Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Defence Forces Strength.

Michael Creed

Question:

5 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether sufficient personnel are available in the Defence Forces to respond to requests for UN duties in view of the reduction in overall numbers in the force.

On 1 June 1994 there was a total of 13,003 personnel, serving in the Permanent Defence Force, an increase of 320 since 1 January 1994. I am satisfied that this number is adequate to enable the force to carry out all of its allotted tasks including participation in United Nations missions in the cause of international peace.

Is it not the case that Army numbers are under strength.

There is a point of view that establishment should be in the region of 18,000 but an efficiency audit group examination of the Defence Forces is ongoing. An in-depth analysis of the role of the Defence Forces is taking place in the climate of current needs and requirements. I do not want to pre-empt the deliberations of the efficiency audit group. On the contrary, this group was set up by the Taoiseach and the group will report to him in due course. I have no doubt the Taoiseach and his officials will closely scrutinise the observations of that group of individuals.

Years ago the establishment was 18,000. It is now down to 13,000. We have to examine the role of the Defence Forces in the context of modern requirements. There is no question that modern requirements are demanding. Our role in peacekeeping is spread over many locations. There are 832 members of the permanent Defence Forces serving overseas in various locations including Lebanon, Somalia, Cyprus, the Middle East, former Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, Western Sahara, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have personnel at the United Nations in New York, the CSCE in Vienna and the CSCE in Georgia. We also have the problem of the Border and our role as facilitators in aid of the civil power, namely, the Garda Síochána. Taking account of all of those, the Defence Forces have a lot on their hands, not to mention the Naval Service and the Air Corps.

I agree fully with the Minister's final comment that the Defence Forces have a lot in their hands. If one were to concede that the present levels are even reasonably adequate, and if we respond favourably—as we have done previously — to requests for peace-keeping or peace enforcement troops, could the State be put at some security risk? If troops are to be sent abroad, they must be taken off duties here. The Minister has already outlined the many important tasks that are being performed within the State, and if troops are to be sent abroad while the levels are so low, would that not create internal security problems?

There was an induction of 500 personnel into the Defence Forces in the recent past. I would like to continue recruiting people into the Defence Forces while I hold this portfolio. It would be my intention to await the findings of the efficiency audit group. It would know my views in relation to the need to maintain an efficient, strong, well prepared group of people, whether they be in the Army, the Naval Services or the Air Corps. The Air Corps sea and air rescue service has done heroic work and continues to do so. The Naval Service carries out tremendous work in fisheries protection and I have already referred to the aid to the civil power, the Garda Síochána. The war against drugs trafficking continues apace. These are all areas, where we want an efficient and mobile Army, Naval Service and Air Corps and I believe we have that. However, we must await the findings of the efficiency audit group and take whatever action may be necessary in the context of their deliberations.