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.