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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Mar 2000

Vol. 515 No. 4

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

The following motion was moved by Deputy Wall on Tuesday, 29 February 2000:
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 consultative 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.
Debate resumed on 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.
–(Minister for Defence).

Acting Chairman

Deputy Belton was in possession but he has completed his contribution. I call Deputy Gay Mitchell who has three minutes remaining.

I wish to share time with Deputies Durkan, Theresa Ahearn, Boylan and McGrath.

Acting Chairman

That is agreed.

We live in a changed Europe, a Europe no longer bitterly divided between two blocs but a Europe which is increasingly coming together in an enlarged union. We also live in a Europe where a new security architecture based on common values, new models of conflict prevention and, where necessary, conflict resolution is evolving. Europe is moving ahead on security co-operation and Ireland will face crucial decisions about the nature of its future role.

Novembers' summit of Foreign and Defence Ministers in Brussels, the appointment of Javier Solana the former Secretary General of NATO as Common Foreign and Security Policy supremo of the EU and as Secretary General of the Western European Union, the Cologne Declaration, the St. Malo Declaration and the report of the three wise men on future EU evolution are clear indicators that security, common defence policy and even common defence are matters being discussed seriously at EU level. That the Government has participated in these discussions and acquiesced in these developments without adequate debate at home shows that the current Fianna Fáil dominated Administration has learned nothing from the mishandling of Partnership for Peace.

The so-called White Paper on Defence is a further indication of how not to develop security or defence policy. It is not a White Paper on Defence, it is a White Paper on Defence Forces personnel. Worse still, this Government policy statement does not take account of Ireland's changing role in security through Partnership for Peace, the Petersberg Tasks of the EU and the evolving security and defence structures in Europe.

The Government mislead the people on PfP. Regrettably, Ministers continue to run away from proactively developing policy in this area or even explaining proposals or developments to the public. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue It is time for an open debate on Ireland's role in the evolving European security architecture. The White Paper should have dealt with those issues.

Fine Gael favours joining a European defence entity, with an Article V protocol and based on principles which we recently set out in a policy document. It is time to stop developing this policy by the back door or on the basis of a nod and a wink. The Government must tell the truth about the situation in Europe. The White Paper is a missed opportunity to present those facts to the Irish people.

I have become alarmed recently at the degree to which the Government – this is not a personal criticism of the Minister, it is just a sign of the times – seems to be prepared to downgrade the Army. It appears to have reached the conclusion that the Army is no longer necessary. As Deputy Gay Mitchell said, we live in changing times and the demands and responsibilities placed on our Defence Forces are increasing. We need an Army which can be relied upon, whose members are satisfied and well equipped. In that context, it is ironic that we appear to be going in the opposite direction. We have downgraded the Army and closed down military installations while at the same time we have attempted to fund the its re-equipment on the basis of the sale of its assets. That is not possible. This is happening when, according to all reports, there has never been more money available for the Government to spend.

It is a reversal of what is happening in other countries that we appear to be downgrading the military and pushing its needs further and further down the list. That is wrong. With the exception of the UK, Ireland has the longest coastline in Europe. We have an ongoing responsibility in that regard and a major level of investment will be required to meet the demands that will be placed on us in the future. If we fail to make that investment, we will pay a high price at a later stage.

I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to the current position and to address the issues to which I refer.

Why did the Deputy's party not buy a ship or two when it had the opportunity?

The Defence Forces are the central instrument of stability in this State. Since 1922 officers have never once been obliged to go to the media to voice their concerns on the management and direction of the Defence Forces. The Minister's inept handling of the preparation of White Paper and his lack of consultation with senior military personnel has forced representatives of the Defence Forces to publicly state their dismay, disappointment and disagreement with his proposals. The entire saga has unfortunately created an atmosphere of disillusionment which will take many years to repair.

So great is the feeling of instability within the Defence Forces that officers are resigning their commissions at a rate of two to three per month. They are circulating their CVs and leaving because of disillusionment and collapsing morale. It is a sad day when the Chief of Staff threatens to resign. The situation is serious when the Minister loses the respect of the Defence Forces. When a Minister allows this to happen, he has damaged the entire force.

Everyone knows that the wishes and the proposals of the Minister and the Government will be implemented because the Defence Forces will obey, at all times, the directions of the Government of the day. We realise that increased invest ment in the Defence Forces is needed, but should it have to come at such a price?

The Deputy only realised that recently.

I particularly welcome the designation of the director of the reserve forces and director of training to Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, a move which secures the future of our Army barracks. This development was also promised by Deputy Barrett during his time as Minister for Defence.

Not true. The Deputy is hallucinating.

When we debate the future of the Defence Forces, we must remember that we are discussing the careers of people and the livelihoods of families. Is it fair to threaten them with such instability? Is it any wonder that the Defence Forces personnel worry about their careers and the well-being of their families? It is a serious gamble to sacrifice one of the greatest institutions this country has produced.

I support the motion. I represent a Border constituency and I take this opportunity to place on record my tribute to the Defence Forces for their contribution to keeping the peace between the North and the South during the past 25 years. Quite a number of those stationed on the Border made the ultimate sacrifice but their very presence was a source of comfort to many people living in lonely areas. We must not forget that. I am familiar with many of the personnel stationed at Cavan Army barracks and in Monaghan and I have the highest regard for them.

I regret the unease and turmoil created by statements the Minister made in relation to cutbacks and closures of barracks. He has caused unnecessary unease and turmoil and people no longer know whether they have a future in the Army. The statements, counter-statements and press releases he has issued are not beneficial.

I support Deputy Gay Mitchell's launch of my party's policy in respect of the role of our Defence Forces in a united Europe. We have a positive role to play in that regard and we cannot play it unless the Army is placed on a sound footing, properly equipped and properly trained. The Government's current approach is to downgrade and belittle the Defence Forces that have served us so well since the foundation of the State.

Why did the Deputy's party not do something for them?

We must stand by those people and ensure that they get the best deal possible from the Government of the day.

The Deputy's party would not buy ships or equipment.

If the Minister is not prepared to do that he should step aside.


The Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, strutted across the stage of this House last night and his presentation reminded me of the antics of a half-baked dictator of a South American republic. His contribution on the motion before the House was snide, mean-minded, intimidatory, threatening and hare-brained. In his 11 page statement he managed not only to deride the comments of the Opposition, those of many of his party's backbenchers and those of the Progressive Democrats, but he also issued a clear threat to members of PDFORRA and RACO and anyone else who expressed an opinion on his performance that they would be singled out and punished in the long-term. He said that their actions would be long remembered. He stated "It is regrettable that such a short-sighted approach was adopted by some which I assure people will be long remembered."

The statement the Minister made last night is a clear and outrageous threat to serving members of the Defence Forces that they will be singled out in time and made to pay for anything they said. He should take the opportunity over the next 24 hours to withdraw that outrageous statement. I have never heard a Minister make such a statement. It demeaned politics and his office. He owes an apology to the House and should withdraw that threat to serving members of the Defence Forces. I hope he will take the opportunity to do so.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Aylward, Brian Lenihan, Ardagh, Brendan Smith, O'Flynn, Power, John McGuinness and Daly.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Deputy is fielding a good team.

It shows the interest of this side of the House in the Defence Forces.

In light of what Opposition Members have just said, they might be better off directing television programmes such as "Dad's Army". I want to compliment and pay tribute to the Minister for Defence on the tremendous work he is doing with the Defence Forces. I also compliment and pay tribute to the Defence Forces personnel.

I congratulate the Minister on his open and widespread consultation – which, perhaps, disappointed the Opposition – on the White Paper on Defence. It provides for the most significant development of the Defence Forces ever undertaken. It commits the Government to unprecedented and very substantial investment in equipment and infrastructural development over the next ten years. In recent years, considerable sums have been expended under the Defence Votes for new equipment and for providing new and upgraded living and operational accommodation for the Defence Forces, which is very welcome. The Government fully intends to continue to modernise the programme to ensure the Defence Forces are equipped to the highest standards appropriate to their role.

The new equipment and other measures contained in the White Paper will help to transform the Defence Forces and will bring about a quantum leap in their capacity to perform the full range of tasks at home and overseas. The White Paper sets out a general framework for unprecedented investment, initially totalling over £250 million. This initiative will transform the Defence Forces into a world class military organisation.

The Government's policy is to ensure the Defence Forces are adequately equipped to undertake any role assigned to them. Establishing realistic equipment requirements and priorities for procurement forms a major element of strategic planning activities within the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. The object is to acquire, maintain and manage equipment, weapons and ammunition for the Defence Forces at the appropriate level of operational readiness in a cost effective manner, and rightly so.

For many years, the imbalance between pay and non-pay allocation of the resources has led to a deficiency in the required levels of modern equipment. This White Paper has been designed to ensure resources are freed up in manpower and other areas and allocated to the acquisition of necessary equipment. Any re-equipment programme should be regular, sustained, consistent and reasonable, having regard to the tasks required.

Since the completion of the 1994-95 efficiency audit group review, a substantial investment has been made in the modernisation of equipment, which I greatly welcome. The most important current programme is the acquisition of the new Mowag armoured personnel carriers for the Army. This is a major commitment, already made by the Government at a cost of £40 million for 40 APCs, which are due to be delivered in mid-2002. These vehicles will replace ones which first saw service in the 1970s.

I congratulate the Minister on his open consultation. The White Paper highlights the need to develop a more meaningful, co-ordinated combat development plan that would take a medium to long-term view of equipment purchase, replacement, upgrading and maintenance in a systematic manner across all units and services. That is the appropriate way to move forward.

The Minister must have got something right to get such a barrage of criticism from the Opposition. I commend him and all those who contributed to this report, particularly the various changes that have been made and agreed upon. I welcome the first ever White Paper on Defence. This programme of further development and expansion for the Defence Forces will build on the proud record achieved by the Defence Forces over the decades.

I welcome the additional £250 million for investment in equipment for the Defence Forces covering the Air Corps equipment requirements, continued investment in the Naval Service with special emphasis on fishery protection which is of vital importance, a commitment to continuous recruitment to the forces allowing for an additional 750 personnel to be recruited immediately, a continued commitment to overseas participation in accordance with Government commitments and the development of the reserve defence force, with a commitment to improve training and equipment.

I am happy to be parochial and to talk specifically about the Army barracks in Kilkenny. I thank the Minister for his commitment to that barracks. Since taking office, he has visited the barracks and given categoric assurances on its future, despite the consistent mischievous reports in the media and various leaks that one barracks might close as a result of this reorganisation. I am glad I had a meeting with the Minister at which he gave that firm commitment again. A mischievous attempt was made to set Kilkenny barracks against Clonmel barracks. They are totally different regions, in military terms.

I cannot overemphasise the importance of the barracks to Kilkenny city, county and region. It is of huge social and economic benefit to the traders, suppliers and providers of services in its huge catchment area. I want to place on record my thanks for the Minister's commitment to that barracks and the many other barracks throughout the country. It was unfortunate that leaks occurred in an attempt to set personnel in different parts of the country against each other.

I welcome the debate on the White Paper, especially the vigorous public debate on the subject. Vigorous public debate has not characterised the history of the development of policy in relation to the Defence Forces. In the formulation of policy, matters have been left very much to the Department over the years. It is tremendous that the Minister has brought forward the first ever White Paper, which outlines comprehensively State policy in this area and sets out a framework for development for the next ten years.

There has been a very vigorous debate with the military staff on this subject. It is tremendous that this State is served by a military staff at general headquarters who apply their minds to these problems. It is very reassuring for the citizen to know there is a dedicated corps of people, who are highly trained and specialised in military science and who apply their minds to the practical problems and to the emergency and contingency planning required in a country such as this. There has been debate, discussion and dialogue between the Minister and the general staff. I think that is not a bad thing and that public respect for the Minister and the GHQ staff will be enhanced as a result of that process.

As a private citizen, it was a revelation to realise that senior Army staff take their responsibilities so seriously and have a real conception of where the public interest in relation to defence matters lies. However, it falls to the Minister to make final decisions in the matter, which he has done and for which I commend him. That is democracy.

The key feature of the White Paper is that a continuous programme of investment in equipment has been provided for. For too long, all the Defence Forces – the land forces, the Air Corps and the Naval Service – were ridiculed as Cinderella outfits, in terms of equipment. There were tremendous developments in the Defence Forces following our entry into United Nations active service. There have been tremendous developments in the Naval Service since our accession to the European Community.

I welcome the Minister's announcement today in relation to the Air Corps, which is very important. I had raised with him the question of the safety of personnel in regard to Air Corps equipment. It is very important to have a continuous programme of investment in proper equipment for the Air Corps and that it is given a defined mandate and role. One of the problems with the Air Corps over the years was the lack of a clear concept of its role, in terms of the overall military organisation. I welcome that announcement by the Minister today.

Deputies on both sides of the House will speak about the importance of certain key installations in their constituencies. I am fortunate in that I do not have a key installation to defend but as an observer of defence debates over the years it seems that military experts have always insisted that we have too many military installations. This is not a popular point to make but a balance must be struck. The growth of the economy in future years will raise questions about the need for so many installations as a permanent feature of our defence arrangements. We will have to look at this issue in the future if we want an efficient and respected Army which is able to perform and concentrate on its tasks in the best traditions of our Army, Óglaigh na hÉireann. The White Paper resolves matters for the future and I commend the Minister for introducing it.

It is obvious that, in this motion, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have adopted a headless chicken approach to defence strategy and that any time the Government takes positive action their response is to table a Private Members' motion. Neither Fine Gael nor the Labour Party made any verbal or written sub missions when the White Paper was originally announced.

Can that be true?

They have no vision for the development of our the Defence Forces. This motion is the politics of condemning and deploring the actions of a forward-looking Government.

And rightly so.

There is no comparison between the approach of the rainbow Government and this Government because the rainbow Government did so little on this issue.

We maintained the Army.

The rainbow Government would not pay the Army. It ran the Army down.

In 1994, just before the rainbow Government took office, the Air Corps acquired the Casa aircraft for £42 million. However, today's major announcement is for £55 million for new aircraft and developments at Casement Aerodrome. For all its huffing and puffing, the rainbow Government did nothing during its term of office.

The Naval Service last purchased a ship in 1986. The LE Roisín was recently commissioned for £23 million and a new ship has been ordered at the same price or less. Between 1994 and 1997 the rainbow Government purchased no ships.

The Army recently purchased 40 armoured personnel carriers to be delivered over the next two years at a cost of £40 million.

The Deputy is hurting the Opposition badly now.

The first five vehicles will be delivered early next year. In 1999, the Army acquired 24 DROPS at a cost of £210,000 each, a total cost of almost £5 million. These DROPS are in use in Kosovo at the moment. There were no substantial purchases by the rainbow Government between 1994 and 1997. I am very proud of our Defence Forces and I will be prouder still when they have the most up-to-date, modern equipment after the implementation of the White Paper's proposals.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this motion and to compliment the Minister and his officials on bringing forward a progressive policy document. I remind Opposition Deputies that the last debate on the Defence Forces during Private Members' time was during the lifetime of the rainbow Government. At that time morale was at an all time low in the Defence Forces. You, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and I put questions to the then Minister concerning the Government's failure to pay members of the Defence Forces for additional duties they undertook as a result of the BSE difficulties on the Border. These payments were not made until the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, took office in June 1997. This highlighted the rainbow Government's commitment.

It is clear that this Government recognised the importance of having a proper structure for the Defence Forces and sufficient personnel. When Opposition spokesperson on defence, Deputy Michael Smith promised that when in Government Fianna Fáil would produce a White Paper on Defence. I am glad that this paper, which outlines the long-term strategic plan for the Defence Forces, has been brought forward during the first half of the Government's five year term.

Members appreciate the wide range of activities carried out by the Permanent Defence Force, ranging from service abroad to mercy missions at home. All too often the diversity and importance of these activities is not fully appreciated by the public. There has been a strong and sound Army tradition in my constituency and generations of families from my county have given and continue to give dedicated and loyal service to the State. Many members of the Defence Forces from my county have served and continue to serve with great distinction on difficult missions abroad.

Fianna Fáil in Government has always demonstrated the need to provide ongoing investment in the provision of adequate facilities for the Defence Forces. While in Government it placed the contract and paid for the construction of the new Dún Uí Néill Barracks in Cavan town. The provision of this barracks ensured that members of the Defence Forces stationed locally have the most up-to-date facilities available. It is an excellent headquarters for the 29th battalion.

The presence of the Defence Forces is of enormous social and economic value to the towns in which they are located. The people of Cavan and Monaghan realise the crucial importance of these barracks. Personnel based there play an important and positive role in their local communities. These people have given this State total commitment, often in difficult circumstances, particularly in Border areas.

The White Paper provides for a £250 million investment programme which will enable the further development of the Permanent Defence Force. The Minister has ensured that the Defence Forces will be properly resourced and equipped and the continuous recruitment provided for will ensure an appropriate age structure. The commitment of the Minister and the Government will ensure that personnel working overseas will be properly equipped and that safety will be paramount.

I pay tribute to the 6,000 Civil Defence volunteers engaged in important community work providing first aid, rescue and land and water searches. I compliment the Minister, his officials and the Government on bringing forward a progressive policy which will ensure stability and continuity in the work of the Defence Forces which is so important to the State.

We have a high regard for the Defence Forces in Cork and we are proud that the headquarters of the southern command is based at Collins Barracks, for which there is great affection as part of Cork's heritage. In the past four years over £3 million has been spent on building works in Collins Barracks as a result of the Minister's initiative. This year new projects costing £7 million will commence at the barracks under the barracks reinvestment programme. Work has already started on a new men's dining hall costing £1.7 million, work on a new NCOs' mess costing £1.4 million will commence shortly and before the end of the year work will be under way on a new armoury and gymnasium costing £5.2 million.

Undertaking these substantial new infrastructural projects became possible because of revenues from the disposal of barracks and savings achieved in Army payroll costs. These projects provide concrete evidence of the Government's commitment to develop and invest in the Defence Forces, a commitment copper-fastened by the White Paper, for which I congratulate and thank the Minister.

I am proud to be a member of a Government which has produced such a far-sighted and comprehensive White Paper and compliment the Minister and his advisers on their efforts. I will support the Government's amendment to the motion.

That is a big surprise.

I warmly welcome the White Paper which is a milestone in the history of the nation and the Defence Forces. At last the Defence Forces have been put on a sound long-term footing. For 20 years there has been widespread awareness and consensus that the structure and organisation of the Defence Forces had to be modernised as its basic underlying framework had remained unchanged for decades. The Price Waterhouse review provided an opportunity to address many issues in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps which required attention.

That was an economic review.

A number of these issues have been the subject of public debate for a considerable period of time. When the Defence Forces review implementation plan of 1998 was adopted by the Government it was on the basis that it was the first phase of a radical and far-reaching reform process which would take ten years to complete. It fell to this Government to produce the first White Paper on Defence and we have given strong and courageous leadership when it was most needed. We knew that we would be criticised by those who believe that sensation, hysteria and diatribe are more important than calm analysis, strategy and planning, but we did not hesitate to take the tough decisions needed to turn the Defence Forces around.

This White Paper sets out a ten year strategy and earmarks the funding necessary to produce a world class defence force. We will not rest on our laurels until the job is done and we have developed the best defence force possible.

We start from a solid foundation. Irish troops serving overseas have attracted commendations and acclaim for the consistently high standards they have maintained over the years as peacekeepers, often in very difficult circumstances. They have a proud record and tradition and are deserving of our congratulations. It is in their role as peacekeepers that the professionalism of members of the Defence Forces comes to the fore. Irish soldiers have built up an enviable international reputation as peacekeepers, many of them from Cork city and county.

Service with the United Nations demands a wide range of skills and personal qualities. Frequently, patience and diplomacy are as necessary as the conventional military skills of the soldier. Decades of experience have shown that Irish soldiers have these qualities in abundance and the number of requests the Government receives from the United Nations confirms the high regard in which Irish soldiers are held. The contribution made to peacekeeping operations has enhanced the prestige of Ireland internationally and has been a source of pride to all Irish people. Throughout the country the Defence Forces are held in high esteem and make a valuable contribution to their local communities.

I welcome the White Paper and the Government amendment to the motion which will be carried tonight.

At ease.

In Opposition I worked with the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, and we gave a commitment when we published our own policy document that we would bring forward a White Paper on Defence. It gives me a certain personal satisfaction that day has finally come.

Being from Kildare, I have lived all my life among Army personnel. Those of us from Kildare have an appreciation of the role and importance of the Army. In some sections of the country and in the media there exists a certain ignorance about the role and function of the Defence Forces. Often it is only when a crisis erupts and Army personnel are called in to provide necessary services or when bodies return home from overseas service, as happened recently, that we realise the sacrifices Army personnel make in the name of the country.

I am anxious, therefore, for this matter to be dealt with properly. Following the publication of the Price Waterhouse report, a certain strategy was adopted and we promised the Army a brighter future. Major changes had to be made and were made. At that time we reduced the numbers in the Defence Forces to 11,500. This was done to provide a more mobile and efficient defence force. To do that the Minister closed some barracks. I agreed with that.

I disagreed with it.

It does not make sense to keep the same number of barracks open if numbers are to be reduced by another 1,000.

The publication of the White Paper has caused much controversy, much of it unnecessary. There was very little difference between what the Chief of Staff and the Defence Forces were trying to achieve and what the Minister for Defence was trying to achieve. It was unfortunate that such controversy erupted and spilled over into the media. It did the Government and the Defence Forces no good. I am glad that the Minister met the Chief of Staff last week and that agreement was finally reached about the future role of the Defence Forces.

The Minister has outlined the investment planned for the Defence Forces and anyone familiar with the situation will realise how necessary it is. Apart from the investment in infrastructure and equipment, the new powers for the Chief of Staff are very important. He will become more of a chief executive with a more hands-on approach to problems within the Defence Forces. We are fortunate that the Chief of Staff has the respect of all ranks within the Defence Forces.

It is obvious to all who have been following this debate that there is a serious lack of trust between the military and the Department of Defence. That lack of trust existed long before Deputy Michael Smith became Minister for Defence. It is not in the country's interests to see that lack of trust continue. I appeal to the Minister and the Taoiseach to rectify that problem.

There is a saying in Kildare that a good soldier never looks behind. We have reached agreement on the future of the Defence Forces and it is now time to work together to ensure the recommendations are implemented.

My constituency has a long association with the Defence Forces through James Stephens Barracks. I recognise the important role of the Army, not just in the economic infrastructure of the county, but in terms of the social contribution made by its members.

The White Paper has been brought about through public debate and debate with the officers and is to be welcomed. Its presentation will mean that we can positively restructure the Army itself and restructure the barracks. Like my constituency colleagues, I acknowledge that the Minister took time out to examine James Stephens Barracks and that he made it clear it would not close. It is now part of the headquarters structure of the Defence Forces. Given the location of the barracks in Kilkenny city within the tax designated area, I would welcome its development. I ask the Minister to look at James Stephens Barracks when looking at the development and refurbishment of barracks, and to ensure the site and the listed buildings in it are properly refurbished and put to a use within the structure of the Defence Forces.

A move of this nature could lead to the decentralisation of the Defence Forces to Kilkenny city. The city has much to offer – the barracks is a fine site and there is a considerable respect for the Defence Forces in the region. I recommend the barracks as a location for decentralisation. In line with good practice and the development of such barracks, decentralisation should be part of the package of extension of the Defence Forces activity. The site should be retained as a fully fledged headquarters with a unit attached to it and we should spend whatever is necessary to upgrade all the buildings there.

I commend the White Paper and look forward to working with the Minister to ensure the full development of James Stephens Barracks.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Penrose and O'Sullivan. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I pay tribute to the contributions of Deputies Wall and Fitzgerald to the debate on the White Paper over a number of months.

Every Deputy in the House is well aware of the tension, suspicion and mistrust which the Minister's handling of the White Paper has caused among all ranks of the Defence Forces.

This mistrust has been growing over the past number of months and has culminated in the unprecedented rift we have witnessed between senior officers and the Minister, especially in recent weeks. At all times Deputies Wall and Fitzgerald have acted responsibly in trying to impress on the Minister the negative effect caused by his belligerent and short-sighted approach to the White Paper. True to form he turned a deaf ear. His arrogant behaviour has led directly to the crisis that has occurred in recent weeks and he has nobody to blame but himself. He would be better employed seeking to rebuild his relationship with the Defence Forces rather than making condescending, groundless and ignorant comments across the floor of the House, as he chose to do last night.

Does the Minister not realise that the Opposition parties and some of his backbenchers were recently briefed by the representative bodies? Has he not read the extensive coverage of this row in the media, including the editorials in this morning's newspapers? He should realise he is not the only one who is correct in this debate. He needs to come out of his cocoon.

The Defence Forces have been under constant review since 1990, beginning with the Gleeson commission, followed by the first and second reports of the efficiency audit group, the Price Waterhouse report of 1994, the Defence Forces reorganisation plan of 1996 and the 1998 Price Waterhouse review of the Air Corps and the Naval Service. Initially, many in the forces had hoped the White Paper would bring an end to this constant process of review and they expected that it would chart a new course for the Defence Forces in a rapidly changing domestic and international security situation. The turmoil of the past number of weeks and the documents produced yesterday demonstrate how misplaced were these hopes.

It is clear the Minister decided that the White Paper process presented him with another opportunity to cut a swathe across the ranks of the Defence Forces and to cut back further on personnel numbers, to their lowest in living memory. It is a miserable attitude for a Minister to adopt and all the bravado this Minister has mustered cannot hide the shambles he has made of the White Paper process. It will go down as one of the disasters of his term of office.

In his speech yesterday evening the Minister did not even have the good grace to acknowledge that the document launched yesterday afternoon was not the White Paper on Defence. It was left to the Taoiseach to respond to my party leader Deputy Quinn on the Order of Business and confirm that the final text of the White Paper will not be published for another three weeks. At the very least, the Minister could have admitted this last night. Instead he delivered a disgraceful threat to those who are critical of his approach. He threatened everybody, including the members of the Opposition, directly and democratically elected to this House, who were highly critical of the manner in which he handled the White Paper, and the members of the representative bodies who legitimately articulated the genuine and well founded concerns of members of the Defence Forces. Did the Minister also challenge the senior officers in the Defence Forces in a bid to invest a degree of credibility in the White Paper? He should withdraw his threats because nobody in this House will be frightened by them. They amount to unwarranted comment.

In his speech last night the Minister did not confirm that two sections of the military, the Director of the Air Corps and the Director of Training, would be moved to Clonmel. Expectations of this relocation were raised in Clonmel since a report to this effect first appeared in the media last week. The Minister confirmed the Roscrea decentralisation but not the Clonmel one. I hope this omission will not be interpreted as a backtracking on his part. Doubtless his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Deputy Davern, will ensure that the commitment will be met.

I pay special tribute to Lieutenant General Dave Sapleton, a Clonmel man, who over the last number of weeks has played a major role in this debacle. The extent of the crisis which the Minister has created required the Chief of Staff to return from East Timor to challenge his proposals. It is unprecedented in my time in this House and within the memories of the other Members that there should be such a rift between the most senior professional Army officer and the Minister for Defence.

The agreement the Chief of Staff secured last week is important and I hope it will contain the great disappointment and disillusionment the Minister has created throughout all ranks of the Defence Forces. However, I cannot understand why he omitted the text of the agreement from the draft White Paper he published yesterday. It seems that even at the eleventh hour he cannot play a straight hand when dealing with the Defence Forces. The omission of the agreement caused great concern yesterday afternoon and called into question the Minister's commitment to deliver on it. The evasion he engaged in at the press conference yesterday only served to compound the sense of grievance we all hold. Again, it was left to the Taoiseach, the settler of all the Government's problems, to clarify the position on the Order of Business. Surely he must be increasingly frustrated at the incompetence and arrogance of the Minister.

We in the Labour Party have a fundamental problem with the proposal to sacrifice up to 1,000 trained and dedicated soldiers to purchase essential armaments and up to date equipment. When the coffers of the Minister for Finance are overflowing surely now is the time to properly equip the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service and the Air Corps, from central funds and not from penny pinching savings in the defence budget gained at the expense of important and loyal personnel. We in this House are prepared to support any proposals by the Minister for additional capital spending on equipment via a supplementary budget.

The Minister should take on the Minister for Finance rather than the members of the Defence Forces. The departure of Ray Burke from the House in disgrace has left a void in the Fianna Fáil Party ranks which the Minister believes he should fill as the new Rambo of that party. It seems he believes he can single-handedly take on the questionable mantle of that forgotten voice. This may go down well in the assembled cumainn chairs, who will provide the echo of the hollow applause at this weekend's Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, but the members of the Defence Forces at all levels have a different take on the arrogant and ignorant stance on the White Paper adopted by the Minister.

If it was not for the goodwill and foresight of the senior personnel in the Defence Forces, the White Paper would have been an even greater disaster. It is a shame that the men and women who proudly wear the uniform of the State must put up with such a level of ministerial incompetence, bungling and arrogance.

The Deputy is his party's spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, not Defence, and it shows.

His speech struck a nerve.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the motion. I am also glad the Labour Party has moved it because of the appalling and shocking manner in which the Minister for Defence has handled the process leading up to the publication of the White Paper on Defence. Since the debate on the White Paper began some months ago the Minister has adopted an antagonistic and belligerent approach to the Defence Forces and he has gone a long way towards destroying trust between them and his Department. I am glad Deputy Power recognised that tonight.

I regret that the Minister has adopted an arrogant and superior attitude in dealing with senior military officers, the representative organisations RACO and PDFORRA and the FCA. When the process underpinning the White Paper began, a format for partnership and consultation with the Defence Forces was set out, but for a reason known only to the Minister this process was completely ignored. Since 1987 the partnership model has underpinned our progress, but the Minister decided to dismiss the process. For example, the civil-military working groups were never convened to the best of my knowledge. In addition, the officers nominated by the general staff of the Army and the representatives of GOCs to fill the appointments to the working groups were left in a vacuum. In effect, the senior military staff in the Defence Forces were completely excluded from this vital stage of the process. It is incredible that officers with expertise and knowledge about the future needs of the Defence Forces were ignored.

Furthermore, hardly any of the submissions made by the Defence Forces on the White Paper in November 1999 are included in the White Paper published yesterday. I do not understand why the significant contributions and concerns expressed are not reflected in a significant way. Why did the Minister have a consultative process if he was going to ignore it?

The Minister must accept responsibility for the leaking of the White Paper. The Minister became quite agitated when this was raised in the House by our party spokesperson on defence, Deputy Wall. Stories stating that the Defence Forces were facing massive cutbacks and redundancies made banner headlines in the national and provincial media. I am one of the few Deputies with two barracks in their constituency – Custume Barracks in Athlone and Columb Barracks in Mullingar. It had a significant impact, not only on the morale of the Defence Forces personnel serving in the barracks, but also on their families. I was at a funeral today where a former sergeant was burying his wife, which was attended by many former Army personnel. To use a local phrase, they would not drink the Minister's blood, such was the degree of anger. They were absolutely furious with the Minister, and he will get a hot reception if he arrives in Mullingar.

It seems the leaks were part of a clumsy strategy designed to soften resistance to the White Paper from within the ranks. However, the leaks only served to damage the morale and confidence of all ranks in the Defence Forces. I have never been a member of Government but I know it has a job to do. However, when preparing documents the relevant bodies should be consulted and there should not be leaks to journalists or anyone else before the people directly concerned get the final copy. I do not know where the strategy of leaking documents originates, but much work will have to be done to repair the damage in this case.

From a cursory reading of today's newspapers it is clear the Minister has not changed his approach. I do not understand why the Minister, either by addendum or annex, did not ensure that the agreement he reached with the Chief of Staff of the Army was not included in the White Paper. It was necessary for the Taoiseach to clarify the issue in the House today. The buck stops with the Minister for Defence and the failure to include the necessary and relevant documentation is a failure on his part. Yesterday he tried to separate elements of the agreement by saying some were administrative, some essential and some core. It is either all duck or no dinner with a document. It should include everything and issues should not be segregated in a ham-fisted manner. Basically, the Minister did not like some of the administrative elements and this was an attempt to exclude them. However, the document has been signed by both parties and I hope its status is reinforced by the Taoiseach's statement.

I call on the Minister to issue a clear and unambiguous statement to end the confusion and misinformation surrounding the agreement between him and the Chief of Staff. That agreement must be honoured in full. We might as well tear up the White Paper if there is any deviation from it, and the process will have to begin again. The Minister is not a fool and knows that honouring the agreement in full is essential.

The White Paper represents a missed opportunity. For the first time in the history of the State the Government decided to publish a White Paper, a positive move, to map out the future role of the Defence Forces and to ensure it can meet its domestic and international commitments. It should not have been designed as a vehicle to secure further reductions in the strength of the Defence Forces. The only thought in the minds of accountants and economic gurus who consider such document is value of money and bottom line economics. They conclude that the quickest solution is to get rid of personnel. Of course, they do not look at the long-term duties and obligations which we have taken on under Partnership for Peace, other international obligations and the obligations of the Defence Forces as an aid to the civil power in the State.

The White Paper is being used as a method of implementing severe cutbacks and redundancies. First, it was said that six barracks would be sold and that the money would be used for re-equipment and the upgrading of existing equipment. This is important as it is necessary that the Army has up to date technology and new equipment. However, this did not seem to be enough as the money saved in reducing the strength of the Army will also be used in this regard. The Army is sufficiently important to receive a significant element of public expenditure under the Department of Defence, as do other Departments. The Department of Defence should not be treated as the Cinderella among Departments, with whatever is left over after dealing with the other Departments being given to it. However, this is how matters have been handled. The White Paper is primarily motivated by budgetary arithmetic, not by national defence interests.

I can see the handy work of the Minister for Finance all over the White Paper. He is not satisfied with taking on the credit unions. He will only be happy when barracks have been closed and sold. He differs fundamentally and philosophically from my view of life, although both of us seem to have started from the same background. If he got his way there would only be 8,500 members in the Defence Forces. It is mind-boggling that the Government is adopting such a narrow, penny-pinching approach towards the Defence Forces.

In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled on 15 February I was informed that Ireland's spending on Defence as a percentage of GDP had fallen significantly since the Government came to office. Spending on Defence in 1997 was 0.95% of GDP, falling to 0.85% in 1998 and to 0.8% in 1999. The figures show that in comparison to other EU countries, Austria and Ireland have the lowest spending on defence. Given the amount of money at the disposal of the Government we should at least ensure spending on defence as a percentage of GDP remains constant at around 1%. It is unacceptable that the Government is allowing the figure to fall. If it is allowed fall much further the commitments given will run into trouble. It is critical that the White Paper should have been used to reappraise the levels of defence expenditure and examine the non-pay items over the years. We are only spending between 50% and 60% of what is the norm in the EU. We will find it extremely difficult to fulfil our international commitments under Partnership for Peace and the UN with such funding.

Military barracks throughout the country play a very important economic and social role in the livelihoods of the towns in which they are based. I represent a constituency with two major barracks – Columb Barracks in Mullingar and Custume Barracks in Athlone. Columb Barracks is most important to Mullingar and we are rightly proud of the military tradition of service at home and abroad by personnel in both barracks. In addition, the barracks in Mullingar makes a huge contribution to the local economy. Currently, 278 people work in the barracks, of which 248 are enlisted personnel and commissioned officers with a further 25 civilian staff. It is estimated that the barracks injects about £5 million into the local economy on an annual basis.

Columb Barracks is the home of the Fourth Field Artillery Regiment. It is the last remaining artillery barracks in the country.

I am very concerned about the contents of paragraph 4.316 of the White Paper which states that "the revision to the existing structure is likely to involve some reductions in artillery". Kildare and Ballincollig artillery barracks were closed in 1998 and a further reduction would have a severe impact on the barracks.

The Minister gave a commitment in his press release yesterday that a reduction in numbers would not involve any redundancies or the closure of barracks. I seek an assurance from the Minister on behalf of the people in Mullingar that there will be no redundancies there. We have already taken a hit. In November 1998 a unit based in Mullingar, the Fourth Field Supply and Transport Company, was disestablished with personnel transferring to Athlone. The artillery company is all that is left.

Similarly, Custume Barracks is of vital importance to the economic and social fabric of Athlone. It is currently the headquarters of the Western Brigade and is a source of great pride. I was shocked to read a report in The Westmeath Examiner on 11 February that Custume Barracks is experiencing a brain drain and that is a major worry. The report stated:

With greater employment opportunities in the IT sector, among others, there has been a tendency among the middle rank personnel to seek employment in the private sector where the future is not so uncertain. The Minister for Defence must accept that he is responsible for causing the widespread uncertainty throughout the Defence Forces which has caused many people to consider their future in the Defence Forces and we must end this uncertainty once and for all.

The Minister has only himself to blame for the mess he is in and none of it would have arisen had he listened to the reasonable concerns of the representative organisations. Containing expenditure to a fixed amount undermined the entire process and that was a failing. As my colleague, Deputy Ferris, said the Minister for Finance won the battle hands down.

I thank Deputy Penrose for sharing his time so that I can also support my colleagues in condemning the Minister for Defence for the complete mess he has made of the White Paper and for his serious undermining of the morale of the Defence Forces. This debacle, which has resulted in a head to head between the chief of staff and the Minister, will have a serious long-term effect with them backing down at the eleventh hour.

A former chief of staff was reported in one of today's newspapers as saying there is rampant mistrust between all sides in the Defence Forces. This should be totally condemned. I have had contact with the Defence Forces twice. I visited the Lebanon as part of an Oireachtas delegation and we saw at first hand the professionalism of the Army in its work overseas and the enormous effect that it had in dealing with the difficulties encountered by the people in south Lebanon. My other contact is with some of the 343 soldiers based in Sarsfield Barracks. I assure the Minister that barracks will not be undermined in any way by his ham-fisted approach to defence issues. Limerick has a strong military tradition going back to Patrick Sarsfield and I want an assurance from the Minister that it will not be undermined. The same can be said for barracks throughout Ireland and my colleagues have referred to those in their constituencies.

There is a great deal of worry, concern and uncertainly about the future of the Defence Forces and I put that down to the Minister's handling of the issue. It is a terrible shame in this time of prosperity, as Deputy Penrose said, that the Minister for Finance has won the argument. The Minister for Defence has not done his job properly in standing up for the forces for which he is responsible. As a result, there is a total mess for which the Minister and the Government are responsible. Ireland has a strong military tradition with the Defence Forces, of which it can be proud, and unfortunately, they have been undermined by everything that has happened in recent weeks in regard to the White Paper.

I thank Deputies Ferris and Penrose for sharing time with me on this important issue. The publication of a Government White Paper on Defence should be a happy occasion as it should set out the strategic view of Government and outline forward looking proposals for defence personnel. However, the manner in which the Minister for Defence has handled its publication, as he spent weeks engaged in defensive and offensive activity against the Defence Forces, means that the White Paper has become a farce.

I welcome Deputy Power's contribution because he had the guts to come into the House and tell the Minister for Defence and his own party the real position. Given that a large number of Army personnel reside in his constituency he has first hand knowledge of the feeling on the ground on these issues. The decision by the Minister to reduce numbers is not acceptable, particularly given Ireland's new obligations in regard to EU peacekeeping and UN activities. Furthermore, internal security is still important in the State despite the progress made in the Northern Ireland peace process over the past few years.

Prior to the reorganisation of the Army, undertaken by Fianna Fáil following an economic report by Price Waterhouse, the Permanent Defence Force personnel numbered 18,000. This number was reduced to 11,500 in November 1998, a massive reduction of 36%. The Minister for Defence is attempting to reduce numbers further to 10,900. The current strength of the Defence Forces is the minimum necessary to fulfil our domestic and international obligations. The Minister, through the manner in which he handled the consultations on the White Paper, has damaged morale unnecessarily, has deliberately, in an unprecedented manner, engaged in weeks of provocation and maintained his belligerent attitude when he ominously threatened people by saying that recent comments and views expressed by senior Army, navy and Air Corps personnel would not be forgotten.

I do not believe one word uttered by the Deputy.

Certainty is urgently required for the Defence Forces. The 300 soldiers based at James Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny, the FCA and all other soldiers have been unnecessarily upset and worried by the Minister's actions. The Thatcherite approach adopted by him—

The Deputy has gone off the rails altogether now.

The Minister is off the rails and I am just trying to bring him back. The Thatcherite approach adopted by him and the Minister for Finance at a time of unprecedented economic prosperity with regard to the purchase of Army equipment is not acceptable.

Since the foundation of the State, we have been fortunate to have such a loyal and dedicated Army. The Army, Air Corps and Naval Service have served the country at home and abroad. The Defence Forces have always been subject to the directions of this House and the Government, have always obeyed orders and this will continue. However, following the row between the Minister and the Defence Forces, there appears to be considerable mistrust and suspicion among the Defence Forces, the Government and the Department of Defence. It is regrettable, sad and wrong.

I wish to refer to the Minister's contribution last night and I hope he withdraws the statement he made. It will be a major mistake on his part if he allows it to remain on the record. He said "It is regrettable that such a short-sighted approach was adopted by some which I assure people will be long remembered.". On a previous occasion a member of the Fianna Fáil Party threatened a soldier and the then President ensured that it was noted on the soldier's record that no action would be taken against him.

Members on the Government side seem to have long memories.

A former Fine Gael Minister for Defence threatened the President.

The Minister should withdraw the comments he made last night; long memories are not of assistance to anybody. It is a sad day when comments such as those the Minister made are heard in this House. Whatever mistrust and suspicion existed before his speech, his comments will have cemented them.

Previous speakers have suggested that the proposals contained in the White Paper will in some way undermine morale in the Defence Forces. The Government's decision to introduce a White Paper will restore morale and end the indecision and anxiety which has existed for far longer than ten years. I served as Minister for Defence for a short time. Above all, the White Paper will end the apprehension which has prevailed for more than ten years in regard to the Defence Forces' future prospects. That anxiety, indecision and apprehension about the future brought the women of the Army onto the streets more than ten years ago in a bid to get some action. The unhappy situation which has prevailed in the Army is not of the current Minister's or any recent Minister's making.

The introduction of the White Paper offers the prospect of a blueprint for the future development of the Defence Forces. It will restore confidence among Army personnel and in the Army and, above all, it will chart the course of the Defence Forces for the foreseeable future, thereby enabling the Defence Forces to continue to play an important role nationally and internationally as it has in the past.

I welcome this opportunity to congratulate the Minister, a man I have known for the past 27 years. He is an able, sincere and firm man who is committed to the task in hand and he is respected for that. Army personnel would have very little respect for the Minister if he did not face up to and tackle the problems which have undermined the Defence Forces for a long time. Those problems must be rectified and this White Paper, which will provide for the most sustained programme of investment ever seen in the Defence Forces, will restore confidence and morale in the Army and chart its future for the next ten years. Its recommendations will result in a modern, world class defence force, one of which we will all be proud.

Deputy O'Sullivan referred to her visit the Lebanon. I also visited the Lebanon. In the days of indecision, I signed the document which resulted in the establishment of PDFORRA and RACO. Those organisations have made an enormous contribution to the development of the Defence Forces and we should recognise and applaud that. They would not respect any Minister who was not prepared to engage in negotiation and hard bargaining with them to ensure that the necessary measures will be put in place over the next ten years in the Defence Forces.

A sum of £215 million will be invested in new equipment and infrastructure. Only today we witnessed the start of that with the Minister's announcement of a £55 million investment in the Air Corps over three years. I commend the Air Corps on its valuable search and rescue service which is second to none and which has saved many lives around our coast from the Shannon basin to Finner and along the east coast. Perhaps some consideration might be given to the establishment of an air ambulance service which would operate in conjunction with the search and rescue service. An air ambulance service is badly needed and Ireland is unique in Europe in not having one.

Deputy Ferris referred to Kickham Barracks in Clonmel which I had the opportunity to visit. The Minister already addressed this issue through a parliamentary question in which he stated that Clonmel will feature in the decentralisation process.

The White Paper is an excellent development, one which all sides should overwhelmingly support in order to encourage the development and consolidation of the Defence Forces which are the envy of many European countries.

I wish to share time with the Labour Party spokesperson on defence, Deputy Wall.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Minister for Defence, who is well liked by all of us, is not the first Minister to experience difficulty in bringing a White Paper to conclusion within Cabinet. Delays of up to two and three months are not the sole prerogative of the current Minister. However, he has created a new precedent through the introduction of a serial White Paper. We had the White Paper published two days' ago which we now find is incomplete according to comments made earlier by the Taoiseach. The final printed form will contain some of the side agreements which were made at the eleventh hour, nay at three minutes to midnight, in order to assuage the genuine worries and fears of the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.

As the White Paper has been in gestation for more than a year, it is a reflection of extraordinary political incompetence within the collectivity of the Cabinet that at such a late stage in the day, the Chief of Staff cut short his visit to East Timor in order to make a final appeal to the Department of Defence to alter some of the contents of the White Paper. We are not party to internal negotiations but neither are we ignorant. I am making a political rather than a personal charge.

The serial White Paper is the first of its kind but the serialisation of policy is not unique to the Minister for Defence. We have witnessed a serial, soap opera of a budget and Finance Bill to which successive changes have been made according to how vociferous particular interest groups have been. We have witnessed the nonsense whereby the Minister for Finance in a Cabinet, which according to our Constitution is supposed to have collective responsibility, refuses to meet with representatives of the Irish League of Credit Unions and whereby an Independent Deputy, by way of compromise, forces a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

Compounding the farce, when I tabled a parliamentary question in accordance with the rules of this House to ask the Taoiseach about the outcome of his meeting with credit union representatives, the Ceann Comhairle's office, in accordance with precedent and standard practice, stated that the question had been transferred to the Minister for Finance, the man who refused to meet the credit union representatives in the first instance. This issue must be viewed in the context of a Government which is unique in the history of this State. Never before has any Administration had so many resources at its disposal and never before has a Government simultaneously displayed such political incompetence in deploying those resources.

At a time when morale among the Defence Forces could and should be high, it is clear from speaking to middle ranking officers, who in the past were punctilious in reserving their comments in order that they would not cross the historical divide between uniformed officers and politicians, that they have been driven to such despair that they have privately articulated their angst and concern at what is happening to the Defence Forces under the tutelage of this Government. For the first time in their lives, they cannot say they understand that the money is not available, that the Government is faced with a major budgetary crisis or that there is a problem in regard to overall taxation. The Government is systematically driving down the tax base of this country on the one hand and starving the Defence Forces of key resources on the other.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but in the various discussions he has had with those concerned, he has conveyed the message that it was a simple choice and he lost the battle with the Department of Finance. It was an either/or decision between a fixed number of soldiers, which was below what the Army felt was necessary to sustain its infrastructure, and the use of the spare money for extra capital. Against the background of what we have had to deal with, what our armed forces will be expected to do now that we have joined Partnership for Peace and the fact that the equipment required by the Defence Forces will be vastly in excess of previous requirements, this is a level of political incompetence from this Government which must be made known in this House.

No cogent answer has been given by this Government, which is salting away 1% of our GDP into a pension fund for civil servants and others which will not be availed of for another 15 years. The Minister may have lost the political argument on a departmental basis but the Defence Forces have lost far more. The ramming through of this ham-fisted, incomplete White Paper at the eleventh hour has added insult to injury. The three Opposition parties in this House have tabled this motion to castigate a gross act of political incompetence.

This has been an important and timely debate and I thank everyone who has taken part. The shortcomings of the Minister's White Paper on Defence have been laid bare. The anger the process has caused among the representative organisations has been well aired. The abject failure of the Minister to produce a White Paper which charts a new direction for the Defence Forces in a rapidly changing domestic and international security environment is there for all to see. The Minister's contribution to the debate last night was defensive, detached and arrogant. He failed to recognise the crisis he precipitated in the highest ranks of the Defence Forces and to acknowledge the extensive mistrust and suspicion created by his mishandling of the White Paper process. He engaged in petty points scoring that was out of keeping with the tenor and tone of this debate and which blatantly ignored the blundering and incompetence that has marked his handling of the White Paper.

The incomplete version of the White Paper which the Minister launched yesterday, was used to facilitate another budget cutting exercise in our Defence Forces. Any hope that this White Paper would realistically address the role of the Defence Forces in the next decade has been long forgotten. Instead, the most senior officers in the Defence Forces have had to fight a rearguard action to invest some degree of reality in the White Paper. It is nothing short of appalling that the Chief of Staff was forced to return from East Timor in order to challenge the Minister on this White Paper. It is clear that partnership and consultation had nothing to do with the White Paper. An unprecedented crisis between the most senior officers in the Defence Forces and the Minister was only resolved due to the foresight and determination of Lieutenant General Stapleton.

We should be clear about the events of the past ten days. The Minister's attitude to the White Paper critically undermined morale in the Defence Forces, denigrated the representative bodies and placed the Chief of Staff in an untenable position. The meeting on the 24 February resulted in a series of concessions that managed to contain the damage inflicted by the Minister. He signed an agreement which stated that "the White Paper as published will be amended on the major issues above as necessary". The agreement succeeded in securing a range of significant and crucial changes to the White Paper as drafted. It was not a side agreement or an addendum to the document – these were actual changes to the content of the White Paper that were to be included before publication. Yet, incredibly, yesterday the Minister published a White Paper which did not refer to or include the points agreed on 24 February.

We know that the Minister has ignored and dismissed the views of the Defence Forces in the preparation of this White Paper. That he should attempt to renege on commitments given to the Chief of Staff only six days ago is beyond belief. The evasion in which the Minister engaged at yesterday's press conference resulted in another wave of mistrust in the ranks of the Defence Forces. The Minister did nothing to allay these fears and he did not have the good grace to admit that the document he produced yesterday is at best an incomplete, partial White Paper on Defence. It was left to the Taoiseach to clarify the matter this morning and rein in the arrogance of his Minister for Defence.

That is worrying.

This is appalling behaviour and it casts a serious doubt over the competence of the Minister to remain in his current post. I do not make these comments lightly.

I will be clear about where I stand on the funding of the Defence Forces. There is a bogus economic rationale behind the White Paper process. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Defence both insist that the much needed re-equipping of the Defence Forces can only come from savings and cost cutting measures in the defence budget. It is clear this Government does not believe the Defence Forces are entitled to any share in the new resources available to it, despite the expanded and onerous tasks which the Government is imposing on the Defence Forces—

The Deputy is not on strong ground.

—through membership of Partnership for Peace and the new evolving common defence and security policy in the European Union. I do not accept this logic. The reality is that after years of under-investment our Defence Forces need an injection of capital for new equipment. This capital investment should come from the Exchequer. The Government has charged the Defence Forces with extended duties and it is only right and proper that the men and women who are expected to carry out these duties have the modern armaments, communications and transport necessary for them to carry out these tasks safely and professionally.

The Minister has turned a deaf ear to this logic. The short-sighted, penny-pinching view of the Department of Finance has been allowed to run riot. The Minister has colluded in this bogus economic analysis. The Defence Forces needed a strong, committed Minister who could make a rational argument for increased resources. However, the Defence Forces do not have such a Minister. Not only will future investment have to be financed through job losses and land sales but the Minister, in a vindictive and grossly unfair decision, is intent on forcing the Defence Forces to cover the cost of the Army deafness hearings.

I will now comment on how we can progress following the turbulent and regrettable events of recent weeks. If he listened to this debate the Minister will be well aware of the anger and frustration which the White Paper process has engendered in the Defence Forces. I was pleased that my constituency colleague, Deputy Power, also noted this. It represents another serious blow to the morale of the Defence Forces, a critical problem which the Minister has failed to address since taking office.

I thought Deputy Wall had a reasonable IQ.

I urge the Minister to stand back from the turmoil of recent weeks and for the first time since taking office to invest real meaning in the terms consultation and partnership. He must recognise the urgent need for him to rebuild his relationship with senior officers, rank and file Defence Force members and the representative bodies.

As a first step he should summon up the decency to withdraw the veiled threat he made in his speech last night to which my colleague Deputy Ferris and others referred. The Minister should also demand that the re-equipment of the Defence Forces begins immediately and does not have to wait for the proceeds of land sales or the savings from the wage bill to come on stream. The White Paper makes it clear that it may be several years until this finance becomes available from these sources. Surely after the treatment that has been meted out to the Defence Forces by the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Finance, the Government can see the benefit in securing additional resources now, which could go on essential procurement policies. This procurement programme should not have to wait on the exchange of title deeds, or the retirement of serving members from the Defence Forces.

I also urge the Minister to urgently progress the introduction of the Defence Forces hearing loss compensation Bill. There is agreement that a proper statutory compensation scheme would finalise this complex issue. The Minister's exaggeration of the extent and cost of the hearing loss claims has caused much hurt in the Defence Forces, among retired and serving officers. He should finally deal with this issue and the current proposed publication date of mid-2000 should be brought forward.

The White Paper process has proved to be a shambles. It has increased disillusionment and mistrust in the Defence Forces.

A sum of £55 million for the Air Corps.

The Minister should listen.

It has soured relationships between the Minister and serving members of all ranks. However, in three weeks the final version of the White Paper should appear and then we must look to the future. The huge errors of judgment which the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, has displayed in the drafting of the White Paper cannot be repeated. The crisis of recent weeks has been unprecedented and damaging. It is time to call a halt to the denigration and undermining of the Defence Forces.

These men and women will be required to carry out increasingly complex and dangerous duties over the coming years. There is an onus on the Government to ensure that the Defence Forces have the resources and support necessary to carry out these tasks. That is the challenge facing the Government.

I urge the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to rein in the overblown arrogance the Minister has displayed in his portfolio to date. The Defence Forces and the State, cannot endure a repeat of the debacle that the Minister caused over the past number of weeks. A new start and a new approach by the Minister is urgently needed. I commend the motion to the House.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán. Healy-Rae, Jackie.


Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Donnell, Liz.

O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.Allen, Bernard.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Coveney, Simon.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.Lowry, Michael.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.