is exhausted, and replenishment, as indicated in this year's estimate, is necessary.
Under the heading of animals and forage, it will be noticed that there is an increase compared with last year. The increase is partly accounted for by the increase in horse transport already referred to, and partly to complete the horse establishment of the artillery which has been below strength in animals. Leaving supplies, we come to stores of various kinds—general stores, warlike stores and engineer stores. In regard to general stores, there is an increase compared to last year. The main factors in this increase are: The provision of equipment for the army signal corps—a corps whose functions are in the highest degree technical; purchase of tip-carts in connection with horse transport; and limbers for artillery. The provision for warlike and engineer stores represents the normal requirements for the Army, and calls for no special comment. After stores we come to two primary services for the Army—fuel, light and water on the one hand, and barrack services on the other. The issue of fuel is now controlled in an intensive way under regulations under the Defence Forces Act. Regulations are also extant in respect of furniture for messes, etc. As regards military lands, the expenditure under this head has hitherto been shown under the head of works and buildings, but it was felt desirable to segregate this item and bring it out separately. This is a service of considerable importance; the administration of it as well as its financial control is in charge of the Army Finance Officer, who has a lands officer of wide experience to carry out all the various technical and other duties.
In conclusion, I have only to say that the Estimate before you is the considered Estimate, having regard to the normal expenditure which would inevitably take place on the Army. It is an Estimate which I, as Minister, can stand over in this House, and I do say it is the minimum that we can accept for the requirements of the Army for the coming year, considering the numbers we have and the numbers we intend to have. I hope the Dáil will criticise the Estimate from the point of view of putting forward genuine and constructive criticisms, and not criticisms of a destructive nature.