Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Female Members in Defence Forces.

11.

asked the Minister for Defence the number of female members in the Defence Forces; the number who are of (a) private; and (b) officer rank; and the percentage of the number in the Defence Forces represented by these figures.

On 31 October 1986 the following female personnel were serving in the permanent Defence Force:

Officers

26

Non-commissioned Officers

17

Privates

19

Total

62

The total female strength represents 0.45 per cent of the total strength of the permanent Defence Force.

What plans has the Minister to increase this disgracefully low proportion, despite legislation which granted access to women to enter the Army? After four years we are left with a percentage of 0.45.

It is really a question of the demands being made on the permanent Defence Forces. I should like to point out to the Deputy that this year, for example, we are appointing among cadets 10 per cent female.

10 per cent, yes.

That will not greatly bring the numbers up.

All chiefs and no indians.

In 1980, Deputy Molloy might like to know, four cadets were appointed. The fact is that female personnel in the Defence Forces are not asked to participate in all the activities that male members are asked to participate in. In other words, they are non-combatant personnel and because of the demands made on the male members at the request of the civil power, for example, in relation to Border duty, escort of cash, explosives and so on — areas in which female members have not traditionally participated and activities in which they are not called to participate — I am advised that the Defence Forces are fully stretched to keep the services going. That must be taken into consideration when we are considering the admission of female members. I have no rooted objection to or antagonism towards this concept and should like to be in a position to have more female members in the Defence Forces, but we have a basic problem. As the Deputy knows, initially a Women's Corps were established in the Army but they were disestablished because of difficulties which arose relating to size and the actual administration of the corps itself.

When the Bill was introduced into the Dáil to establish the Women's Corps in the Army, a very long list of military duties of a non-combatant nature was drawn up, duties that could be very ably undertaken by the female members of the Defence Forces. There was agreement at that time among all parties that this measure should pass in the House.

That is not a question, it is a statement.

I have asked if that is not true. If the political will were there to enlist more female members, they would be enlisted. I suggest that the will is not there and this is a fault for which the Minister will have to accept the blame.

This is an area in which we should not play politics.

The fact is that pressures at the moment on the military are such that they are fully stretched to meet the demands made on their time and on personnel. If I had unlimited resources it would be an ideal situation where I could recruit female members who would not be involved in the combatant areas. I mentioned three areas in which the demands are very strenuous. Unfortunately for us, there is no diminution of these demands. If there were, we could then have a choice and allow for the admission of more female recruits into the military services.

A final supplementary.

I accept the Minister's personal credentials as to non-chauvinism. However, I would put it to him that the policy of this Government with regard to the admission of women into the Defence Forces is a sham, like so many of their other policies. The numbers speak for themselves. Surely it is indictive of a climate of opinion which says "When economic times are bad, women go home".