Private Members' Business. - Defence (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the House and, in particular, the Opposition Front Bench for us being able to take this legislation rather late at night. I understand the same facility will be afforded tomorrow evening. I thank them for facilitating us.

In the recent past, the business the Department of Defence has been dominated by the loss of hearing claims. Having regard to the huge financial implications for the taxpayer and the actual and potential damage to the Defence Forces arising from the claims, it remains the major priority issue for the Department. However, it is important to bear in mind that there are many other very important, positive developments taking place in the area.

One of the key developments currently taking place is the reorganisation of the Defence Forces. This is not something that is happening in Ireland alone. With the changing international environment, most countries are taking a hard look at their defence forces and the requirements for the future.

Arising from the changed international environment, the Government decided on 27 April 1993 that an up-to-date statement of roles for the Defence Forces should be drawn up and that, based on that revised statement, a radical overhaul of the Defence Forces should be undertaken under the aegis of the Efficiency Audit Group (EAG). The revised statement of roles was approved by Government on 21 September 1993.

On 3 July 1995, the then Government approved in principle the conclusions of the EAG — on foot of a detailed study undertaken by Price Waterhouse Management Consultants — on the need for major reform of the organisation and structure of the Defence Forces. The Government also decided to establish an implementation group to prepare a fully costed implementation plan which would detail the action to be taken over the following three years and which would be broadly compatible with the recommendations of the EAG.

The Defence Forces review implementation plan was subsequently approved by Government on 5 March 1996. It is important to point out that the implementation plan has the full backing of the military authorities. The implementation plan is the first part of the ongoing reform of the Defence Forces, which is expected to last ten years. The Defence White Paper will play an important part in setting the scene for future reorganisation.

Some of the major reforms being carried out as a result of the Defence Forces review implementation plan, 1996-1998, involve the reorganisation of the Defence Forces from a four command structure to a three brigade structure and an enhanced organisational and operational capability through larger unit sizes. There will be nine larger infantry battalions instead of the current 11 and there will be less top-heavy structures in place; a reduced manpower level to 11,500 and lower age profiles; and new career structures for officers and enlisted personnel.

In a nutshell, the main purpose of the implementation plan is to increase the teeth to tail ratio in the Defence Forces, to cut out layers of unnecessary administration and to have more troops available for operational duties.

One of the other recommendations contained in the implementation plan provides for the revision of the range of statutory duties of the Chief of Staff — in particular to give a new emphasis and focus to his responsibility for the effectiveness, efficiency, military organisation and economy of the Defence Forces — and the allocation of the duties of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General to two new appointments of Deputy Chief of Staff, one with responsibility for operational matters and the second for support matters. Having one person at the helm of the Defence Forces makes for a more streamlined management system.

The Bill will give legislative effect to these recommendations. The unique structure of primary and secondary legislation governing the Defence Forces also forms part of the background to the Bill. Based on the 1954 Defence Act and supplemented by an extensive set of Defence Force regulations, the purpose of this legal structure is to facilitate the Minister's control and regulate the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in every detail. However, in many ways, the 1954 Act reflects the priorities and concerns of another age with a major emphasis on procedural detail.

In the Defence Forces in recent years, a major effort has been devoted to blowing away the administrative cobwebs. Instead of formal regulation, many matters are now dealt with by simple administrative instructions issued by the military authorities, enabling a more creative and flexible approach to management. However, in the area of organisation, this effort has been stymied by the inflexibility of the 1954 Act with regard to organisation. At present, as Minister I am obliged to specify, by regulation, each and every appointment in each and every unit of the Defence Forces. Every time personnel are moved around, in theory I should make yet another amendment to the regulation, which is already a thick volume known as CS 4.

The Bill will introduce two major innovations in military management. Firstly, it will put in place a modern management structure along the lines outlined above as suggested by the EAG. Secondly, it will empower that management structure with the flexibility to manage effectively the manpower resources of the Defence Forces by removing the requirement for a major body of regulations.

Since the launch of the Strategic Management Initiative there has been a greater focus throughout the public service on clarifying lines of authority and accountability and on specifying clearly the objectives to be met. Clearly, the vesting of authority in senior public service managers must be balanced against the need to ensure that the position of the elected Government is not in any way eroded.

The organisational changes proposed in this Bill are grounded in this balanced approach. Where before there where three quasi-independent offices, now there will be a single integrated military headquarters with a single officer clearly in charge. The Bill also reflects the provisions of the Defence Forces review implementation plan adopted by the previous Government. Military command of the Defence Forces will remain with the Minister.

In many ways the Bill is technical in nature. In the course of its preparation many different issues concerning both the new management structure and the new approach to regulating the military organisation were raised. Senior military personnel have been intimately involved in this process and many of their suggestions have been incorporated in the Bill. In addressing all these issues, the expert advice of the parliamentary draughtsman's office has determined our approach. I would like to record my appreciation for its considerable assistance in clarifying many difficult legal issues where a layman might easily be led astray.

Sections 12 and 13 of the Defence Act, 1954, are the principal sections being amended. Section 12 of the 1954 Act provides for three principal military office holders and prescribes the terms and conditions attaching to these three appointments.

Section 13 of the 1954 Act establishes in the Department of Defence three principal military branches, the heads of which are the Chief of Staff, the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General. Under the terms of the Act, the Minister for Defence has assigned to each of them specified duties relating to the business of the Department of Defence. Each is directly responsible for and reports to the Minister on the performance of those duties. In addition. a co-ordinating role in relation to the business of the principal military branches of the Department has been delegated to the Chief of Staff.

In accordance with the implementation plan, the Bill provides that the existing three military branches of the Department of Defence will be replaced by a single military element to be known as Defence Forces Headquarters. The Chief of Staff will be the head of Defence Forces Headquarters and will be supported by the two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, one dealing with operational matters and the other with support matters.

The Chief of Staff will, as heretofore, be appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. He will be given the full range of duties heretofore assigned to the Chief of Staff, the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General. He will have responsibility for the overall management of the Defence Forces. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff, who will be appointed by the Government and to whom duties will be delegated by the Chief of Staff with the approval of the Minister, will report to the Chief of Staff and not directly to the Minister.

The Amendment Bill provides for the recommended designations and for the reorganisation of the duties of the existing three principal military office holders, for smooth transitional arrangements and for adaptations. The remaining sections of the Bill involve relatively minor changes and mainly provide for the replacement of the existing appointments of Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General with the appointments of Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) or Deputy Chief of Staff (Support), as the case may be.

As I said at the outset, the changes proposed in this Bill follow from the Price Waterhouse report on the Defence Forces in 1994. Since the adoption of the three year implementation plan in 1996, an excellent start has been made in rectifying the many deficiencies identified in the consultants' report. Through a voluntary early retirement scheme costing nearly £50 million, we have achieved a strength of 11,500. There has been substantial progress in reducing the number of medically unfit personnel. We have introduced a policy of continuous recruitment and a new manpower policy for enlisted personnel. In the case of officer promotions, progress has been made to a more merit based system.

Although these achievements represent major milestones along the path of reform, we must be mindful of the need to underpin our recent successes through longer term reform in the management structures. The present top level structure of the Defence Forces was designed to meet the needs of a bygone era. It was deliberately devised to ensure that no single military officer could exercise excessive authority and undermine the position of the Minister. Accordingly, each of the three autonomous branches was headed by an independent office holder reporting to the Minister with the Chief of Staff confined to exercising an unspecified co-ordinating role. However, while the command and management structures of the Defence Forces must be consistent with maintaining civil control of the military, we must also have regard to good management practices in the modern age.

In the course of its 1994 report, Price Waterhouse emphasised the importance of developing and strengthening a professional management ethos in the Defence Forces with a greater focus on the efficient and effective use of resources. In this context, the consultants highlighted the unusually cumbersome arrangements at headquarters where three nominally independent office holders report separately to the Minister. When this matter came before the then Government, a more conventional and centralised approach was endorsed with a single officer, the Chief of Staff, to be empowered to act as a chief executive. That approach has been adopted in this Bill.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Defence Forces face many challenges. We are, both nationally and internationally, facing momentous changes in the security landscape. That means there must be a process of adjustment and change and new management structures for the Defence Forces. This Bill begins to address that issue.

We need new management structures in the Defence Forces and a new vision of their role in the millennium. We need to be clear about their military requirements and the range of other roles the Defence Forces will undertake and we must be willing to support them. If we want a comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, discussion on the future of the Defence Forces, it is absolutely essential that the Price Waterhouse report on the Naval Service and Air Corps is published immediately. The Minister also needs to publish the White Paper which he promised to do on taking office but which he has not yet done.

I am concerned that the Air Corps is in decline and facing an uncertain future. There is serious underfunding in the Naval Service as well. The Army has been waiting for this legislation which was recommended by the Price Waterhouse report and the EAG's report. However, the deafness compensation controversy and the way it has been handled has seriously undermined the Defence Forces and left them open to ridicule. It is worth noting that the Judiciary is independent. We are discussing this Bill against a background of deep uncertainty about how these issues will play out in the courts and the final cost to the Exchequer. It is questionable whether the deafness compensation issue can be resolved in the courts. If the impact on the economy is approximately £1 billion, as has been stated, then serious political decisions will have to be taken on how the issue is managed and alternative solutions put in place.

I condemn the various spins put on a number of individual cases in the newspapers. While it was inevitable that a claim of this size would attract huge attention, some of the reporting of various court cases and the misinformation given from whatever source have been damaging and have not helped the morale of the Defence Forces. It is against that backdrop that we are discussing this legislation.

It is clear the solution to the problem will be part medical, part legal, part military and part civil. We must try to find a solution and there must be further consultation with all concerned. The issue must be addressed on a comprehensive basis which is fair to the taxpayer and the individual claimants who have a right to go to court. It is unfortunate that the Army should find itself alienated from the people, particularly as it has developed a good reputation over the years.

There is no doubt there is a need for comprehensive planning as we move towards the millennium. The deafness compensation issue has made this all the more urgent. This overview is essential if we are to have the efficient, mobile and effective Defence Forces envisaged in the reports.

The Defence Forces have a key role to play internationally given our experience of peace-keeping and the range of services provided in the non-military services area. However, if we are to continue to play a role in peacekeeping and peace enforcement as we have done in the past, we must provide the necessary training, equipment and opportunities. It is important that we do not fall behind in this area given our expertise and the great potential we have to contribute to this changing international landscape where peace enforcement will be the key.

Our Defence Forces are also involved in fishery protection, providing aid to the civil power, tackling the importation of drugs and in search and rescue. This State has the second largest but most poorly policed sea area in Europe. Environmental pollution is a serious problem. The Defence Forces have a role to play in this area which we must prioritise more than we have done in the past.

We must ask how staff can be attracted to the Naval Service or the Air Corps where there is much uncertainty, underfunding and lack of planning for the future. The Price Waterhouse report must be published and we must draft an implementation plan based on that if we do not want these services to deteriorate. Overriding all this is the definition of the military requirement of the Defence Forces in the new millennium. I regret the Minister has missed an opportunity to introduce a comprehensive Defence (Amendment) Bill to this House. Major administrative issues cannot be dealt with until this report is published and available for debate and discussion.

I am concerned that deputy Chiefs of Staff will not be appointed by the President. I ask the Minister to outline to the House the reason for this change and I hope he will be able to do so on Committee Stage tomorrow. I ask him to reconsider it before it is passed in the House. It is appropriate that senior members of the Defence Forces are appointed by the President. This recognises the special role of the Defence Forces and their status in the country.

The changes outlined in the Bill have been recommended in the Price Waterhouse report and the EAG's report. We need more streamlined management in the Defence Forces which is what this Bill is attempting. However, there is a need to establish a headquarters for the different wings of the Defence Forces if we are to plan properly for an effective and efficient Defence Forces. More senior personnel from the Naval Service and the Air Corps should be involved in the headquarters of the Defence Forces. The Minister should address this issue.

It is equally clear, among the other administrative changes that need to be made, that each of these services should have overall control of their budgets. When I meet members of the Defence Forces they tell me they are extremely irritated by the lack of discretion they have to plan within their own areas at a budget or administrative level. I welcome section 5 which is an important part of this legislation. It takes away the oppression of very detailed regulations which, as the Minister said, were perhaps more appropriate at another time, but are not appropriate now. It is important that decision-making should be at a more local level and there is more flexibility for people to respond to changing needs in the forces. The legislation does not address the question of a single military commander for the Defence Forces. My colleague, Deputy Timmins, will address this issue further. The original report comments on that and makes some recommendations which this legislation does not address.

I would like the Minister to clarify how the Public Service Management Act, 1997, interacts with the provisions of this Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister spelt out the authority held by the Secretary General of the Department. If the Minister for Defence has a statutory role and cannot delegate other than to military officers in command of the Defence Forces, in the absence of an amendment will he outline in detail the control that is vested in the Secretary General of his Department? Is there a danger the Public Service Management Act unwittingly unravels other statutory provisions in place in regard to the Defence Forces?

The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the reorganisation of top level structures of the Defence Forces. I oppose the reduction in status and the attempt to make it easier for a Government to terminate appointments of the deputy chiefs of staff and the departure from appointment by the President. Will the Minister clarify if the new deputy chiefs of staff will be members of the Council of Defence?

It is clear from the studies done and from what members of the forces are saying that undoubtedly substantial reform is still necessary. This Bill moves in that direction, but the question of the allocation of resources to the Defence Forces also needs to be addressed. This is a time of great change for the Defence Forces and yet there is a great opportunity for them to carry out the range of services I addressed earlier, but that will take planning, the implementation of the recommendations of the implementation report and whatever emerges from the Price Waterhouse review of the Naval Service and the Air Corps.

The changes the Bill recommends will be welcomed by the Defence Forces with the exceptions I mentioned. There will be concerns about some of those changes and they should be discussed further in committee. This is part of what needs to be done in planning for the future of the Defence Forces, but there are many outstanding challenges that need to be addressed if we are to move into the new millennium with Defence Forces which have the capacity, resources and ability to carry out the tasks we want them to carry out in an efficient and effective way.

I am not in favour of thestatus quo. The present position is unsatisfactory. I am in favour of change and a culture of change, but I am not in favour of change for the sake of change. It is wasteful of resources, time, human effort and leadership and it would result in a further erosion of morale and is damaging.

The explanatory memorandum states the Bill's main purpose is to amend the Defence Act, 1954, to give legislative effect to the reorganisation of the top level structure of the Defence Forces. A good deal of time, effort and study has been put into examining how best the Defence Forces might move forward. There is very little conflict between all the reports in that they recognise that major change is required as a matter of urgency.

The Price Waterhouse review of the Defence Forces states that the extent of change required is quite mammoth in proportions and it will not be introduced overnight. However, there is one major shortcoming which the Minister has failed to address and a selective approach has been adopted as to what measure should be taken. There is a perception abroad that the chief of staff is the overall commanding officer of the Defence Forces, but it will come as a surprise to most people to discover this is not true. Military command of the Defence Forces under the direction of the President is exercisable by the Government through and by the Minister for Defence. Military command is delegated by the Minister to the general officers commanding the four territorial commands, the eastern, southern, western and the Curragh, the general officer commanding the Air Corps and the flag officer commanding the Naval Service. These personnel are responsible to the Minister for the exercise of command.

An article published in today'sIrish Independent dealing with this legislation states that the legislation intends to make the chief of staff of the Defence Forces solely responsible for military affairs, but this is not correct. There is no overall commanding officer of the Defence Forces other than the Minister. This will still be the case if and when this Bill is passed. Section 4(2) does not address this problem. The Price Waterhouse report states this could be addressed in two ways by making the chief of staff the overall commander of the Defence Forces reporting to the Minister or by continuing to have three principal military officers, albeit with different titles and functions, reporting to the Minister. This Bill does not do either. The report also states, and I agree with its recommendation, that the optimum route, having regard to sound management practice, would be to have the chief of staff as the overall commander of the Defence Forces. Such a model would provide a single focus for the restructuring of the organisation, provide a more rational management hierarchy and enable authority, responsibility and accountability for the performance of delegated functions to be clearly specified.

I hope this issue will be considered in the promised White Paper. While there are sound reasons for creating the organisational structures we have today, as mentioned in the Minister's speech, the time has come to consider radical change.

It must be recognised that the Bill addresses certain matters. Section 3 deals with the abolition of the appointments of adjutant general and quarter master general. The new roles for deputy chiefs of staff operations and support should make the organisation more efficient. Our present system of the three military officers with the chief of staff as the first among equals is to the best of my knowledge unique to this country. The section also deals with the method of appointment and the Minister is seeking to change this.

Regarding the Price Waterhouse report, Mr. Kelly, in a covering letter to the chairman of the EAG group, when referring to the changes, stated that during the implementation it will be vital to retain the confidence and co-operation of the military authorities in making a radical overhaul of the Defence Forces. I do not believe there is any necessity to make changes as proposed in section 3 paragraphs (c) and (b). Why is the Minister considering this route?

The symbolic nature of the present method of appointment is important. At a time when the Defence Forces feel under threat from all sections of society, I ask the Minister to table an amendment as his present proposal can only be seen as downgrading the new appointments and an effort to bring them into a political arena of sorts. If the Minister follows this route, it will have a devastating effect on morale which will quickly filter down to the end of the line. There is no requirement for such a measure. It can only be harmful and the Minister should not let anybody tell him otherwise.

Section 5 will abolish the present CS4 and enable the military to commence the reorganisation of the various units, the Minister referred to this at length. There is much uncertainty in many areas about how this will impact and I hope there will be an early release of information to those sectors which are concerned about it. It is an enabling section and it is welcome.

Section 6 passes the responsibility of dealing with a redress of wrongs from the Adjutant-General to the Chief of Staff. This procedure has been a protective safeguard to the rights of the individual and I am sure it will remain so.

With respect to section 9, will the new Deputy Chiefs of Staff be members of the Council of Defence — my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald has already referred to this? If so, has the Minister any plans for the council to meet to discuss other reforms?

There is a general lack of knowledge in all sections of society with respect to the structures and workings of the Defence Forces. This is not helped by the fact that the printing and notice of publication of the Defence Forces Regulations was dispensed with by direction of the Attorney General under the provisions of sections 2(3) of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1947. I would appreciate it if the Minister could take up this point with the Attorney General.

The Minister stated that the Chief of Staff will be the head of the Defence Forces headquarters. However, he will not be the overall commander of the Defence Forces. He states he will have responsibility for the overall management of the Defence Forces. What exactly does that mean? The Minister mentioned that the previous Government had looked at the position of the Chief of Staff and that it wished him to be empowered to act as chief executive. The present role of the Chief of Staff is not one of chief executive.

The Minister stated that the changes proposed in this Bill follow from the Price Waterhouse report on the Defence Forces in 1994. Certainly, that report refers to many of them, but it is amazing the different conclusions one can draw from a report. I disagree with the Minister on several of its more important aspects.

This Bill only tinkers with the system without introducing any real, substantial reform. It is premature and inappropriate in advance of the promised publication of a White Paper on Defence. A full debate is required on all aspects of Defence which addresses comprehensively all the issues.

I compliment the Minister on the launch of the two medals yesterday at the opening of the peace-keeping exhibition in the former Collins Barracks. He mentioned during his fine speech that we are proud of Ireland's overseas record. He went on to mention the contribution Ireland makes to the humanitarian aspect of such missions in orphanages, schools, etc. Bearing that in mind, I want the Minister to increase the funding which is given to the battalions overseas for local welfare matters. I am sure he will address that in a positive manner.

The Labour Party welcomes in principle the publication of this Bill. It is relatively straightforward legislative reform which is designed to update the Defence Act, 1954, and put in place a more rational management structure at the top level of the Defence Forces. In this respect the Bill is welcome.

However, this Bill is being introduced at one of the most critical times in the history of the Defence Forces. The public concern over the Army deafness compensation claims and the effect the whole saga has had on Army morale is the most critical challenge facing the Defence Forces and the Minister. The scale of this controversy is such that I believe there is an obligation on Members, particularly those who have responsibility for the Defence portfolio, to raise it with the Minister at every opportunity.

In the context of the Bill, the Minister's intentions regarding Army deafness are relevant. Any organisational reform of the Army must be designed to improve both morale and performance of the Defence Forces. However, as long as the Army deafness saga casts a shadow over Army morale, the institutional and organisational reform introduced in this Bill will not achieve the benefits it is intended to bring. I will return to this matter later.

The Minister outlined the thinking behind the new headquarters structure and the creation of new Deputy Chief of Staff posts. These developments are welcome and will provide the Defence Forces with more rational administrative and operational structures. It has often been stated by commentators that the structure of the Defence Forces headquarters is related to the establishment of the State and the legitimate fears at that time of a possiblecoup d'état. The experience of the Curragh mutiny of 1924 clearly influenced thinking on this matter. The division of powers between the Chief of Staff, the Quartermaster General and the Adjutant-General is directly related to this experience and it is right and proper that we should now amend the legislation to fashion a new structure for the Defence Forces.

The genesis of this Bill is the report of the Efficiency Audit Group, which the previous Government accepted in July 1995. An implementation group to consider the costs of restructuring and other related matters was established and this process has now been brought to a conclusion by the Minister with the introduction of the Bill. However, a number of questions arise regarding this Bill which I hope the Minister will be in a position to clarify when he replies. The Bill does not refer to the structures governing the Air Corps or the Naval Service. However, from newspaper reports in recent days, it is clear that the Price Waterhouse review suggests greater independence for both the Naval Service and the Air Corps. This Bill makes no reference to these recommendations although the matter is due to be discussed at Cabinet. Is this Bill an interim measure and does the Minister intend to introduce a more substantial Bill which will radically reform the Defence Forces?

Perhaps, in replying, the Minister will give us some insight into his thoughts on the contents of the Price Waterhouse review. Does he agree with the recommendations regarding increased independence for the Air Corps and the Naval Service? Does he accept the re-equipment plan proposed in that review and is the Government prepared to put the recommended investment in place? Will he implement the decentralisation of both the Naval Service and the Air Corps that the review suggested? I would appreciate answers on these points.

While I know that some of the Minister's colleagues would be inclined to delay an announcement on the relocation of the Naval Service to Haulbowline until a certain electoral contest in Cork is under way, I hope the Minister will not allow his decisions regarding the structure of the Defence Forces to be influenced in this way.

The Deputy has given the Minister an idea.

I am not political enough for the Deputy.

It is not in the interests of the Naval Service for the message to go out that reform of that institution is reliant on the vagaries of electoral politics. Such a move would do a disservice to the Naval Service and the Minister, who is committed to rational reform of the Defence Forces. I hope his party colleagues take notice of this point.

There is also an issue affecting the Air Corps which I wish to raise with the Minister. Perhaps the Minister might confirm whether it is true that the State is currently employing voluntary military personnel, such as ex-RAF and US Air Force members, to fly the Gulf Stream jet. Is it true that despite the fact that there are currently 12 NCOs trained to fly the jet, they are prohibited from doing so because they are not commissioned officers? If this is the case, it strikes me as bizarre and wasteful. Not only is it incurring unnecessary expense on the Air Corps budget, it is also frustrating the career development of Air Corps pilots. Time and again in this House the Minister has outlined his difficulties regarding the retention of trained pilots in the Air Corps and the fact that he is unable to compete with offers made by the civil aviation sector. However, if it is true that the career development of Air Corps pilots is restricted, as I have outlined above, is it any wonder that pilots get frustrated at their role in the Air Corps? I want the Minister to respond to this point and indicate the urgent steps he will take to rectify the situation.

I also want the Minister to outline the status of the Council of Defence. As I understand it, this body has not met officially for a number of years. I am surprised that a Bill such as this does not seriously look at the relevance of such a body and propose reform for it as it is clear it has little relevance to the operation and organisation of our Defence Forces.

The Bill does not address courts martial procedures. This is a serious omission. The United Kingdom procedures have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of impartiality and the role of the Judge Advocate. The British Government has promised to introduce new legislation to make the process more independent. Have these judgments been examined in relation to the Defence Act, 1954, and is further amending legislation required to address the matter?

The Bill fails to address the commitment given in the White Paper on Foreign Affairs published in 1997 to ratify the UN Convention on the Protection of UN Personnel Overseas which penalises actions taken against UN servicemen and women. RACO and PDFORRA have called on the Government to ratify the convention but it has taken no action on this front. In that respect this legislation represents a missed opportunity.

While the Bill deals with the reorganisation of top level management structures in the Defence Forces, it is appropriate to dwell on other ranks. The new management structure proposed must have a tangible effect on the operation of the Defence Forces at all levels. The Minister will be aware of my ongoing concern regarding the Army apprenticeship school at Devoy Barracks in Naas. Many members of the Defence Forces are concerned about its future. I appreciate the close co-operation between the school and Kildare VEC and the valuable training provided. I am, however, seriously concerned about its decline. It would be a great loss to the Defence Forces and the community at large. The time has come for the Minister to look radically at the operation of the school in a broader context.

In the past State companies were the driving force behind the apprenticeship system. That is no longer the case and the number of apprentices in semi-State companies such as CIE, the ESB and Bord na Móna has dropped considerably. Across the State sector there is much duplication and little co-ordination in the training of apprentices. The time has come for the Minister, in association with his Cabinet colleagues, to look seriously at this situation.

There is a strong case for streamlining the apprenticeship system and establishing a national scheme based at Devoy Barracks. There are a wide variety of skills that are common to many trades. These skills, for a large number of apprentices, could be taught at Devoy Barracks, avoiding costly duplication throughout the system. Apprentices could return at the end of the second year to their sponsoring company to fine tune their skills to meet the specific requirements of their profession.

I ask the Minister to give consideration to a proposal along these lines. We need imaginative solutions to the problems facing the Defence Forces. We should move beyond the limits we have imposed on co-operation between the Defence Forces and other elements of the State sector.

The purpose of the Bill is to reorganise top level management structures of the Defence Forces leading to a more coherent and effective performance. There are genuine doubts, however, about the effect of such reform while the shadow of deafness claims hangs over the Army. The Minister has taken a number of steps to resolve this complex problem. The Opposition has closely scrutinised his proposals every step of the way. This is right and proper. I hope he will agree the Opposition has not attempted to turn this serious problem into a political football or vainly tried to score cheap political points.

There have been significant developments in recent weeks which have not been discussed in the House other than in an Adjournment debate sought by Deputy Fitzgerald and me on 18 June. The Minister's strategy has unravelled. Following the judgment in the first case to be heard following the enactment of the Civil Liability (Assessment of Hearing Injury) Bill he claimed that a compensation standard of £1,500 per 1 per cent hearing loss had been established by the court. He took steps to establish a compensation tribunal on this basis. It is clear that this was extremely premature and that not all the relevant facts were addressed in that judgment, particularly in relation to the age of a claimant as demonstrated in subsequent cases.

In his reply to the Adjournment debate on 18 June the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, on behalf of the Minister, said that a further major test case would be prepared in the near future to address the issues that had arisen. What progress has been made since then? Does the Minister believe the establishment of a tribunal based on the figure of £1,500 per 1 per cent hearing loss is still tenable or has he reviewed his stance on this matter?

This legislation institutes welcome, if modest, reform of the Defence Forces. The Minister, however, has been overly conservative and has missed an excellent opportunity to address a number of key organisational issues that will have to be dealt with. As such, the Bill, while welcome in principle, fails to impress or inspire confidence. Its impact on the Defence Forces will be determined greatly by developments in the Army deafness claims saga. I urge the Minister to fashion a comprehensive solution to achieve three basic aims — to protect the taxpayer and the Defence Forces' budget from bogus claims; to ensure those genuinely suffering from a disability as a result of negligence are adequately compensated; and, most important, to restore morale and bring to an end the near constant barrage of abuse and humiliation that has been unjustly hurled at Defence Forces' members.

I wish to share time with Deputy Power.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The aims of the Bill are straightforward, they are, to reorganise top level management structures in the Defence Forces; to streamline the chain of command; and to abolish two military branches. Under section 4 there will be only one military element presided over by the Chief of Staff to be known as Defence Forces headquarters. This is in line with the recommendations of the Efficiency Audit Group which were approved by Government and whose findings were referred to an implementation group to be costed. As a result of this exercise it is necessary to amend the Defence Act, 1954.

Section 5 amends the regulations to prescribe the overall strength of the Defence Forces and the number of personnel in each rank. This is a matter on which I am anxious to seek clarification. It has connotations of barracks closures. Does the reduction of the Defence Forces command structure to a single unit mean there will be a corresponding reduction in the overall number of barracks? This is a sensitive issue in County Cork. Many officers and privates are deeply concerned at the rumours circulating in the three barracks located there.

Collins Barracks in Cork city which is situated on 52 acres of land has a total strength of nearly 900. Ballincollig Barracks is situated on 150 acres while Fermoy Barracks is situated on 12 acres. All three are in poor structural condition. There has been minimal investment over the past 30 years. Major investment is required to raise standards to those obtaining in Dublin and along the Border with which they compare unfavourably. The working and accommodation areas leave much to be desired. The living areas at Collins Barracks may have been up to standard at the time of Queen Victoria while some of the working areas would be condemned under the Factories Act if it applied.

The 1996 restructuring plan for the Defence Forces contained a commitment to review barracks as part of the rationalisation plan. This is to take place during the period July to September 1998. I am advised that two barracks in the Cork area were identified as likely candidates for possible closure. I continue to believe this to be true despite the strong condemnation, by the Army and a Member of this House, of my public statement to that effect late last year. The two barracks to which I refer are located at Fermoy and Ballincollig.

Ballincollig Barracks, which has a staff of approximately 160 personnel, is situated on 150 acres of prime commercial land astride the town's business thoroughfare. I am led to believe the Army intends to close the barracks. Will the Chief of Staff, the Minister or the Government have the final say in this matter? I am informed that the Department's view is that the barracks because of its prime location is a valuable commercial property which greatly inhibits further and much needed commercial and amenity development in the town. The Department also believes that many of the personnel serving in Ballincollig, who live in the area between that town and Cork, would not be averse to serving in Collins Barracks. This would facilitate a relocation of the artillery unit in Ballincollig to Collins Barracks in Cork where there is room to provide the necessary additional facilities required. Such a relocation could be funded by the commercial use of the 150 acres on which the barracks is situated. I cannot say that I share the Department's view.

Fermoy Barracks, which houses a garrison of over 100, straddles the main road at the north end of Fermoy town. It is situated on 12 acres, with a large frontage on to the main road. Such is the poor state of the barracks' structure that it would be cheaper to build a new barracks. I am informed the timber buildings in the barracks are rotten and they were condemned almost 30 years ago. It is deplorable that soldiers are obliged to live in such poor conditions. The sale of the 12 acres in Fermoy would provide funding, in whole or in part, for the required building of a new infrastructure in the Kilworth Camp to accommodate personnel from Fermoy Barracks. For the information of Members, Kilworth Camp is located approximately four miles north of Fermoy which would mean that a relocation would cause minimum disruption to the members of the Defence Forces stationed in that town.

A substantial investment will be required to bring either Fermoy Barracks or Kilworth Camp up to acceptable modern standards. Indeed, a substantial investment is also required at Collins Barracks. In view of the restructuring of the top positions in the Army, is the Minister in a position to indicate the amount of capital funding which will be made available to the Chief of Staff to modernise Army barracks in the Cork area?

I have asked these questions, which are legitimate, because I must provide answers to my constituents and I am sure the Minister will be glad to reply to them. In the event that he is concerned, I assure the Minister that I intend to support the Bill.

That is a relief.

It is great to see such interest in defence matters, given that an important football match is being played this evening. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill because the House does not often discuss defence matters.

Previous speakers welcomed the Bill, partly because most parties were in Government in recent years and the legislation was not dreamt up in recent weeks. The reorganisation of the Defence Forces was discussed on a number of occasions in recent years and everyone recognises that they require a major overhaul. The Bill sets out to bring about a modern management structure, which is badly needed, and promotes a fresh approach to regulating the military organisation, which is a welcome development.

With regard to hearing impairment claims, an issue which has received a great deal of media attention in recent months, I pay tribute to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, who is the first holder of that office to tackle this problem in a serious fashion. A number of his predecessors saw hearing impairment claims as a difficult issue with which to deal and one to which there was no simple solution. It is a difficult problem and I acknowledge the Minister's tremendous efforts in attempting to resolve it. At the same time, however, we are not out of the woods yet. I would like to believe the problem is now manageable but that remains to be seen.

I found the media's interest in this issue somewhat strange. As a previous speaker stated, some unfortunate people who suffered hearing damage and who were entitled to take their cases to court were ridiculed in the media. I accept that a number of false claims were submitted and to a large extent those responsible must accept the blame for what happened. However, many decent members of the Army submitted claims and had every good reason to do so. From the outset I believed we should have devised a system where it would not be as expensive for soldiers or the Government to become involved in negotiating claims. That is what the Minister has tried to do and I hope he is successful.

We would be foolish if we did not recognise the damage this episode has done to the Army and the effect it has had on morale. From here on we must concentrate our efforts on trying to restore that morale. Each year the House has the opportunity to review the performance of the Defence Forces when the Minister reports on their overseas duties during the previous 12 months. It is only when a tragedy occurs that we realise the danger and difficulties encountered by members of the Defence Forces during their service overseas.

I am unhappy at the way soldiers and their families have been described in the media. A large number of Defence Forces personnel live and work in County Kildare and apart from their normal duties they play a tremendous role in terms of community and voluntary work in the county, which is much appreciated. Under the implementation plan, it was agreed that the Curragh would become the training ground for the Defence Forces. Unfortunately, I have not witnessed the construction of new structures or buildings or the arrival of new equipment. I am aware the implementation plan covers a ten year period and involves a process of ongoing reform. Soldiers recognise that it will not be easy and that they will be obliged to make sacrifices during that period. We must ensure they are not kept in the dark. It is important that PDFORRA and RACO be consulted in a meaningful way and informed about the action we intend to take.

Deputy O'Flynn is anxious to ensure the various barracks in County Cork to which he referred remain open. People can be parochial about this issue. However, if they consider it in a sensible fashion they will realise that details of a third voluntary retirement scheme were announced recently which will reduce the number of serving members in the Defence Forces and the layers of unnecessary administration and ensure that more troops become available for operational duties. That is a welcome development because we are trying to create a more efficient Defence Force. If we are going to do so, it will not be possible to retain a number of existing barracks. We are only kidding ourselves if we think that is possible. In the past Ministers have been reluctant to make their views known on the matter. However, people realise that some barracks will have to be closed. It is a sensitive issue because in many areas barracks provide employment and business, but the Minister should deal with it as quickly as possible.

In many cases the barracks are on valuable sites. The disruption caused by the closure of some barracks would not be great. However, whatever barracks are closed and sold we must ensure the proceeds of the sales are reinvested in the Army which suffers badly from a lack of new equipment and facilities. Deputy O'Flynn pointed out that some of the accommodation in which Army families live is deplorable.

Deputy Wall and others have made approaches to successive Ministers for Defence with regard to the sale of Army houses in the Curragh. I welcome the Minister's recent decision to sell the Orchard Park houses and give those living there an opportunity to own their homes. The Minister's approach is at once humanitarian and realistic and the families involved are appreciative of the opportunity they will have.

There is a difficulty with regard to the swimming pool in the Curragh. I understand it is planned to close it tomorrow because it cannot remain open for health and safety reasons. I ask the Minister to treat this matter as a priority. Apart from the Defence Force members and their families, many neighbouring schools use the pool. It is one of the few amenities in the area and it is used by hundreds of young people. Deputy Wall and I have been inundated with questions from constituents about its closure. A few years ago it closed for a period and we want to ensure that does not happen again. I ask the Minister to ensure that the work necessary to restore the pool to the required standard is undertaken so that it may reopen quickly.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister has not had an easy time during his period in office but he has taken his job seriously. I appeal to him to deal with the matters raised. The restructuring of the Defence Forces will bring benefits and will create problems. It is important that all members of the Defence Forces take ownership of the plan if it is to be a success and they should not be kept in the dark. As soon as decisions are made about their future the decisions should be communicated to them. That is the least they deserve.

I do not have an Army barracks in my constituency. It has been reduced geographically to such an extent that there is hardly room for one.

Is that the European constituency?

No, Dublin North-West. Nonetheless, a considerable number of Army personnel live in the constituency because there are military installations close by. There is a reasonable amount of interest in matters related to the Department of Defence among my constituents. I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister for the briefing given to us. It was helpful in understanding the complex way in which the Bill had to be presented.

It came as a surprise to me that the Quartermaster General and the Adjutant General are not answerable directly to the Chief of Staff but to the Minister. I was also surprised by Deputy Timmins's suggestion that those in charge of the regional areas are also answerable directly to the Minister. Perhaps the Minister might explain the procedures involved. Not many people areau fait with the command structure of the Army. People are generally happy to know that the Army is a well organised, credible force.

The recent controversy about the deafness issue has dented the Army's credibility. It has dented its morale and the vast majority of Defence Force members are appalled at what has happened in that regard. I do not criticise the way the Minister handled the issue. It is an issue on which, no matter what one does, one's actions are open to criticism. I do not say that the way in which it has been dealt with has been perfect but there is not a perfect way to deal with it. I hope a speedy resolution can be found and a nonjudicial or court-based process to deal with cases can be arrived at. We must protect those who have genuine claims and ensure they are compensated fairly when the claims are established. We must rule out those claims which are not valid.

In recent years the Army had drawn great credit on itself. It seemed to have developed a lot more respect than it had when I was growing up. It was my view that there was not much respect for the Army at that time. The role of the Defence Forces in peace-keeping in particular, the role of the Navy in fisheries protection and the role of the Air Corps in rescue work have added to the credibility and good standing of the Defence Forces. The deafness controversy has done serious damage to that good standing and it may be some time before that can be recovered.

I wish to refer to the non-publication of the Price Waterhouse review of the Defence Forces. It is a pity the report came to public attention and to the attention of the Defence Forces by way of leaks. It is not the first time that such leaks have occurred. It would make for a far better and more mature debate if these reports were made available as soon as they become available to the Department, following their due consideration by the Minister. There should be no further delay in the publication of that report.

Leaks of this kind are often selective. We are not sure whether the full recommendations have been leaked. In so far as they have, I would be particularly worried about any move towards the privatising of aspects of the Naval Service or indeed the Air Corps. I say that not for any ideological approach to private ownership or private services, but I feel very strongly that the Naval Service and the Air Corps should be accountable, through the Minister, to this House and they cannot be if services of this kind are hived off and privatised in any way. The figure which has been published — perhaps the Minister could confirm its accuracy — of a requirement of £235 million over ten years seems not an unduly burdensome investment in essential services. I hope, given the buoyancy within our taxation and in the revenue of the State, that investment will be made.

I was very much struck by an article by Lorna Siggins inThe Irish Times of 26 June 1998. I am sure the Minister has had it brought to his attention, not least because there are some words of praise for the Minister in it when she refers to his strength in dealing with difficult issues. She quotes a number of ratios for our Naval Service compared to other European countries. I was quite shocked by a sum she did in relation to the coverage of our territorial seas which showed that we have the equivalent of two Garda squad cars for the whole State covering our territorial seas. That is grossly inadequate. She points out that drug runners find it 20 times easier to access European waters through the Irish maritime corridor than through any other corridor through which they might seek access. Obviously such statistics strengthen the Minister's arguments at European level in seeking assistance for protecting our waters. Apart from that aspect, we have an enormously rich resource in the seas around our island and they are not being adequately developed. I do not know the fishery statistics but I am quite certain that significantly more fish is taken from the waters over which we have control by ships and boats from other countries than are taken out of it by Irish boats. We need to do two things — first, to protect those waters adequately, and second to adequately develop our fishery fleet to make sure that we are properly developing that resource.

I do not agree with some speakers who argue that this Bill should not have been brought forward or suggested that it might not have been brought forward until we had a White Paper. I appreciate that it would be far neater and better if we had a White Paper on which to base legislation of this kind so that there would be a logical sequence to the changes. I know, however, that it is quite a major task to produce a White Paper on any aspect of Government work and it would be a pity to delay obvious reforms such as this one pending a more general policy paper. That is not to say that we do not need a White Paper on the Defence Forces. It would be useful if the Minister indicated when we can expect the promised White Paper.

I agree too with section 5 which makes it possible for the Minister to dispense with the necessity to nominate or to make various appointments and regulations with regard to size of units and so on. I imagine that kind of over regulation and minute overseeing by the Minister of the day probably derived from the early days of the State — the mutiny in the Curragh in l924 was mentioned. I am sure that is what gave rise to the carryover. It would be interesting to know why the Government of the day, as late as l954, felt that it was necessary to have that kind of extraordinarily detailed control over appointments at very low levels.

My final point relates to a report that the Defence Forces may need to detail or order technical staff to take up positions in the Lebanon and elsewhere. There was a report that there was difficulty in getting sufficient medical orderlies, truck drivers and cooks and it was suggested that the reserve forces might be used or, alternatively, that people might be contracted from the private sector to do this type of work much as private doctors are contracted on yearly contracts where there is an inadequate supply. Some representatives in the Defence Forces raised objections to the idea of the reserve Defence Forces being used in this way because they feared what they referred to as "yellow pack" abuse of those positions. I would much rather see the reserve Defence Forces used in this way. It seems rather demeaning to our reserve force to say that they are not fit for or capable of doing this work or that their training could not be upgraded to do that work. In consultation with the representative bodies of the Defence Forces it should be possible to ensure that the terms and conditions of employment are no less satisfactory than those for the Defence Forces. The objections of the regular Defence Forces, if I might refer to them as such, may be self-serving there. If I were a member of the Defence Forces in the Lebanon, I would be much happier to have a member of the FCA drive me than a private civilian driver, because I would know that person would have at least a minimum training in Army matters. It would give a boost to our reserve forces to be involved in this way. Obviously any move in that direction would require consultation and agreement with the Defence Forces representative bodies.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to make those points.

I thank all of my colleagues for what was a very positive debate. There was warm praise for the Defence Forces, the Navy and the Air Corps, which I greatly appreciate. I acknowledge the concerns expressed about the effect of the whole deafness saga, either on credibility or morale, as far as the Defence Forces are concerned. I am conscious of the need to resolve this matter quickly and fairly and to move it away from the glare of publicity.

This is not the first time Deputy Fitzgerald has inferred a spin on these stories. I reject that, if it has any implication for either myself or the Department because it is something that is being put about by some of the representative organisations.

In fairness, if 12,000 claimants come forward over a very short period, and if the court awards are different from those anywhere else in the world, and if a huge percentage have, by any criterion, minor disabilities, it is a matter of public interest and one to which the public will attach importance. If court hearings are taking place every day in this city, Cork and Limerick, it is impossible to have an ongoing debate without concentrating on something like that.

Nonetheless, I am conscious of the need to bring this matter to a head. I would like to be in a position to put in place an army compensation board by the autumn where we would have an affordable quantum that is fair to the taxpayer and fair to those who have been injured.

As other Deputies have said, it is a pity this problem has coincided with a tremendous chapter in the history of the Defence Forces, the Navy and the Air Corps, particularly in terms of peace-keeping, humanitarian tasks and rescue operations in various parts of the world. I thank Deputy Timmins for his comments about yesterday's ceremony. It was very nice to meet some of the people who served in the Congo and hear them say they are happy this has happened for their colleagues. That history is tremendous for a small country like ours in our relationship with other countries, the experience gained by the military personnel, the team work that is involved and in finding out one's strengths and weaknesses.

I want to put matters into this context. The vast majority of serving and retired soldiers have not made any claim. My job is to ensure that everybody who has worn the uniform with distinction does not get hurt. The best way to do that is to put in place an affordable and fair system which deals with people genuinely injured but does not pay out huge sums to those who have minor disabilities.

As far as the Price Waterhouse report on the Navy and Air Corps is concerned, I expect it to come before the Government on 8 July. It will be published before the end of July and I will ensure there is a good public debate on it. We will then proceed to have an implementation plan and seek to put that plan in place.

Deputy De Rossa referred to an article by Lorna Siggins. In the early part of that article she referred to my record in the Department of the Environment which I was happy to consign to history. In the marginal constituency I represent I am not anxious to see it paraded in front of me every time I try to do something. There has been an unnecessary delay. The previous Government felt the first Price Waterhouse report was not comprehensive enough and it asked the company to carry out a more detailed analysis of the problems and come forward with the final report. It carries out its own research and it comes to the Government through the Taoiseach's office. The memorandum has been prepared and circulated and the report is expected to come before us on 8 July.

It is important to record that there will be no compulsory redundancies. There are permanent positions. Many engineering, infrastructural and other investments are being made in Baldonnel. We had the opportunity to see Ms Brogan get her wings and I send warmest congratulations to her on being the first woman to achieve that. We will seriously examine how we can continue that development. We are in the process of purchasing a new fishery protection vessel. It is currently being built and will be commissioned in August 1999.

I realise there is a vast expanse of water to be patrolled and that we will not solve all the problems overnight but we must look to a systematic way of addressing fishery surveillance and also drug interdiction in the context of international crime. We may not be in a position to do everything but with the resources we have there have been some spectacular successes involving links with Garda activities and the drug squad as well as the support we give to Garda surveillance which the Deputy will be familiar with in respect of at least one part of his constituency.

I was delighted to hear Deputy Timmins use the expression "a cultural change". We are dealing with many outmoded and outdated rules and the essence of this Bill is to loosen up those rules. As far as manpower management is concerned, there will not be any inflexibility. The intention is to give more to Army management. This year, up to £60 million will be given to various areas to allow them purchase, delegate or do the work themselves. There has been change in the catering, rationing and other areas. I want to see greater autonomy throughout the system but the Price Waterhouse report will refer to efficiencies corresponding with that. It is not good enough to demand the power to do everything. We have to ensure that there is efficiency and that we are modernised on every front.

Deputy De Rossa thought there might be a political aspect to the change that is proposed in terms of appointments by the Government. Deputy De Rossa has been a member of Government and he will be aware that when people are being appointed to responsible posts like that, nominations are brought forward by successive Governments on the basis that they are the best people for the job. That is all I would have in mind and I certainly would not accuse any of my predecessors in that regard. If there is a serious task to be undertaken, the last thing anyone thinks about is the political aspect. I give every possible assurance on that matter.

I would like to see greater autonomy with responsibility. I shudder sometimes at the amount of regulation that exists, the cumbersome and burdensome systems we have imposed on ourselves. We need to consider those in the context of the White Paper. This is a short Bill dealing with headquarters, streamlining the system and making way for the three brigade systems to be put in place. I accept the point made by Deputy De Rossa that it will not be possible to wait for the White Paper. I gave a commitment on coming to office that a White Paper would be published within one year, but that has not proved possible.

A good deal of preliminary work has been done. An expert in my Department has been delegated to working on this matter full time. We will invite submissions very soon by public advertisement from the representative associations and others. We will have discussions with the representative associations on how we can help them address the key issues. A White Paper will deal with the longer term platform for development and it will equally deal with the mid-term review of the present position.

Consultations must take place with the Department of Foreign Affairs in terms of our peace-keeping requirements. We have upgraded the equipment in this area. We will get our first tranche of armoured personnel carriers next year which will provide greater flexibility to take on tasks that were not possible previously and ensure the safety of troops, which is uppermost in our mind. Discussions must also take place with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on national security issues, the peace process and how it will affect the work of the Defence Forces, the locations involved and what the personnel who are no longer required will do. All those issues will emerge over time. Deputy De Rossa believes it will take time to finalise those matters, and that probably will be the case. I do not like to put a timeframe on it, but I would not like it to be more than two years from the time we came to office. At the same time I would like the job to be done well, with the best possible consultation.

On the command structure, in practice in the four commands the brigadier general reports to the Chief of Staff, Adjutant-General and Quartermaster General, and they in turn report to me. I do not have direct day to day contact with those people, but I have always been the kind of Minister who breaks the rules in terms of making contact directly with people in the regions. I like to have a direct personal relationship with as many people as possible, and that applies from the ground up, but there are limitations to what can be done.

I appreciate Deputy De Rossa's comments on the Reserve Defence Force. I come from a background which has provided me with a great sense of understanding and support for all voluntary organisations, particularly the Reserve Defence Force. I was unhappy about the publicity surrounding what was a building brick in an edifice, and it will take some time to resolve that matter.

We live in a society where there is much interdependency. There is expertise available, which is necessary. We have had difficulty in fulfilling our UN requirements in some specialist areas. We looked at the position in other countries that experience difficulties in meeting their commitments. We would like to honour fully our commitments. Preliminary discussions are taking place on what to do in circumstances where there are shortages. A full complement of the various ranges of expertise is needed to fulfil the mandate and ensure the job is done. Those discussions will be ongoing. I encourage people to be open-minded and not make predictions about what is likely to happen.

Deputy O'Flynn is concerned about barracks closures. This matter has been the subject of much debate over the years. This Bill is not the appropriate legislation in which to go into detail on the issue, except to say that I am ashamed of some of the facilities in various parts of the country. Given the competing considerations in the Defence Force, there is no possibility in present financial circumstances of this or any future Government spending the money necessary to upgrade all the facilities. It is essential that significant funds are spent on refurbishment and the provision of good facilities. The environment in which people are expected to work and where they are trained, the services available and morale, are important aspects to be considered.

It is not possible to develop and refurbish all our barracks. I have to look at the present property portfolio and see how funds can be raised to upgrade equipment and facilities. Deep consideration will have to be given to all these matters. I will not guarantee that all barracks, some of which were established decades ago and are now falling down, will be retained. In some cases those buildings are situated on valuable property which may be considered for alternative purposes such as community, commercial and housing development. I will, however, fight for the resources for re-equipment and redevelopment. If people elected to this House believe that, regardless of the circumstances, all barracks must be retained, they should not be in politics. Sometimes difficult decisions must be made which ultimately are better for the community and the people.

I wish to give a commitment in regard to the Curragh. I am disappointed with the facility there. It is a lovely building on a terrific tract of land with easy access and much potential, but it is in great need of a facelift. A master plan is needed for its future. I will ensure the swimming pool is put back into operation quickly. I said earlier I would dedicate the resources from the sale of Orchard Park houses to that development. When the engineer's report is available the funds will be provided. I am sorry the swimming pool had to be closed, but when there is a risk to people's lives, facilities must be closed. I give a commitment to find the resources to ensure, when the report on its refurbishment is prepared, that the work will be carried out.

Deputy Fitzgerald expressed reservations about the effect of the Public Service Management Act, 1997. She is correct and the military authorities also had concerns about this. However, the position of the Chief of Staff relative to the Minister is completely unaffected by the Act and it seems this fear centres on the fact that reference to outputs in the Act will in some way undermine military management. We have taken legal advice to ensure this is not the case. On the contrary, this Bill is in harmony with other public service legislation. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff will sit on the Council of Defence and, more importantly, they will be on the strategic management committee. In one sense a management structure is created which is on a par with most organisations. An individual is fully in charge and he or she is answerable. At the same time teamwork, strategic management and all the resources we have will be dedicated to the best possible management systems to bring the best out of personnel in all ranks. The ranks decide who and what one is.

We will have an opportunity to go into detail on the amendments which have been tabled. I hope I tried to deal openly with all the major questions raised. I am very conscious that we strayed over many areas not covered in the Bill. This is not a criticism, but an indication on the one hand of peoples' interest in it, and, on the other, of the need to introduce comprehensive legislation which will deal with the entire ambit of what is involved. However, I am grateful to Deputies for working late with me this evening and I understand they must work late also tomorrow. I look forward to their continued support and interest in the development of the Defence Forces at this crucial time as we approach the end of the millennium.

We have enjoyed a great deal of good publicity in spite of everything else that has happened. Pat Kenny and Gerry Ryan visited the Lebanon and we have received good media reports, some of which were referred to earlier. We want to concentrate on these positives. If I did not have a great belief in what I am doing and in the people who serve in the Defence Forces, I would not have these concerns, but I am only expressing what the majority of people in this House feel about the work they do. That some issues have gone wrong should not deter us from sticking to the positive, developmental and core matters. This is a piece of the anatomy which keeps the entire body together in terms of manpower, management and, I hope by the end of the week, this legislation will be presented to the President, Mrs. McAleese, so that there will be no further delay in putting the structure of headquarters in place and the downstream effect with the establishment of the three brigades can follow immediately afterwards.

The Minister referred to the dire state of much of the accommodation and facilities that the Defence Forces have and the enormous cost to the State of refurbishing or replacing them. Has he considered using the device introduced in the Finance Act, 1998, for the provision of educational facilities in DCU where a tax concession is offered to an investor who is prepared to provide the facility on a lease back basis, which is at virtually no cost to the State, but remains in the ownership of the State ultimately? It seems to be a device which would prevent an explosion in public expenditure and would encourage people who have a great deal of money and are perhaps salting it away in offshore accounts to invest it here in infrastructure.

I have not, but as the Deputy is aware, the Government has been giving consideration for some time to a public-private investment system. I recall giving consideration to this matter when I was Minister for the Environment. It involved an interesting proposal from an American consortium. One of the discoveries I made, which did not help at the time, was that the National Treasury Management Agency was able to borrow the money at a more competitive rate than it might pay back to this group. It was a technical option outside borrowing, but it only manicured the books. I was more interested in trying to see if I had surplus property which was valuable and could be immediately converted and would have multiple uses through the services in it for a town or community. The disposal and sale of such property on a commercial basis gave me the freedom to transfer these resources to the refurbishment, re-equipment and redevelopment. I did not envisage that it would be necessary or desirable to think in terms of total refurbishment. However, there may be opportunities that I could look at in that context in special circumstances. I will examine whether I can make progress on it and I will answer the Deputy in another way when I have time to consider it.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 1 July 1998.