The White Paper on Defence 2000 sets out defence policy and a framework for modernisation and change over the period to end 2010. This framework has provided the overarching modernisation goals for the Defence Forces. Action plans under successive pay agreements have underpinned this ongoing modernisation process.
The commitment to which the Deputy refers is contained in the action plan under the pay agreement and modernisation agenda for the Defence Forces. The action plan was itself derived from the modernisation agenda of March 2007 agreed with the Defence Forces representative associations and both were, in turn, modelled on the Towards 2016 agreement between the social partners.
The commitment referred to in the Deputy's question is one of 17 and is the opening one in the action plan. It is set in the context of the successful reduction in Permanent Defence Force numbers to 10,500 and maintenance of the three-brigade structure in line with the recommendations of the White Paper on Defence 2000. The commitment to continued modernisation and change and to seeking optimal Defence Force structures and flexibility is affirmed in this opening statement.
The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The dispersal of personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training. It also imposes increased and unnecessary overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barrack management, administration, maintenance and security. As the Deputy will be aware, four barrack closures were recently announced in the budget. These closures will facilitate collective training, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties.
The action plan goes on to elaborate a wide range of further commitments across the whole spectrum of change and modernisation in the Defence Forces.
The House will be fully aware of the tremendous progress that has been made in the modernisation of the Defence Forces since 2000, which is described in detail in the White Paper on Defence 2000 published by my Department in April 2007. As provided for in the modernisation agenda and pay agreement, a performance verification group, PVG, has monitored performance against the commitments set out in the action plan and has made recommendations as to whether the pay increases set out in the agreement were justified. The Defence Forces representative associations, my Department and the military authorities are represented on the PVG. The group has an independent chairman, Mr. Frank Murray, former Secretary General to the Government. The PVG met on a regular basis to review progress on all elements of the action plan. The most recent meeting was on 30 July 2008.
I am satisfied with the overall progress that has been made to date in implementing the action plan and that the modernisation agenda in defence is continuing to yield significant improvements to the Defence Forces' capabilities.