Written Answers. - Defence Forces Reserve.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

116 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the planned reorganisation of the Irish Defence Forces in which an amalgamation is proposed between the 25th Infantry Battalion and the 18th Infantry Battalion to form a new battalion; the reason Mayo is proposed to be reduced from four infantry companies, plus a meter squadron, to two companies; if it is proposed to reduce numbers of personnel already serving in Mayo from the present figure of 680 to 310 people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10622/03]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

117 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Defence if he has discussed with the officer commanding the four Western Brigade Reserve Defence Forces (details supplied) the proposal to cut the number of personnel serving in Mayo from the present figure of 680 people to 310 people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10623/03]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

118 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether it is essential to retain Castlebar Military Barracks as battalion headquarters of the Western Battalion; if he will ensure that every step is taken to locate support company headquarters in Mayo, as three of the training companies are already in Mayo, namely Ballyhaunis, Claremorris and Ballinrobe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10624/03]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

120 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Defence if he will consider establishing an army re-integration unit for personnel serving overseas at the Military Barracks, Castlebar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10626/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116, 117, 118 and 120 together.

On 15 January 2003 I approved, in principle, the report of the Reserve Defence Forces Review Implementation Board for the implementation of the recommendations of the special steering group on the reserve. The steering group, which I established to undertake a study of the reserve, reported to me in September 1999.

The Permanent Defence Force is now organised in a three-brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The Reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged that the implementation of these changes in the Reserve Defence Force will take place over a period of approximately six years.

The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is its countrywide, geographical spread. This particular aspect will, in general terms, be retained in the future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new reserve will be determined in the course of the ongoing detailed implementation process. Plans are currently being prepared within each brigade for the amalgamation of FCA units in line with the proposals outlined in the steering group report. The objective of this process is to ensure that better training and other facilities will be provided to members of the Reserve Defence Force. The steering group report proposed the amalgamation of the 18th Infantry Battalion with the 25th Infantry Battalion but no final decisions have yet been taken on the location of the proposed newly amalgamated units. The military authorities have advised me, however, that all proposed amalgamations will provide an optimal environment for personnel in the relevant areas to partake in the new enhanced Reserve Defence Force.
In general terms, the blueprint for the new Reserve Defence Force will involve replacing An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil with an Army reserve consisting of two elements. One element will provide personnel who will integrate with Permanent Defence Force units to bring them up to full operational strength in a contingency situation. Personnel who opt for a period of integrated service will be provided with enhanced military training. The larger element will provide the overall Army reserve, organised into three reserve brigades.
Members of the FCA are already seeing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of better clothing and improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops we will see additional benefits in terms of a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure, and opportunities for suitably qualified reserve personnel to serve overseas. We will also see benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.
As indicated in the White Paper on Defence, an important change recommended by the study of the reserve is that members of the FCA should be considered for participation in overseas peace support missions subject to suitable qualifications, personal availability and appropriate advance training. Service by reservists on overseas peace support missions in other countries is quite common. General criteria governing selection for overseas service come within the scope of representation and any matters relating to overseas service by members of the reserve which come within the scope of representation will be raised with the representative associations at the appropriate forum. The question of the security of civilian employment for the members of the reserve who may wish to serve overseas will be considered as part of the implementation process.
I must emphasise I am very mindful of the need to preserve and to retain the very many traditional and well established strengths of the current reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nationwide geographical spread.
There are no plans to reduce the existing establishment of the Reserve Defence Force in Mayo which is 680. The current effective strength, that is, the number of personnel who attend for training on a regular basis, is 310.