Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Army Recruitment.

13.

asked the Minister for Defence if, in view of the serious unemployment crisis in the country, he will extend Army recruitment immediately; the present numbers in the Army in all sections; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force is kept under review in the light of current strengths and commitments. The strength of the force on 31 May 1985, the latest date for which figures are available, was as follows:

Strength

Army

11,885

Air Corps

881

Naval Service

902

Total

13,668

Having regard to the fact that the total establishment figure for all sections of the Army is in excess of 18,000 persons, will the Minister not agree that there is a major difference between that and the basic figure for the moment of 13,668 and that there is an opportunity at least to recruit in the region of 3,000 more personnel into the Army? Could he give us an indication of any proposals which he has to do this in 1985?

The establishment figure is, if you like, the maximum figure permissible by law and the establishment figure is never filled in peacetime. The strength in peacetime is determined by the exigencies of the situation from time to time. We try to keep Army figures at a level that will enable the Defence Forces to respond to the duties that are placed upon them and at the same time have regard to the financial position of the Exchequer. It is a delicate enough operation and at times the Army people feel that it is overbalanced in favour of the Exchequer — a view with which I would sympathise from time to time. Recruiting this year will be limited to replacing wastage. Next year I am hopeful that we will have more expanded recruiting.

Surely the Minister would agree — and I know he does — that the Army is a primary service to our country. We have now so many unemployed young people of such high talent and quality, many of whom are emigrating, that it would be a major opportunity for the Army to harness their abilities and talents and to expand Army recruitment rapidly in 1985.

I sympathise with that point of view. Unfortunately, it is not practicable. In 1977 an attempt was made to cure unemployment by expanding the public service. Members of the Defence Forces are in the public service and have to be paid out of taxpayers' money.

Is the Minister saying that recruitment in the Army is done only when the numbers diminish completely? Is he saying that in 1977 Army personnel were recruited just for the sake of recruitment? Was the establishment figure exceeded on that occasion?

When I refer to 1977, this is before the Deputy's time.

I was around then.

His party in those days thought that they could cure unemployment by expanding the public service.