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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Feb 2000

Vol. 515 No. 3

Private Members' Business. - White Paper on Defence: Motion.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Fitzgerald and Gormley.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

mindful of Ireland's current and developing national and international security and defence obligations and having regard to the ongoing internal security duties, aid to the civil power and other obligations of the Defence Forces;

condemns the Minister for Defence for his mishandling of the preparation of the White Paper on the Defence Forces and particularly for the damage caused by his reluctance to engage in a full and meaningful con sultative process with senior military personnel, the representative bodies and the FCA;

deplores the serious damage to morale resulting from:

his attempts to reduce the establishment of the Defence Forces without a clear statement of military consequence of this course of action;

his long delay in publishing the White Paper;

his failure to implement the PriceWaterhouse recommendations on the Air Corps and Navy, having appointed himself chairperson of the implementation group;

his poor planning and lack of consultation with the local communities in closing barracks, and

calls on the Minister for Defence to immediately review the contents of the White Paper to take account of the concerns widely expressed and to bring forward realistic proposals for the future of the Defence Forces, based on Ireland's ongoing defence and peacekeeping commitments at home and abroad.

When first proposed, the White Paper on Defence was supposed to chart a new course for the Defence Forces. It offered the Minister an opportunity to restore morale and confidence within the Defence Forces after the turbulent events of recent years. It was supposed to prepare our Defence Forces for the new challenges and opportunities that Ireland's expanding role in international peacekeeping presented.

However, the White Paper has achieved none of these objectives. The Minister has turned his back on an unprecedented opportunity to redefine and refocus the role of our Defence Forces. Instead, he has distorted the White Paper process. Under his tutelage it has descended into little more that a dictatorial cost cutting exercise. The Minister has insulted and angered the representative bodies by his approach to consultation. He has even further undermined morale in the Defence Forces. His attitude has been directly responsible for the most serious breach of trust in living memory, between high ranking military officers and the Department of Defence.

The White Paper on Defence has become a shambles. It does not have the support of the rank and file members of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. It does not have the support of the men and women of the Defence Forces who put their lives on the line for this country. It does not deserve the support of this House.

Since the early 1990's the Defence Forces have been under a near constant process of review. Under the PriceWaterhouse review, completed in the mid-1990s, the strength of the Forces has been reduced from 13,000 to 11,500. Chronic under investment has led to the Defence Forces being poorly equipped and denied the equipment necessary for a modern force, with major national and international commitments.

It is time this denigration and depletion of the Defence Forces was brought to a halt. However, the Minister refuses to do so. He has used the White Paper process to pursue a vindictive agenda against the Defence Forces. Personnel are to be cut further, regardless of our expanding international commitments. Investment in the Defence Forces as a percentage of GDP, already the lowest among our European neighbours, will continue to be slashed. The views of the representative bodies will continue to be ignored. The former Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon, writing in The Irish Times three weeks ago said:

The White Paper on Defence could send the Defence Forces into terminal decline. This will cause little pain to those who don't appreciate the necessity for Defence Forces. It is an appalling vista for those of us who appreciate the real damage being proposed by those who know little and seem to care less.

The attitude of both the Minister for Defence and the even more voracious budget slashing tendencies of his colleague the Minister for Finance, have no regard for the tasks and challenges which we expect the Defence Forces to deal with.

On a national level the Defence Forces play a crucial and expanding role. In common with every other nation's defence forces, they are charged with protecting the State against armed foreign aggression. In addition, the Defence Forces perform a critical role in aid to the civil power duties, particularly along the Border. The role of the Defence Forces in assisting the Garda Síochána in the campaign against violent paramilitary groups has rightfully been acknowledged in this House and elsewhere on many occasions. The Army also escorts prisoners to and from their place of detention to the courts, a role which is expanding given the increasing number of violent gangland cases which have come before the courts in recent years.

The Naval Service is charged with fisheries protection duties along our coast, the second largest fishery area in the EU. In addition, it has taken on the increased incidence of major drug trafficking which is plaguing our coast. Significant international drug traffickers have targeted our expansive coastline as a staging post in this illicit and lethal trade. The Naval Service has proudly responded to this new challenge despite the lack of investment in equipment and personnel that has bedevilled it. Likewise, the Air Corps performs vital search and rescue missions which have saved countless lives over the years. It also does a wide range of tasks which the civilian powers require it to do without fear or favour.

It is important to detail the role of the Defence Forces and it is wrong and inaccurate to underestimate that role in important day to day duties. Due to the discipline and honour of Defence Forces members, they do not seek credit or acknowledgement for it. In recent times they have been subject to some of the most insulting and misplaced comment endured by any group. Some of this comment was fuelled by the scare tactics employed by the Minister in relation to the Army deafness cases taken by some members of the Defence Forces.

It is time this campaign to undermine the Defence Forces was exposed for what it is. I deeply appreciate and respect the men and women who have worn the uniform of this State and I resent the campaign waged unfairly against them over the past two years in particular.

However, the international role of our Defence Forces which is expanding rapidly. This international role traditionally involved the Defence Forces in UN peacekeeping missions around the world. Irish soldiers have served proudly and honourably in some of the most dangerous regions of the world. Their record is second to none and the ability of our troops to gain the trust and confidence of local communities in some of the world's most turbulent troublespots has enhanced Ireland's international reputation. It is a record of achievement that no doubt plays a key role in Ireland's current campaign to win a seat on the UN security council.

The rapidly changing nature of regional and international geopolitics places new challenges and demands on our Defence Forces. At present, we have reached our ceiling for troops serving on international missions, with the full complement of 850 troops serving abroad from Lebanon to East Timor. The decision made by this Parliament to join Partnership for Peace will put new demands on the Armed Forces. It must also be taken into account that, in the wake of the Helsinki summit, the prospect of Irish troops being committed to an EU crisis management force of up to 50,000 troops grows ever closer.

The EU approach to a common foreign and security policy is one of the most important issues facing the Union in the coming years. The inability of the EU to take effective peacekeeping and peace enforcement action during the carnage that gripped the Balkans for most of the 1990s has forced us to examine the regional role and capabilities of the EU. The expansion of the Union over the coming decade means that this issue must be progressed and Ireland cannot shirk its responsibilities in this regard.

However, it is against this background that the current Minister for Defence insists on further cuts in our Defence Forces which will fundamentally reduce their capability to honour our international commitments. The reduction in personnel outlined in the White Paper published this afternoon flies directly in the face of developments in the European Union, pays lip service to our UN peacekeeping role and seriously undermines our stated commitment to uphold human rights and the principles of democracy.

I will comment briefly on two aspects of the White Paper. The first relates to the supposed process of consultation with the representative bodies and the second relates to the content of the White Paper. It is only fair to acknowledge that the Minister facilitated a briefing on the White Paper for Opposition spokespersons this evening.

RACO and PDFORRA, the representative bodies for Defence Forces personnel, have been treated appallingly by this Minister. In an economy and society that has gained so much from the process of partnership since 1987 it is beyond belief that this principle has been ignored by the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, in relation to both PDFORRA and RACO. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Minister proceeded on a course which has denigrated and offended both these organisations in preparation of the White Paper.

PDFORRA, the organisation which represents the rank and file members of the Defence Forces, has been granted only one meeting with the Minister on the White Paper in the past year. RACO, which like PDFORRA invested immense time, resources and money in drafting detailed and insightful submissions to the White Paper, has been treated in the same off-hand and dictatorial manner.

The key point is that the Department of Defence is locked into a structure in which concepts such as consultation and partnership have no meaning. The Minister has never challenged this damaging and all-pervading ethos. He has relied on this structure to facilitate his own irresponsible agenda on the Defence Forces. The consultation process on the White Paper has been little more than a sham. Its conclusions were decided long before consultation with the representative bodies began and the sound and rational proposals made by both PDFORRA and RACO were ignored because they conflicted directly with the short-sighted, penny-pinching attitude which many in this Government have against the Defence Forces. This has led to a lack of trust between the Minister and the representative bodies which is at an all time low, and it is the Minister who must bear full responsibility for this disastrous state of affairs. Time and again at Question Time Deputy Fitzgerald and myself, and indeed colleagues from all parties, have impressed on the Minister the urgent need to tackle the plummeting morale within the Defence Forces. It has rightly been identified as the most serious issue facing the forces now. The Minister has given us assurances that he recognises this challenge and has assured us it is at the top of his agenda.

However, there is a large gap between the words and actions of the Minister. He has paid lip service to the morale crisis in the Defence Forces. At the same time he has instigated and sustained a policy on the White Paper which can only further erode morale in the forces, make recruitment all the more difficult and sour relations between his office and the representa tive organisations. The events of recent weeks in particular laid bare the hollow words the Minister spoke in this House on so many occasions.

I will refer briefly to the contents of the White Paper published this afternoon. The rift between the Minister and the most senior staff in the Defence Forces has been apparent for some weeks. The Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General David Stapleton, is one of the most honourable and intelligent men in the public service today. He has been forced into an impossible position by the Minister over his handling of the White Paper. Such was the concern within the Defence Forces that Lieutenant General Stapleton had to meet face to face with the Minister on the White Paper. It has been reported that the Chief of Staff secured concessions from the Minister at this meeting which would be incorporated into the White Paper. Will the Minister confirm that the points agreed at that meeting have been included in the White Paper? Are the commitments given to the Chief of Staff and, by extension, all the men and women under his command incorporated in the White Paper published today?

The handling of the preparation of the White Paper by the Minister for Defence has damaged our Defence Forces, soured relationships between the Minister and Defence Forces personnel and cast a serious doubt over our ability to fulfil our international peacekeeping commitments. What should have been a unique opportunity to review, reform and revamp our neglected Defence Forces has been reduced to a budget slashing exercise that devalues the proud history and tradition of the Defence Forces since the foundation of the State.

The motion before the House this evening demands a halt to the damage which the Minister has caused. It is a motion that warrants the support of each and every Member of this House. In particular, the members of the Progressive Democrats are faced with a crucial choice. They can stand by the sensible comments of their national chairperson, Councillor John Minihan, who in a recent letter to The Irish Times described the White Paper as “a cost-cutting, budget capping exercise which will suffocate the future of the Defence Forces” and called on the Minister, Deputy Smith, to admit he has made a fundamental mistake in relation to the White Paper and to set in motion a review, or else traipse through the Government lobbies tonight and abandon Councillor Minihan in favour of the dictatorial stance of the Minister for Defence. I fear that the attraction of power which currently grips the Progressive Democrats Members of this House will leave Councillor Minihan as a lone voice.

At the end of the day, the preparation of this White Paper has been one of the most traumatic times for the members of the Defence Forces. They have seen their representative bodies ignored and their proposals rejected out of hand. Morale in the defence forces has yet again been dealt a serious blow by the Minister. It is time the Government realised the damage it is causing. The Minister is leaving in his wake a legacy of bitterness, disappointment and disillusionment. The men and women of our Defence Forces deserve better, they deserve full consultation and real input into the future of the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps. The Minister has singularly failed to facilitate this partnership approach and the White Paper has become the greatest missed opportunity in the history of the Defence Forces. That is the legacy of the Government. It is a shameful record.

I thank Deputy Wall and the Labour Party for sharing their time. There is a revised White Paper on Defence, after what has been a tortuous process marked by poor communication and a breakdown in the relationship between the Minister for Defence and the general staff of the military and also by the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Stapleton's early return from East Timor to deal with the crisis. The past few weeks has marked an all-time low in the relationship between the Minister for Defence and the general military staff. It will take more than today's high profile press conference and much needed and much delayed announcements of investment in the Air Corps to repair the serious damage to the relationship between the Minister and the Defence Forces. I regret there has been an undermining of trust between the civil and military authorities charged with the future of the Defence Forces. There are excellent people on both sides. There have been last minute face-saving meetings. There are excellent people working for the future of the Defence Forces and, as Deputy Wall said, it has been a missed opportunity. Agreed changes have not been incorporated into the White Paper but are to be the subject of a further document.

I think the Minister said on the "Six One News" tonight that there would be a further revision of the White Paper within three weeks. That is extraordinary. There is the White Paper which was published today, the press release incorporating some of the changes agreed with the Chief of Staff and the document signed by the Minister and the Chief of Staff last Thursday. It appears that at the same time as the White Paper was being printed last week there was agreement between the Chief of Staff and the Minister which was not incorporated into the published version of the White Paper. It is extraordinary. What is the status of this agreement now? Where does it exist? Does it have Cabinet approval? If it is not in the White Paper, what is its status? Where is it written, other than in today's press release? Why has it not been incorporated? Is it a private agreement between the Chief of Staff and the Minister? Why is there no mention in the White Paper of some of the issues which were the subject of such high profile meetings between the Minister and the Chief of Staff? Will the Minister outline the key elements of change which were negotiated and what is their status?

The representative associations have once again said they are unhappy. It is extraordinary that the White Paper on Defence has been published today and there is still uncertainty about key aspects which appeared last week to be central to the resolution of the concerns expressed by the military to the Minister. As Deputy Wall said, they were the subject of meetings here. It seemed to be an unhappy Chief of Staff who attended today's press conference. He is and has been put in an extraordinarily difficult position unnecessarily. The paucity of the consultative process and the poorness of the original draft of the White Paper has been exposed for all to see. It is doubtful the changes in the White Paper announced by the Minister in the heat of such a breakdown is the best way to chart the future of our Defence Forces nationally and internationally.

In a couple of weeks we have a revised, revisited White Paper instead of a paper borne out of proper consultation with all concerned, the representative associations, members of the Defence Forces, interested parties and the Minister. There appears to have been an inability on the part of the Minister to listen and respond effectively until pressurised by a threat of resignation by the Chief of Staff, a potentially destabilising situation for the Defence Forces and an unprecedented breakdown between the Executive and the Defence Forces. The forces have been characterised throughout their history by great loyalty, discipline and accountability, essential necessities for defence forces. There has been a grudging, back-to-the-wall response to the outrage felt by the initial draft. It is characteristic of the Government's inability to make good decisions and, in this instance, face up to the realities of the needs of the Defence Forces.

There has been a painfully slow response to glaring gaps in the Defence Forces in training and equipment, as evidenced by borrowing lorries to train for Kosovo, and to the lack of investment in the Air Corps, with most of the fleet grounded and shortages of spare parts for helicopters. There has been a failure to convince the Minister for Finance of the reality of the needs of the Defence Forces. The Minister has allowed rumours to circulate continuously for almost a year of the Department of Finance's wish to cut back the forces to 8,500. The economics of the White Paper, while presented as a marvel, are suspect and novel in that they are dependent on a cutback in the forces to bring in necessary investment. It is like saying that the health service will be improved without nurses or doctors. Despite the amount of money spent by the Government on consultants, there is an inability in many instances in the White Paper to take up what the consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had to say in the first place.

I wish to place on record some of the military's responses to the original draft. They said that it was a seriously flawed document in both general thrust and detail, that it contained language that was minimalist and grudging, that if it entered the public domain it would seriously undermine the position of the Defence Forces within Ireland, the UN, the European Union, the Western European Union and NATO and would seriously damage morale. They also said that the draft ignored the detailed advice submitted by the Defence Forces, that the case for national defence was not adequately covered and that the assessment would leave the State in a much weaker position were there to be a resurgence of on-island violence. They also said that the issues arising from the Treaty of Amsterdam were not covered. It is an indictment of a White Paper after what was supposed to be an effective consultation period carried out over a long period. I could go on.

The revisions must be welcomed but they have been hard won and do not go far enough. Although we do not yet have this in a draft, they apparently include military control over some recruitment and further reinvestment which must be welcomed. I welcome the 100% investment announced by the Minister and I also welcome the fact that the Department of Finance will not claw back more money. However, the accountancy approach the Minister took to the Defence Forces showed an appalling lack of understanding by him of its needs.

There has been an abuse in this saga of the deafness compensation issue. Future defence policy should not be dependent on the way this issue is managed. Failure to establish an effective compensation tribunal is part of the problem we face today. The military consequences of the proposed cutbacks and the change in tasking which this would mean have not been spelled out in the White Paper. There is a failure to spell out the implications of the cutbacks in terms of military tasks or changed tasks for the Defence Forces. It is clear that, if we are to train people to become involved in international peacekeeping in the numbers required, given our commitments at European level and our decision to become involved in Partnership for Peace and in training exercises with the defence forces of other countries, and if the tasks remain as they are, the Defence Forces will find it extremely difficult to do the type of training those commitments demand. The White Paper deals inadequately with the implications of our international obligations.

I recognise that the international defence environment is changing and that the military must be accountable to a democratic Government and must modernise and change its tasks in line with the changing environment. The White Paper was an opportunity to create the potential for the Defence Forces to grasp this initiative. Unfortunately, as my colleague, Deputy Wall, said, it has been mishandled and has left a sour taste and a mountain to climb for the future. The forces, their members and families, charged with the security of the State, aides to the civil power and international peacekeeping obligations have had to fight for their voice to be heard at a time when partnership is espoused by all. That is a contradiction. At a time of economic prosperity, decisions about key investment highlighted by the PricewaterhouseCoopers reviews – the review of the Air Corps and the Naval Service was delivered over two years ago – have been grudgingly delivered only in part.

There has been a lack of vision of the future role of the Defence Forces, the role we want our Army to play in future and how that role is to be translated into day-to-day management of the forces best suited to our needs. There is a contrast between the Department of Foreign Affairs, which continuously updates the expanding role of the Defence Forces in fulfilling our international commitments, and the plans formulated for the Defence Forces. Only by those two Departments working together can we achieve harmony and coherence in implementing Government policy and in particular our important international commitments. What we have is a piecemeal approach decided almost on a day-by-day basis.

The Defence Forces play a key role in the protection of citizens and their assets – I will examine a few examples. The Naval Service plays a key support role in the protection of our fishery waters, which include 20% of European Union waters, and in emergency sea rescue missions. It is also crucial in patrolling our territorial waters and protecting them against organised crime groups, as evidenced by regular seizures. I argued last year in a policy paper on the Naval Service that it is underfunded and underequipped for the job we expect it to do. It is impossible for it to undertake major drug patrols, search and rescue, pollution control and fishery protection on the resources it is given. We still have a naval capacity that is almost 20 times less than the European norm. The average European naval fleet is obviously much larger, yet the area our Naval Service covers is enormous. As a result, we have the least policed coastline in the developed world. Narcotic smugglers have said on record that the reason they ply their trade on our coastline is that it is so poorly policed.

There are major issues concerning the Naval Service. For example, the White Paper has nothing to offer on the new problem of the illegal trafficking of immigrants. While the Cabinet today discussed proposals for a new quota of immigrants, we are not in a position to prevent illegal immigration on our shores and the Naval Service does not have the resources to deal with this. This is an issue which must be urgently addressed by the Minister for Defence in conjunction with the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs. Our Naval Service should also be capable of monitoring environmental concerns off our coastline in accordance with the task of enforcing international law, but again we are lacking in ability. The White Paper does not find a sufficient case for a significant shift in defence provision towards an enhanced naval contribution. The way it is dealt with in the White Paper is inadequate, the density of naval vessels is unsatisfactory and the vision for it is not spelled out.

Among the key issues regarding the Air Corps is when the ageing fleet will be re-equipped. Questions have been asked about whether the Air Corps would continue its search and rescue service and these questions need answers. During 1999, the Air Corps completed over 1,100 missions, 91 search and rescue missions, 128 air ambulance operations, 220 fishery protection missions and other services. It is clear there is an urgent need to purchase aircraft for the Air Corps. I welcome the decision the Minister has made in principle in that regard, but it is again being delayed and referred to another strategic management committee for detailed decisions in this area.

In terms of defence spending, our figure is low by European standards. Last year, for example, we spent 0.8% of our GDP on defence compared to that spent by Holland at 1.8% and Greece at 4.8%. The figure of 0.8% is further reduced when one looks at the expenditure in non-military areas, compensations for members of the Defence Forces, the Red Cross, the Garda Air Support Wing, the equitation school and various other issues. We have had a Defence Forces which required investment and has not received it to date.

As Deputy Walsh said, in recent years there has been a huge reorganisation of the Defence Forces. Much of the discussion in recent weeks and months has not recognised the enormous changes that have already taken place and the enormous cutbacks that have already been made. Parts of the White Paper are already out of date due to the lateness of its publication. In the draft I saw just before today's launch, section 2 which really dealt with the implications of the Good Friday Agreement is already out of date given the suspension of the Executive. The possible return of violent incidents was highlighted as recently as last week with another attack on the British Army sleeping quarters at Ballykelly in County Derry.

The Army has provided a vital back-up service for the Garda Síochána for many years in a wide range of areas including prisoner and cash escorts. It is highly unusual for a country to have its army engaged in so many diverse duties on a daily basis. Yet again, the White Paper provides for the continued provision by the Defence Forces of aid to the civil power, it would appear at the same level but with less personnel. I would like the Minister to address the question of the change in tasks which less personnel will imply. That has not been addressed.

At a European level I have already addressed the issue of the increasing role which our Defence Forces will be expected to play. We are expected to provide further military supports in respect of the Euro-Atlantic Council and the Petersberg Tasks. Following the recent European Council meeting in Helsinki, the Defence Forces will also be expected to make a real contribution to a European led rapid reaction force consisting of 15 brigades and 60,000 personnel within 60 days of the call for deployment. This is a serious and challenging task for which our Defence Forces must be able to make adequate preparation through the provision of proper training and resources. It is clear that surveys have shown that the Irish people support participation in the type of international peacekeeping in which our Defence Forces have been involved and for which there is clearly a huge need in the world today. If anything, there is an increasing need with the number of inter-state conflicts apparent around the world. The role of international peacekeeping will become even more significant and essential in the years ahead. We are very well placed with a Defence Force so experienced in this area, to make a very strong contribution in the years ahead.

To prepare for the challenges of the new millennium, the Defence Forces have in recent years undergone a huge radical overhaul. This has involved a reduction in the number of personnel by up to 40%, a massive cut by any standards. The number of units has been decreased by 30%. The Minister and his Department had the benefit of numerous reports, including a very comprehensive PriceWaterhouse report. The Chief of Staff and senior personnel have made it abundantly clear that the retention of the current organisation, including three brigades, is the minimum necessary for the force to fulfil its commitments in the future. As a result of the recent rush to negotiations, we now have a commitment to 10,500 with the Chief of Staff having the right to recruit an additional 250 people. We have uncertainty about the Council of Defence. It is in the document agreed with the Chief of Staff but what exactly its role will be is unclear.

A large number of questions arise following today's press conference which I hope the Minister will address in his speech tonight.

To the Deputy's sorrow I will.

Not to my sorrow.

To her amazement.

It is extremely important that the Minister clarifies the confusion which has arisen once again. It is quite extraordinary that confusion has arisen following a press conference at which the Minister launched a White Paper and then immediately went out and said he would launch a revised White Paper in three weeks.

I did not.

Yes, the Minister did. He said he would revise and add to what had been launched today because what had been agreed with the Chief of Staff was not in the White Paper today, it was in the press release.

The Deputy is not used to White Papers.

I think it is the Minister who is not used to White Papers. He has certainly mismanaged this one. He had a golden opportunity and turned it into a disaster for the Defence Forces. There was another crisis today when he could not clarify the status of his agreement with the Chief of Staff. Perhaps he will clarify the matter tonight. When the confusion over policy has been sorted, I hope the Army, the Navy and Air Corps will be able to proceed to freely fulfil their roles without the hindrance of a confused and ambiguous approach by Minister. The Defence Forces need clarity at this stage.

Deputy Gormely has three and a half minutes.

I thank Deputies for sharing their time.

Yesterday evening on the news a former member of the Naval Service described this White Paper as a whitewash. It manages to ignore some facts and glosses over some very important issues.

The Deputy is easily convinced.

I believe people in the Defence Forces. Perhaps the Minister does not, and that is his problem. Perhaps if the Minister had spoken to these people he would have produced a better White Paper. If the Minister listens to me tonight he might actually understand what is wrong with the White Paper.

Not if I want to drop down to—

Deputy Gormley without interruption, please.

Our PfP and Petersberg Tasks obligations ought to have been at the core of the recent controversy over this White Paper because new military equipment is of necessity – if we are to perform military tasks for NATO, through Partnership for Peace, and the EU – something not required in our traditional peacekeeping role for the UN where our equipment was actually provided. Personnel has to be cut and weaponry expenditure has to be increased. That is the reality.

Much has been said about the lack of consultation or of its being disregarded. One wonders if the Minister has been listening to his colleagues in the EU where they have been agreeing to the EU's militarisation, in particular to the decisions taken last December in Helsinki. The Taoiseach has agreed to the development within three years of a rapid reaction force of 50,000 to 60,000 troops capable of being deployed within 60 days. Taking rotation into account this is a commitment of more than 200,000 troops. What numbers and what money will Ireland be able to commit to this force? What consultation has the Minister had with the European Commission President, Romano Prodi who announced in Latvia earlier this month that:

Any attack or aggression against an EU member nation would be an attack or aggression against the whole EU. This is the highest guarantee.

Are the Defence Forces being prepared to come to the defence of the EU? What numbers and moneys will be required for this? What consultation has the Minister had with Javier Solana, the EU's high representative of common, foreign and security policy who has provided a blueprint for a near merger between the EU and NATO in a new 20 page dossier? Most importantly, what consultation has this Government had with the Irish people about the future of our Defence Forces and our neutrality?

We have been promised a referendum when our neutrality technically ends, but we were promised a referendum on Partnership for Peace also and we know what happened there. We also know that 70% of Irish people still support Ireland's neutral status. When I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, when he was standing in for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, he said: "There is a political commitment." There is no constitutional requirement. This is something that has not been addressed in this White Paper. It has totally missed the opportunity to elaborate a defence policy for Ireland which best suits the security interests of this country and the security interests of the international community. We ought to concentrate on UN peacekeeping. We have a fantastic record in this regard. The document states that notwithstanding Ireland's continuing support for the UN, the scale of our commitment must be kept under review. The Government has decided that there should be a rigorous review of the sustainability of the current level of commitment in light of decisions on restructuring set out in the White Paper. The Government is saying its commitment is not with the UN but with PfP and the Petersberg Tasks. That is to the Minister's shame.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann commends the Minister for Defence for the completion of the first White Paper on Defence, which sets out a strategy to the year 2010 to modernise and develop the Defence Forces to ensure that they are capable of fulfilling the roles laid down by Government and to maintain an effective civil defence capability.

Earlier today I published the first White Paper on Defence. Since the foundation of the State the Defence Forces have been an important arm of the State and an expression of our independence and our sovereignty as a nation. I have worked tirelessly as Minister for Defence to ensure that the country has the Defence Forces it needs. Sometimes this has required unpopular decisions and I have not been afraid to make these.

The motion is a distortion of both the White Paper and all it contains. It is a tired and totally unconvincing attempt to attack a soundly based approach to defence because those in Opposition do not have the inclination, the imagination or the courage to see what needs to be done and to see it done. Later I will detail exactly how the White Paper will give this country the Defence Forces it needs. Before that, I want those who proposed this motion to ask themselves what possible use is it to put forward a text as ridiculous as it is garbled and inaccurate. This House has valuable work to do and all fair-minded people will resent its time being taken up with such a hollow and ill-conceived motion. The members of the Opposition would do well to remember that the people can see cant and hypocrisy from a long way off. That is what they are witnessing in this motion. It is hard to credit that anyone could advance, let alone try to stand over, such a blatant misrepresentation of the position.

I launched the White Paper on Defence this afternoon. I hope that on reading it those who have put their names to this motion will find time to rethink. This Government committed itself in the Action Programme for the Millennium to the publication of a White Paper on Defence. Unlike other parties, this Government has delivered on its commitments. Being the first White Paper, I felt it was important, as did my predecessor, Deputy Andrews, to give the White Paper the time it deserved and required. The production of any White Paper, but especially the first of its kind, was a significant undertaking and it is to the credit of my Department that it was achieved within the time I asked.

An important element of the White Paper process was the consultative element. I want to cover this point in detail as it is clear that no matter how many times I have outlined the correct position, there remains a deficit of understanding. From the start it was recognised that all those who were interested in the White Paper should have the opportunity to make their input. This opportunity was advertised and 46 written submissions were received. Some of these were significant and all were of value to the process. For all the talk of being interested in defence and the Defence Forces, those on the Opposition benches did not bother to make a submission. It is easy to put one's name to an ill-thought out motion. The Department received a submission from the Green Party but that party did not avail of the opportunity to make an oral presentation to elaborate on its submission.

It takes time and commitment to put submissions together. In order to facilitate the Defence Forces representative associations, I accepted their submissions long after the deadline.

And rightly so.

This was important and even if I do not agree with everything in the submissions, it is important to understand their views and, where possible, to see how those fit into decision-making and management. Meetings were arranged involving civil and military managers of my Department with those who accepted invitations to make an oral presentation. This gave a further opportunity for those interested in making an input to do so and for this input to be directed to both the civil and military elements of my Department.

And ignored.

I now turn to the other aspects of consultation. Despite the claims made in the media, the civil and military elements of the Department of Defence work extremely closely together on all aspects of defence. Day in and day out civil and military managers are working to ensure that the people have the defence services and capabilities the State requires. This work covers the broadest range of duties of any Department. Aside from policy issues, the Department's programmes cover general defence and security, aid to the civil power, overseas peace support and humanitarian tasks across the globe, fishery protection, ministerial air transport, property management of 21,000 acres and 28 barracks, civil defence with 6,000 members in training and the eighth largest departmental budget.

The suggestion that the Defence Forces were excluded from the White Paper process is without any foundation. The Department of Defence is unique in having civil and military branches. Therefore, it is totally erroneous and uninformed to talk about the Department and the military as though the military is external to the Department. The civil and military elements combined make up the Department and neither can operate in isolation. There is daily contact and extremely positive working and cordial and friendly relationships at all levels of the Department. The day to day work of defence would not be carried out so successfully were it otherwise.

The White Paper, like every other aspect of departmental business, has been the subject of regular discussion in the Department. This has taken place at civil, military and top management level. Therefore, let me scotch for once and for all the notion that such contact and consultation did not take place. However, it is no secret that views came forward from within the Defence Forces which suggested that there was not consultation. This was further whipped up by irresponsible people who do not see the dangers in a democracy of trying to force a divide between a Minister and any group of public servants. It is regrettable that such a short-sighted approach was adopted by some which I assure people will be long remembered.

It is the duty of Ministers on behalf of the Government to make decisions and to determine policy. This is what I have done and what I will always do as an elected Member of this House and a servant of the people. Those who forget that they are no more than servants find out sooner or later that acting in their own self-interest brings them or anyone else no good.

It is up to Ministers to make decisions and policy in the best interests of the people. This can sometimes bring the odd brickbat but those familiar with my sporting past know I am well able for brickbats, hurleys and a lot more. It is often unpopular to make the right decision. Last year I announced the closure of six barracks which were surplus to military requirements. Everyone knew this had to be done but those on the Opposition benches did not have the conviction to do it when they were in power and did not have the courage to support the right decision when it was made. I pity those who live like that because it is not living, but existing. That is not my way and it never will be.

I now turn to the detail of the White Paper. The sole object of the White Paper is to provide flexible, well-equipped Defence Forces which are capable of fulfilling the roles laid down by Government. The original objectives of the White Paper were to provide a medium term policy framework within which the defence policy can evolve and to set out a clear strategy for the next ten years; to provide for the continuation of the reform programme of the defence services, already commenced under the Defence Forces review implementation plan, consistent with the national and international security environment and the state of the public finances; to ensure that the management of the defence services is in accordance with the evolution of the strategic management initiative for the public service; and to set out the basis for the future development of civil defence policy and the follow-up to the present "Towards 2000" strategy.

Without question the White Paper achieved these objectives. There is an important implementation task ahead but the road is clear and while there may be the odd bump, it is the right road. No doubt those on the Opposition benches will try to distract us from getting to the destination but we will get there. That is what bothers them most of all. The length and lack of focus to their motion is sufficient testimony to their lack of clear thinking and conviction.

No Minister coming into this House expects plaudits from the Opposition but he occasionally hopes for a constructive suggestion or two. However, this Opposition or the Deputies who have spoken have not delayed us with any constructive suggestions. All we have heard are the same tired old admonishments. They know there is no substance to what they are saying. However, if they keep saying it, they will stay on the Opposition benches and I might stay in Government. There is no absence of thought or action on this side of the House.

The White Paper sets out a sustainable ten year programme to give us modern world-class Defence Forces. More important, the programme will involve fresh investment of at least £250 million in new equipment and infrastructure. The major points in the White Paper are as follows: the reorganised Defence Forces will be a flexible light infantry force on the lines recommended by Price Waterhouse; a commitment to a policy of continuous recruitment to the Defence Forces, which the Opposition did not give when in power, along with the development of a new comprehensive personnel management strategy covering recruitment, promotion, etc.; the allocation of 100% of an estimated £25 million annual savings arising from Defence Forces restructuring and the allocation of 100% of the proceeds from the sale of all property surplus to military requirements to equipment and infrastructure; the reduction in numbers will see a revised strength of 10,500 plus the option of 250 recruits in training from a current strength of about 10,900; the development of the Air Corps with commitments to major equipment investment and the allocation of a special fund of £5 million per year for the next five years to meet urgent Air Corps equipment requirements; continued investment in the Naval Service based on an eight ship flotilla, a commitment to order a second new ship and provision for new effectiveness and efficiency measures to enhance fishery protection – what must it be like for people in the Naval Service to hear crocodile tears from individuals who, in their term of office, bought nothing for them? The introduction of two ships in the life of this Government is a record without parallel.

The Minister had the money.

He had the money.

The Deputies can shout away.

The Minister could give them much more.

Payroll savings for reinvestment in the Defence Forces will be obtained from a reduction in the approved strength from 11,500 to 10,500 plus 250 recruits in training – the current strength is 10,900 and the reduction will not involve redundancies or closure of barracks.

That is where the money came from.

Other points in the White Paper include a continued commitment to overseas participation in accordance with Government policy – a key element of the development programme will be to ensure that the Defence Forces are geared to meet the new challenges in the overseas domain; the development of the Reserve Defence Force involving a new organisational structure and a commitment to improved training and equipment – I will give them back the two weeks training that the Opposition graciously took away from them; more detailed proposals will be drawn up and submitted to the Government following a consultative process; the establishment of a new statutory authority to manage the Curragh; decentralisation of the Civil Defence branch of the Department of Defence, involving 30 staff, to Roscrea.

I will speak on some of these principal features and some of the background issues contained in the White Paper. An important foundation element of the White Paper was an assessment of the defence and security environment involving the principal stakeholders. Based on these inputs the principal conclusions of the Government's current review of this environment are that Ireland faces a generally benign security environment; the external security environment does not contain specific threats to the overall security of the State; broader security challenges have emerged in the European context which impact on Ireland as a member of the European Union, including humanitarian and other crises for which international responses are required; the on-island security environment is being transformed through progress under the Good Friday Agreement. While some threats to peace remain, the Agreement provides the basis for a lasting peace.

We must, therefore, balance the natural desire for optimism concerning the environment we face with due prudence in retaining the capabilities and flexibility to respond to changes in the environment and new challenges that may emerge. The White Paper does this. By modernising the Defence Forces and ensuring that they are world class, we will as a country have the flexibility to meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.

It is important that the statement of roles of the Defence Forces is kept up to date and the White Paper provided the opportunity to refine the statement concerning the passage of time. First, the revised statement reflects the need for the Government's assessment to cover the broader security and defence context, including threats, which impact on overall defence planning and configuration. Second, the revised statement recognises the role of the Defence Forces in participating in overseas missions and takes account of the wider context in which UN authorised missions may arise.

Any White Paper must dedicate a significant element to the organisation and strategies needed to implement policy. The White Paper sets out the strategy to modernise our Defence Forces in an affordable and sustainable way and sets out development proposals for the Army, the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Reserve Defence Force.

The Permanent Defence Force has undergone significant changes in the past few years. Like other elements of the public service, it is recognised that the modernisation process cannot be achieved overnight. This process involves getting the organisation right and maximising the utilisation of resources. We have known for some time that there was a serious imbalance between the ratio of pay to non-pay expenditure. We also recognised a need to better utilise the overall allocation of resources to defence. Adjusting this imbalance is an important element of the White Paper strategy. This will ensure that for the future defence provision will be affordable and, just as importantly, achieved on the basis of a balanced and sustainable approach.

The necessary reorganisation of the Permanent Defence Force will be based on the reduction of overall strength from 11,500 to 10,500 plus the option of 250 recruits in training. Over the past few years, I paid much attention to recruitment and I have introduced a process of continuous recruitment. Earlier I announced that 750 recruits will be targeted this year. Despite the Opposition's search for negative angles, the White Paper will continue the good work of development. The White Paper naturally recognises the importance of individual soldiers, airmen and seamen to the Permanent Defence Force and the White Paper sets down an agenda of items which will be comprehended in an updated personnel management plan. This plan will cover all aspects of ensuring that a career in the Defence Forces is attractive and rewarding and that the development of personnel policies are in tune with the needs of the organisation.

The role of the representative associations in this context is fully acknowledged. Many of the personnel issues raised in the White Paper are the subject of existing agreements negotiated with the associations under the conciliation and arbitration scheme. In addition, there are other personnel management issues where the associations have indicated a desire to advance the interests of their members. Both sets of proposals for change will be addressed under the terms of the conciliation and arbitration scheme.

The White Paper also contains specific proposals for the development of the Air Corps and Naval Service. Both services have been the subject of special study. Based on these special studies and the policy parameters set out in the White Paper, we have the basis of viable development strategies for the Air Corps and the Naval Service.

Significant new investment will be made in the Air Corps. An immediate injection of funds of £5 million per annum will be available for the next five years and funds will also be available from the other savings. These funds will initiate the vital investment in new aircraft, rotary or fixed wing. The Naval Service has very recently commissioned a state of the art offshore patrol vessel, the LE Róisín, and the White Paper confirms the Government's intention to take up the option on a second similar vessel. This will ensure the main tenance of an eight vessel flotilla for the Naval Service as part of the overall White Paper modernisation strategy.

The White Paper also concerns the development of other areas of defence, notably the Reserve Defence Force. The broad policy framework set out in the White Paper for the Reserve Defence Force is based on the work of a special study which was completed following a very extensive process of consultation and consideration of all the issues. Full implementation will, however, involve quite significant change in the reserve and will be based on the necessary consultative process.

A feature of the existing FCA organisation is that it has a countrywide geographical spread. This feature will in general be retained. The full organisational and strength details of the new entities will be determined in the implementation process. This process will involve a careful examination of strength numbers and the extent of the spread regarding effectiveness, efficiency, local factors and demographics. An Slua Muirí will be developed to improve the capacity of members to provide a genuine naval reserve capability.

A key element of the new Reserve Defence Force will be new and enhanced training. An important change recommended by the study of the reserve is that RDF personnel should be considered for participation in overseas peace support missions subject to appropriate qualifications, availability and advance training. This initiative will be important to ensure the retention of a highly motivated and trained reserve which is in the best interests of the State and the Defence Forces as a whole. This significant change will be preceded by appropriate consultation with the representative associations. No member of the Opposition so far has mentioned the reserve and the importance of the developments of the reserve, notwithstanding its 14,000 members countrywide.

Despite what the Opposition has tried to suggest, overseas peace support operations were carefully considered, which will be clear to those who read the White Paper. First, as the White Paper states, it is in Ireland's interest to ensure that the conduct of international relations is undertaken in accordance with international law and democratic principles. This is supported and reinforced in a direct way by Ireland's willingness to provide peacekeepers to the troubled spots of the world.

Overseas service is of course popular among military personnel and has offered the Defence Forces a range of important training and operational opportunities not available at home. It also provides a powerful motivation to enhance operational and training standards. Individual officers have held important appointments in a number of UN missions giving Ireland a significant influence in the conduct of a number of critical peace support missions down the years. In all cases, officers and other ranks have brought their expertise, professionalism and dedication to bear to their own credit and to the honour of the country.

There is another side to our peace support operations, namely, the personal sacrifice which our soldiers have made during the past 42 years. We were reminded of this in the most tragic way in recent weeks when four fine young soldiers lost their lives in a traffic accident in Lebanon. Overall 80 soldiers have died serving their country in the cause of international peace on overseas service. We owe it to them and to those serving today to ensure that the Defence Forces are modernised to meet the changing defence and security environment. This is what the White Paper does.

The White Paper sets out the defence policy direction in relation to overseas peace support operations. Policy will be determined in the light of the following factors: security requirements at home; the ongoing development of UN peace support operations; the evolution of security structures and developments within the emerging security architecture in Europe and the necessity to have defence resources available and capable of meeting the needs of Government; and the need for overseas peace support operations to be balanced and proportionate with respect to the defence budget, resources and other commitments. All these factors will be kept under careful review and our approaches to peace support operations adapted accordingly.

The Defence Forces will, subject to domestic security requirements, continue to contribute to peace support activities overseas and the White Paper sets out the policy approach in considering individual requests to participate in peacekeeping missions.

As part of the ongoing equipment procurement policy, the Defence Forces will be equipped to meet their overseas role. Recent equipment and matériel programmes will ensure that the Defence Forces have the capacity to undertake overseas activities in the new operational environment. These include the APC programme, the acquisition of specialist logistical vehicles and the continued upgrading of the transport fleet.

The House already debated the decision to join Partnership for Peace, therefore, I do not propose to cover that matter at length again tonight. However, I will make the general point that considerable benefits will accrue to the Defence Forces from participation in PfP, allowing them to enhance their capability for multi-national peacekeeping operations in the future through the medium of inter-operability development, training and exercises.

PfP will be of value to Ireland in co-operation and planning for Petersberg Tasks. Ireland's participation in NATO led UN mandated forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo are examples of the type of situations in which Ireland can benefit from participation in PfP, because much of the preparation and training for these new style missions is undertaken by countries under the auspices of PfP. The Defence Forces, in turn, have much to offer to other participating states in terms of the cumulative experience and insight which they have gained over many years in a wide variety of peacekeeping missions. This will give Ireland an influence in how peacekeeping operations will be conducted in the future.

The emerging scenario must be set in the context of Ireland's membership of the UN and does not take from Ireland's belief in the primacy of the United Nations as the principal institution in the development of international relations and the promotion of peace and security. The Treaty of Amsterdam takes account both of the specific character of the security and defence polices of member states and the broader European and global security context.

The common foreign and security policy under the Treaty of Amsterdam encompasses a new role for the EU in the areas of humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking, known as Petersberg Tasks. In Ireland's case, participation in Petersberg Tasks will not affect our long standing policy of military neutrality.

Proposals for the development of European military forces which would be available to the EU to undertake Petersberg operations are indicative of the recognition of both the indivisibility of European security and the need for a collective response by Europeans to these challenges. EU member states have set an agreed, voluntary target, known as a Headline Goal, to improve capabilities for Petersberg Tasks which they aim to meet by the year 2003. Ireland will maintain the sovereign decision over whether, when and how to commit Irish personnel to a Petersberg Task or to any overseas peacekeeping or crisis management operation.

The EU has identified the capabilities to ensure effective performance in peace support and crisis management. These include deployability sustainability, inter-operability, flexibility, mobility, survivability and command and control. The qualitative importance of these capabilities is borne out by Ireland's experience of peacekeeping and crisis management over many years. The White Paper contains policies aimed at ensuring that the Defence Forces are geared to meeting these challenges.

The decisions at the 1999 Cologne and Helsinki EU Summits recognise the need for a collective response to security challenges and the associated need for the EU to work towards a capability for autonomous action. This does not involve the creation of a European army. The participation by the Defence Forces in this emerging environment is an important element of Ireland's capacity to influence events in a way which is sensitive to this country's needs and consonant with its military neutrality.

Let me reiterate that all of the developments I have described for the Defence Force are on the basis that Ireland will remain an active and com mitted participant in international peace support operations and the roles of the Defence Forces expressly recognise this.

Another important part of the Department of Defence is the area of Civil Defence, involving approximately 6,000 volunteer members who are trained in various skills such as first aid, rescue, fire fighting, emergency feeding, evacuee care, land and water search and radiation monitoring. In the period 2000-10, the Civil Defence will continue to focus its efforts on enhancing its capacity to respond to emergencies as a high quality second line service in addition to facilitating community support activities.

The Government has further decided that, in line with its policy on decentralisation of public services, the Civil Defence branch of the Department of Defence will be decentralised to Roscrea as soon as practical arrangements can be put in place. The process of strategic change will also be continued in the Civil Service and civilian employee elements of the Department of Defence and the White Paper outlines key issues facing the civil side of the Department.

Overall, therefore the White Paper succeeds in what it set out to do – to provide a comprehensive, affordable, sustainable and progressive strategy for defence and the Defence Forces for the next decade.

The main elements of the discussions I had with the Chief of Staff have been included in the White Paper. The White Paper awaits final completion but, as people with experience in this area will know, this is merely a technical matter. Any changes that can be incorporated in the White Paper will be included in the final draft. It is important to realise that the main contents of my discussions with the Chief of Staff are already incorporated in the White Paper.

Members on this side of the House are proud that, despite a number of setbacks, we have been able to produce a blueprint which will provide ten years stability in the Defence Forces for the first time in the history of the State. There will be ten years of constant recruitment and a ten year process of continuous investment in new equipment, both of which previous Governments failed to recognise the need for and failed to achieve.

As far as Deputy Fitzgerald's reference to hearing impairment claims is concerned, the Attorney General to the then Rainbow Government advised it that there was a desperate need for action in this area before it went out of control and decimated the Defence Forces. The Rainbow Government failed to take that advice and, as a result, I inherited a truck which was careering down the road with no brakes. We applied the brakes and we saved—

The Minister has not removed the matter from the courts.

—the Defence Forces from that kind of decimation.

Does the Minister remember the Price Waterhouse report?

The White Paper involves progress, a positive attitude, a determination to move forward, the need to take unpopular decisions and ensuring that action is taken.

The Minister has not established a—

The philosophy of doing nothing, of opting for the lowest common denominator, of supporting everyone who cries at your door and of being afraid to take decisions, is one way of ensuring you will never have the opportunity to take those decisions.

I propose to share time with Deputies Coveney, Stanton and Belton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Minister often refers to a juggernaut careering down a hill without a driver and without any brakes. That is an apt way to describe the role he has played in the Department of Defence since he assumed office. The sooner he comes to a halt the better because he is certainly doing a lot of damage as he goes on his merry way.

I was surprised by the tone and content of the Minister's contribution. The Opposition did not put him in this position and it is our responsibility to highlight the many shortcomings he has presided over. While I appreciate that few people like criticism, he appears to be extremely sensitive on the matter. I hasten to add we are here to help and help is definitely needed.

The Minister's thinly veiled threat that views coming forward from within the Defence Forces "will be long remembered" is particularly unhelpful. I hope it was the work of an over enthusiastic civil servant and that his party colleagues will withdraw the remark at the earliest opportunity.

While some organisations or institutions may fear the concept of a White Paper, there is generally a welcome for such a development as it is regarded as a means of putting one's views on the record and making recommendations which will ultimately benefit all if implemented in a correct and proper manner. The announcement that there would be a White Paper on Defence received a broad welcome.

Since the foundation of the State, our Defence Forces have remained very much in the background, as should be the case, and only come centre stage with respect to our overseas involvement and the images of soldiers departing abroad on duty or the sad funerals that have resulted from such commitments. Many families around the country have suffered in silence and struggled to get on with their lives, long after the outcry of public sympathy and the beat of the drum have faded into the distant past. Members of the forces never involve themselves in political matters and never openly question their role. While it may now be merely symbolic, all messes contain the proviso within their rules that there should be no discussion of women or politics. While the former, due to the lifting of the embargo on women, may no longer hold true, the latter certainly still applies – although that may have changed under the stewardship of the Minister because he is certainly a hot topic of conversation.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, many pillars of our society faced unprecedented scrutiny, including the Defence Forces. Dissatisfaction reached a high, culminating in wives and families taking to the streets, in 1989. Subsequently, the Gleeson commission was established to examine pay and conditions. Following this, we had the Price Waterhouse review of the Defence Forces in 1994. In conjunction with these, the efficiency audit group, which was set up by the Government in 1988 under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach, carried out two reports. In 1991, EAG 1 dealt with the administrative areas of the Department of Defence, and in 1992 EAG 2 reported on administrative systems in the Defence Forces.

The efficiency audit group accepted the analysis by the Price Waterhouse team and identified a key issue emerging from the consultants' report as the age profile being too high. The rainbow Government sought to address this through recruitment and a severance scheme. The Government has adopted a policy of stealthy non-recruitment in order to bring the figures down. No amount of flowery language from the Minister can disguise this fact. A simple mathematical analysis is all one needs to reach this logical conclusion.

The report also identified that there was an inappropriate top management structure. The main recommendation of the Price Waterhouse report was that the Chief of Staff should be given the role of chief executive of the Defence Forces. This has not happened. During debate on the Defence (Amendment) Bill, 1998, the Minister mentioned that the previous Government had looked at the position of the Chief of Staff and that it had wished him to be empowered to act as chief executive. This was the correct approach but the Minister missed the opportunity on that occasion. If he had not done so, it is quite possible that the unseemly saga of the last month, which served no one, could have been avoided.

The report also identified that operational effectiveness was impaired by organisational shortcomings. Steps have been taken to address this. Agreement was reached with the last Government that the reorganisation would take place in the context of an overall strength of 11,500. As the Defence Forces sought to get on with the reorganisation and implement measures to address the difficulties, it became clouded in what is commonly referred as the Army deafness controversy. Morale reached an all-time low. The military debate entered the public arena and many questioned the role and function of the Army. In the middle of this, the then Minister for Defence gave the green light to the White Paper.

Now, after much procrastination, we have the document. What should have been a welcome publication, is an anti-climax due to too much leaking and a failure by the Minister to approach the many views with an open mind. The Minister adopted an entrenched position. The submissions by the Defence Studies Group, RACO and PDFORRA went largely ignored, as he indulged himself in a cost cutting exercise orchestrated by the Department of Finance and aided by his Department.

During the past few weeks it has been firmly established that there was a serious breakdown in relations between the Minister and senior military members. This was an unprecedented development. The most expert personnel were excluded from the process, as the Minister found the following comments hard to digest:

The treatment of military advice within the White Paper undermined the civil/military relationship within the Department. It does not provide a suitable basis for a viable defence policy. The White Paper is being used as a vehicle to secure further reductions in both organisation and manpower, motivated not by national and European defence interests, but by simplistic budgetary requirements. The suggestion that the Council of Defence should be abolished cannot be accepted by the military authorities and is dismissive of the Price Waterhouse advice in this area.

These comments were contained in the Defence Forces' response to the second draft of the White Paper in late January.

The Minister should have sought to address the very serious issues raised but he chose to simply close the door. What should have been a source of reconciliation and discussion became a focus of suspicion and doubt. His dismissiveness created a crisis.

The Minister's Government colleagues have taken a back seat in good old Pontius Pilate fashion. On one hand, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are increasing our commitments to overseas support, vis-à-vis the Partnership for Peace and the recent Helsinki Summit, while across the table the Minister for Defence is cutting back, in what he honestly views as a populist measure. However, I assure him it is not and at some stage this will have to be revisited.

At present, we are finding it difficult to meet our UN requirements, particularly in Lebanon.

No, we are not.

With the present numbers, our overseas operation will have to be radically changed if we are to meet our peace support com mitments. Simply listing off our current contributions around the globe vaguely disguises the fact that, in virtually all cases, we are merely making a minimal gesture.

The impasse that arose due to the breakdown in relations led the Minister to meet with the Chief of Staff last Thursday. It appeared that an agreement was reached. Today, we have the White Paper. It appears, from an initial examination, that it fails to reflect some aspects of this agreement. The Minister stated last week that the Chief of Staff would have responsibility for the purchase of equipment, yet the White Paper, at paragraph 4.9.5, with respect to equipment, talks about the establishment of a high level civil/military planning and procurement group chaired at Assistant Secretary level. Surely, in the light of the agreement with the Chief of Staff, this is no longer necessary and should be changed. It was agreed that the Council of Defence will remain, which is also contained in the White Paper. If this body had been used over the past few months, much difficulty could have been averted.

I am given to believe that during the press launch this afternoon the Minister spoke of chairing the strategic management committee and meeting every three months. He was vague on the issue of the Council of Defence and I see nothing reassuring in his speech. The White Paper is also vague in this respect.

The Minister agreed and signed with the Chief of Staff certain measures that were going to be implemented in full. Has he the agreement of Cabinet for these measures? He failed to address this in his speech and in the White Paper. I hope some of his colleagues can address it.

I have difficulty in referring to this as the White Paper because I do not know if it is the provisional White Paper. Will it be similar to the budget, with a White Paper mark one, mark two and mark three? This motion, despite what the Minister proclaimed, is very welcome and timely. It obviously hurts and I commend it to the House.

It is a few weeks late.

Mr. Coveney

I want to refer to the Naval Service, in particular. As the Minister knows, the only naval base in the country, Haulbowline, is in my constituency and employs over 1,000 personnel. Like many of those personnel, I waited with anticipation for the emergence of the first ever White Paper on Defence. It was believed that this document would provide a much needed assessment and policy direction for the Naval Service, with a defined role and targets to aim for. I had hoped to be able to support this White Paper. However, having looked at its content and the way it has been formulated, I cannot. Apart from the fiasco of the delay in its publication, it is the content that is most worrying.

This White Paper, as a policy document, shows either indifference to, or ignorance of, Ireland's national and international maritime obligations as a sovereign island state within the EU. From a Naval Service point of view, the White Paper should have been, but failed to be, a serious study of maritime policing and defence requirements in Irish waters. Ireland claims sovereignty over 265,000 square miles of sea, 16% of EU waters. With that claim comes a responsibility which the White Paper has largely ignored.

I welcome the fact that, as part of the process of formulating this document, the Government spent resources on the Price Waterhouse study on ways of improving the Naval Service. Although they had reservations at the time about some of the Price Waterhouse recommendations, senior Naval Service personnel by and large accepted the final report, as long as all its recommendations were implemented. However, the White Paper considers only some of those recommendations. For example, the Naval Service headquarters has been moved to Haulbowline. However, the Price Waterhouse report suggested such a move as the final recommendation to be implemented which was to be contingent on the other recommendations being put in place.

As regards staffing, the Minister gives the misleading impression that he is adopting the Price Waterhouse recommendations. He talks of overall manpower levels of 1,144 as recommended for the Naval Service when it had seven ships. I am glad that the service now has eight ships but the Price Waterhouse recommendation was that the acquisition of an eighth ship should be accompanied by the recruitment of a crew and a half.

I welcome the commitment to the Naval College in Ringaskiddy, the initiative for commissioning from the ranks and the desire for a planned approach to the rotation of sea and land-based personnel. However, as regards recruitment, despite the commissioning from the ranks scheme, we are failing to attract enough people to the Naval Service and this problem is not addressed in any detail in the White Paper. The Minister said that the Naval Service recruited 130 new recruits last year but did not state that it lost 140 personnel in the past 12 months. This is hardly progress, particularly when one considers that 18 of the 140 personnel who left were officers.

I wish to address the important issue of our policing responsibilities as regards our national waters. The White Paper deals to some extent with our fisheries responsibilities but does not deal with drug trafficking, environmental policing or immigration policing which will become a more serious problem in the next four or five years. For this reason I cannot support the White Paper but I support the motion.

I am pleased to speak on this motion. The Minister for Defence is on the defensive and I support the comments made by Deputy Timmins. I regret the language used by the Minister when he said, "It is regrettable that such a short-sighted approach was adopted by some which I assure people will be long remembered". There was no need to include this sentence in the speech as it is nothing short of a veiled threat to members of the Defence Forces. It is an appalling statement and I ask the Minister to withdraw it in the interests of good relations with members of the Defence Forces.

I am proud of the 23 years I spent serving in the FCÁ. I served with people who are loyal to the State and who have a long tradition of service. I interacted with members of the Permanent Defence Force who were dedicated, hard-working and loyal. I also worked with members of the Naval Service, the Air Corps and all branches of the Defence Forces, in which the people are dedicated and proud of their history and what they do.

However, I am sad to say that morale is at an all time low in the Defence Forces because they have been left without leadership, knowledge or guidance as to their future. This situation arises at a time when we should be expanding our Defence Forces because of foreign commitments. In the past a foreign stimulus led to an expansion but the Minister has decided to reduce the strength of the Defence Forces and the fear is that the strength will be further reduced.

At Question Time I asked the Minister what constituted morale but he did not know. He could not answer me because he has no comprehension of what constitutes morale. He has destroyed morale in the Defence Forces by his behaviour. The Chief of Staff was on the verge of resignation. This was an unprecedented and appalling situation brought about by the Minister's actions and inaction. I appeal to the Taoiseach to intervene immediately in this issue before it is too late, but I fear it may be too late already.

I support this motion and compliment Deputies Fitzgerald and Wall on tabling it at this critical stage in the history of the Defence Forces. It is difficult to follow events. A fortnight ago Members were lobbied by PDFORRA which was concerned about the future direction of the Defence Forces. We were led to believe that the Chief of Staff was also concerned. The Minister met the Chief of Staff last week but it is a pity he did not hold such meetings earlier in this process. If one does not talk to the chief one does not talk to the Indians. The Minister pointed out that the Chief of Staff is from his county and it is hard to believe that he could bypass him.

The Minister is still denying that.

The Minister met the Chief of Staff last week and we are now faced with more confusion.

The Deputy knows that there is a plan for investment in the Defence Forces.

The Minister will have to face reality. He must accept that, as Minister for Defence, he has responsibility for a very important sector of this State. The Defence Forces are responsible for sea, air and land patrols. He must provide the Army with up-to-date equipment.

That is being provided for.

He must maintain personnel and keep the barracks open. The Minister told me in the House some time ago that I was responsible for re-opening Longford barracks on five occasions.

The Deputy only kept it open six times.

I am now announcing that, on the Minister's word, I am officially opening that barracks for the sixth time. Connolly Barracks is vital to Longford town. We are proud of the Army and I am glad that the Minister has followed in the footsteps of the former Minister for Defence, Deputy Barrett, who visited Longford to tell me that Connolly Barracks was safe. The Minister should come to the barracks and I also invite Fine Gael's capable, able and constructive defence spokesperson, Deputy Fitzgerald. The Minister will be doing a good job for himself and the Defence Forces if he keeps Connolly Barracks open, looks after the Defence Forces and keeps the flag flying in Ireland and across the world.

Debate adjourned.