Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Establishment and Strength of Permanent Defence Force.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

8 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Defence if he will give the establishment level of each of the sections of the Defence Forces and the actual current levels; the total number of persons on waiting lists for recruitment; if his attention has been drawn to the recent call by PDFORRA for the recruitment of 5,000 additional personnel; his response to this call; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

24 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he has any plans to recruit extra numbers of the Defence Forces given projected future demands and in view of recent or pending legislative changes.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 24 together. Details of the establishment and strength of the Permanent Defence Force as at 30 April 1993 are as follows:

Establishment

Strength

Army

15,463

10,763

Air Corps

1,237

1,025

Naval Service

1,266

1,003

At present there are about 11,000 names on lists of those who wish to join the Permanent Defence Force. Down through the years the establishment figures have never been realised. They are notional figures and have no relevance to actual current requirements. The important figures in this respect are the strength figures, which are maintained at a sufficiently high level to enable the military authorities to carry out their allotted tasks at home and abroad.

As the House will be aware, a radical overhaul of the structures and systems of the Defence Forces is to be carried out under the aegis of the efficiency audit group. The first step in that exercise is a review of the roles of the Defence Forces and this is being actively pursued in consultation with the relevant interests, including the Select Committee on Legislation and Security.

It is clear from studies already undertaken that there are serious imbalances in the distribution and deployment of military personnel with the result that disproportionate numbers are employed on administration and clerical duties, in the running of stores, on cooking and mess duties and on maintenance work. The review which is being undertaken should result in the much more efficient use of the vast resources involved.

I thank the Minister for the information provided. I understand from the report of the PDFORRA Conference that recruitment ceased about three years ago. The figures provided by the Minister indicate that current figures are about 5,000 under the establishment figure. Recruitment is necessary in order to reduce the average age of the Defence Forces, which is quite high. How soon does he think recruitment can commence? I presume it can only commence when the review of the structures etc. and the roles has been completed.

Recruitment for general service during the past number of years was as follows: 1987, 465, including 21 Naval Service recruits; 1988; 1,012; 1989, 174; 1990, 894; 1991, 20 Naval Service recruits; 1992, 50 Naval Service recruits. Details of all the recruitment to the Permanent Defence Force in 1992 are as follows: 50 Naval Service recruits, 32 Army apprentices, 30 Air Corps apprentices, 15 Army cadetships, eight Air Corps cadetships, six Naval Service cadetships, four Naval Service apprentices and two medical officers. Department of Defence sanction is being sought for the recruitment of 36 Army apprentices and 30 Air Corps apprentices during 1993.

How soon will recruitment commence to the general service as distinct from apprentices?

From the figures I have given we will try to meet specific requirements and recruit accordingly. General recruitment of sizeable numbers is subject to budget constraints and would be considered in the light of the review. It would be my intention and that of the Minister to ensure that there would be no loss of personnel overall during the current year — in other words, that we would recruit in order to keep numbers at present levels. We will have to review the situation when the efficiency audit group report becomes available. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to indicate how soon that report will be made available but I can assure the Deputy it is receiving particular attention and is progressing.

I am sure the Minister is aware that some people see the Department of Defence as an easy target for expenditure cuts without thinking the issue through. Would the Minister agree that we are getting into a very dangerous position in the Defence Forces because of the age profile and particularly in the light of our accepting extra responsibility on UN missions? Would he agree in relation to peace enforcement that the UN have recommended that anybody who takes on that role should do so on a voluntary basis? Many of the members of the Defence Forces are married with children and are perhaps hesitant to get involved in peace enforcement. Is he satisfied that the numbers in aid of the civil power on Border duty are adequate and that members are not expected to serve long hours of duty over and above what would normally be expected of them?

A number of later questions deal with some of these points. The age profile is not at its optimum at present because of the lack of recruitment during the past number of years. It would be desirable to have a slightly lower age profile; but, having said that, what you lose in youth and vigour you may gain in experience. The change in the Defence (Amendment) Act will allow those currently serving to serve abroad on a voluntary basis. In regard to those on Border duty, I am informed that at present the Defence Forces have sufficient numbers to carry out the duties required.

The House is aware that we have an obligation to deal with questions addressed to the Minister for the Marine. I shall be coming to deal with such questions in about five minutes time. Question No. 10, please.