That a sum not exceeding £72,960,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1976, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Defence, including certain services administered by that Office; for the pay and expenses of the Defence Forces; and for payment of certain grants-in-aid.
The Estimate for Defence for the financial year 1976 is a net sum of £72,960,000. It contains provision for an average strength of 1,341 officers, 171 cadets and 13,500 men. The 1975 Estimate amounted to £59,322,000 including a Supplementary Estimate of £10,376,000, and was based on an average strength of 1,211 officers, 146 cadets and 11,000 men. The current strength of the permanent Defence Force stands at its highest level for over 25 years—over 13,800 people.
The pay provisions in the Estimate account for £55,336,000. The terms of the national pay agreements have been applied to all ranks and the current pay rates for men range from £35.37 a week plus food and accommodation for an unmarried recruit to £76.70 a week for a married Sergeant-Major. Children's allowances are payable also. There are allowances for Border duty and special security duties in locations other than Border areas. These rates should make the Army an attractive prospect for young men.
A number of non-commissioned officers and privates of the permanent Defence Force are attending courses which will enable them to sit for the Department of Education day group certificate and the leaving certificate examinations. Others who have registered as apprentices in the trades of fitter, motor mechanic, sheet metal worker, bricklayer, painter, decorator and plasterer, are following courses at a number of AnCo centres. Some of these apprentices are attending either full-time off-the-job training courses or day release courses. During the past year over 100 men were involved in these courses.
Due to the abnormal demands of the present security situation I regret that it has not been found possible to release for these courses as many men as we would like. Deputies may rest assured, however, that no effort is being spared to improve the general levels of education and technical training of the soldiers in order to provide them with the knowledge and skills which are so vital to a modern army and which will also be of help to them in obtaining suitable civilian employment when their term of service has ended.
Members of the permanent Defence Force who attend third level courses of education in their own time are refunded the cost of tuition and fees; 87 cadets were appointed from competitions held during the year for the Army, Air Corps, and Naval Service. There are at present 137 cadets in training, 80 of whom will be commissioned during the year; 107 officers and cadets are pursuing degree courses at University College, Galway; 22 non-commissioned officers are completing a potential officers' course and will be commissioned later this year; 105 apprenticeships were awarded in the Army and Air Corps during 1975.
Games and physical training have a special place in Army life. Sports competitions are held at unit and command level and, where possible, matches are arranged with representative sides such as the Garda, universities and so on. An Army cross-country team took part in an international competition in Algiers in 1975 and a team was also sent to Tunis this year for a similar competition. All-Army gymnastic competitions are held annually and adventure training clubs have been established in all commands. Adventure training includes activities such as sub-aqua swimming, mountaineering, boating, sailing and canoeing. Swimming baths are hired regularly and swimming instruction is included in the recruit training syllabus.
Recent years have seen an increasing involvement of the Defence Forces in the sphere of internal security. In discharge of these duties the permanent Defence Force have been greatly helped by members of the First Line Reserve on full-time service and also by An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, whose members performed week-end duties and other forms of part-time service. I would like to express my admiration for the dedicated manner in which all branches of the Defence Forces and all ranks have carried out their demanding tasks during the past year. They have earned the gratitude and warm appreciation of the Government. I feel sure that Deputies will also wish to be associated with this tribute.
The involvement of the Defence Forces in the role of assistance to the Garda Síochána is a grim reminder of the continuing gravity of the situation. Out of this involvement a close and harmonious liaison has been forged between the two forces at all levels. It is an assurance to law-abiding citizens that the rule of law shall prevail.
The extent of the Army's contribution towards security may be gauged from the following outline of activities during the 12 months ended on 31st December, 1975:
(a) About 5,500 military parties were supplied for checkpoint duties and helped gardaí to set up 10,000 joint checkpoints;
(b) over 5,400 patrols were sent out into the road network along the Border. These patrols are equipped with radio and can be directed to the scene of a Border incident by radio. The patrols have instructions to detain any persons found carrying arms illegally;
(c) escorts for explosives and blasting operations were provided on 1,000 occasions;
(d) almost 300 requests for bomb disposal teams were dealt with.
In addition, several vital non-military installations are under permanent military guard and others are protected by military patrols. There are also activities arising out of the guarding and escorting of civilian prisoners and the conduct of searches for arms, ammunition and explosives. While the list of duties set out above is formidable, it is by no means exhaustive. These duties tax very considerably the manpower of the Defence Forces.
Every citizen has a basic obligation to uphold law and order. It is not enough to leave the discharge of this fundamental responsibility to the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. These are the democratically constituted forces of law and order but if they are to be successful in their task they need and are entitled to get the full support and co-operation of every right-minded citizen. Until violence is ended the Defence Forces will continue to provide full support for the Garda in the maintenance of law and order and in the preservation of the democratic fabric of the State.
The Naval Service continue to perform their special role of fishery protection. In 1975 one of the minesweepers went on a training cruise to France. There was a net strength increase of 75 during 1975 and the present strength of the Naval Service is at its highest for many years. The numbers will be further increased when the new vessel, to which I will refers presently, is brought into commission in 1977.
As I announced last year, the Government had to withdraw the Irish contingent serving with the United Nations in the Middle East. At the time of their withdrawal, it was made clear to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that the Government would be happy, when the present needs had passed, again to send an Irish contingent to the Middle East and that we regarded our commitment to the United Nations as a continuing one.
There are still 21 officers attached as observers to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in Palestine. Deputies may be interested to know that two of these officers occupy senior posts in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission. In addition, one officer and four non-commissioned personnel are serving in staff appointments with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
As regards recoupment of expenses arising out of our commitments to the United Nations, the overall position in regard to the Cyprus operation is that out of claims totalling £4.8 million we have received payment of £3.62 million. This leaves a sum of £.56 million outstanding.
In the case of the contingents which served with the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East payments amounting to £427,000 on foot of pay and allowances have been received in accordance with the special financial arrangements covering this force. These arrangements, which were worked out by the United Nations in consultation with the troop-contributing countries, are based on a flat payment per man per month and have proved more favourable to us than the reimbursement arrangements which applied to previous United Nations operations. In addition, claims are being submitted in respect of military stores and equipment.
The considerable increase in the financial provisions for stores and equipment in recent years is proof of the Government's intention to provide a well-equipped mobile Army. Further substantial purchases are provided for in the present Estimate. The transport position has been improved considerably through a phased programme of new purchases. This year provision is made for the supply of additional trucks, saloon cars, landrovers and various other vehicles.
In the past year four Fouga Magister aircraft were delivered and a further two are expected later this year. These are jet trainer aircraft in replacement of the Vampire jets which have now reached the end of the road. Provision is also included for an initial payment towards the purchase of basic training aircraft to replace the old Chipmunks and Provosts.
A contract has been placed with Cork Dockyard for the construction of a second fishery protection vessel, delivery of which is expected towards the end of 1977. The Estimate includes provision for payments on foot of this contract.
A provision of £156,000 has been made for the Equitation School— subhead N—including £100,000 for the purchase of horses. Last year four horses were purchased at a cost of £41,500. During 1975, Army riders and horses competed in international shows at Dublin, Brussels, Paris, Geneva, Rome, Hickstead and Wembley. Two of our riders won the pairs competition at the international show in Brussels. In addition 39 horse shows and gymkhanas were attended. The total prize money won in 1975 was about £5,600.
The helicopter service, as well as playing an important role in security operations, has provided its customary rescue, ambulance and other services. In search and rescue 57 missions were flown last year and 66 ambulance missions were completed.
The building programme provision is £1,887,000 and, as usual, priority is being given to requirements in Border areas. The new accommodation at Monaghan is expected to be ready in the autumn. A new billet block was opened in Dundalk last year and further improvements are being planned at that post. Priority is being given to the improvement of accommodation and facilities at Finner Camp. Provision has been included for the commencement of a scheme of 50 houses for married soldiers at the Curragh Training Camp. It is planned to improve living conditions at a number of other posts. Among the works completed or substantially completed during 1975 were a new dining-hall and cookhouse and a new canteen at the Curragh; a new dining-hall and cookhouse at Columb Barracks, Mullingar; improvements to the dining-hall and cookhouse at McKee Barracks; a new officers' mess at Connolly Barracks, Longford; the modernisation of four billet blocks at the Curragh and a new FCA headquarters building in Navan.
Miscellaneous works already begun or planned to commence during the year include an extension to the dining-hall and cookhouse at Cathal Brugha Barracks, improvements to the cavalry workshops at the Curragh and a new apprentice school building at Casement Aerodrome. A new FCA headquarters building at Westport is nearing completion.
Last year I referred to the proposal to evacuate Cathal Brugha Barracks and to replace it by new barracks outside Dublin. In reply to a question in the House on 10th February last, I indicated that the matter was being studied by an inter-departmental committee, that the financial and service implications were considerable and that early developments were not expected.
Since the subject was first mooted there has been a large increase in the intake of recruits and all available accommodation in the Dublin area is urgently needed to assist in housing the additional numbers. Consequently, because of military exigencies, Cathal Brugha Barracks will continue to be used for some time to come.
The electricity supply to the barracks has been unsatisfactory for some years past. Arrangements were made with the Electricity Supply Board to have the married quarters connected directly to the board's network, thus reducing the load on the supply to the barracks proper, and to instal a new transformer for the supply to the barracks. The other ranks' married quarters have now been connected directly to the board's network and the officers' married quarters will be linked up within the next two weeks. Work on the provision of the supply to the barracks proper is expected to be completed at an early date.
The Yacht Creidne, which was purchased last year to enable sail training to be continued pending the construction of the proposed new vessel Brendan, carried out a full programme of training cruises during the 1975 sailing season. Creidne spent a total of 137 days on cruises covering a distance of nearly 5,000 miles. In all over 400 persons availed of the training cruises.
This year is a special one in the realm of sail training with international transatlantic races which will involve a fleet of tall ships crossing the Atlantic to the United States by way of the Canaries and Bermuda. These races are being organised to coincide with the American Bicentennial Commemoration and the piece de resistance will be the parade of sailing ships which will take place in New York Harbour on American Independence Day on 4th July. Under the guidance of some very experienced members of the Sail Training Committee Creidne has been carefully and thoroughly prepared over the winter months for her participation in the races. We have every confidence that she will acquit herself well in her class.
The Creidne will leave Dún Laoghaire on 15th April next for Plymouth from which port the race is scheduled to start on 2nd May.
Over 50 persons in all will be involved as crew members on Creidne from the time she leaves Dún Laoghaire until her return to Galway in late August. More than half of this number will be young people under 25 years of age.
A sum of £405,000 has been provided for Civil Defence—subhead G. For the expenditure of this modest sum, we have available a voluntary organisation which provides an invaluable service to the community. £285,000 of the provision represents the cost of paying grants to local authorities at the level of 70 per cent of their outlay on Civil Defence functional administration, on the recruitment and training of volunteers and on the storage, servicing and maintenance of equipment and so on. Deputies will be aware of the key role which local authorities play in the operation of the Civil Defence service and I am glad to pay tribute here to the officers of local councils and regional health boards for their work in Civil Defence in their areas. The subhead also provides for the purchase of new Civil Defence uniforms and equipment and for the replacement of existing equipment.
There are some 27,000 volunteers on the local authority rolls and while all who have been trained may not continue as active members, it is virtually certain that the services of the great majority would be available in an emergency. Meanwhile, the active members provide a most valuable pool of trained personnel, capable of dealing with peace-time calamities such as fires, floods and so on, or assisting at the scene of bomb disasters such as those in Dundalk last December and, more recently, Castleblayney. I am indebted to the Irish Red Cross Society, the Order of Malta and the St. John Ambulance Brigade for their valued co-operation with the Civil Defence organisation.
Subhead BB provides for a grant-in-aid to the Irish Red Cross Society which includes an allocation for emergency relief. I might mention here that during 1975 sums amounting to £12,775 were made available to the society to enable them to contribute to the relief of distress in Cyprus, Angola and the Lebanon.
Not many years ago it was a commonplace for people to ask such questions as: Why have an Army at all? What is the Army for? These questions are not asked any more because in the turbulence of our times there has been a growing sense of gratitude on the part of our people that the security of the State is in good keeping.
If today the emphasis in relation to the Army's function is on internal security and aid of the civil power, that is not to say that the Army are simply an auxiliary police force. It must never be forgotten that the Army are, in the nature of things, an armed force maintained by the Government for the essential purpose of defending the State. Because of that essential purpose it follows that the Army's numbers must be kept at an adequate level, that they must be properly equipped and that there are proper service conditions for their personnel. All this means expenditure but it is part of the investment we must make for the sake of the country's orderly progress and development.
I turn now to the Army Pensions Estimate which is also before the House. This is for a net sum of £12,305,000 for the year ending 31st December, 1976. The net figure for the year ended 31st December, 1975, was £10,542,000, including a Supplementary Estimate of £205,000.
Included in the £12,305,000 for the present year is a sum of £608,000 to cover the increases in the pensions and allowances which will become payable from the 1st July, 1976, in accordance with the principle of maintaining parity in public service pensions.
There are increases in the numbers of pensions, allowances and gratuities payable under subhead B, wound and disability pensions and gratuities; subhead C, widows' allowances, and subhead E, pensions and gratuities for retired members of the permanent Defence Force and in the number of funeral grants payable under subhead N in respect of deceased recipients of special allowances and military service pensions and a small number of deceased disablement pensioners.
Under subhead C there are about 4,500 widows of military service pensioners in receipt of allowances equal to one-half of their deceased husbands' pensions at current rates and subject to a minimum rate of £113.40 per annum. The average rate of allowance is £171 per annum.
The number of special allowances payable under subhead H continues to show a downward trend, reflecting the excess of deaths over new awards. At present there are about 9,500 allowances being paid and the average allowance works out at £250 per annum.
I commend both Estimates to the favourable consideration of the House. If the Deputies require more information on any points, I shall be glad to give it when replying to the debate.