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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Nov 2008

Vol. 668 No. 4

Priority Questions.

Army Barracks.

Jimmy Deenihan


64 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence if a meeting with him was sought by a Defence Forces representative association to discuss barrack closures; the date the meeting was sought; if the meeting has taken place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42929/08]

Yes, PDFORRA sought a meeting with me to discuss the issue of barrack closures. While no date has been set for such a meeting, I have assured PDFORRA that I will meet it to discuss how we can achieve the implementation of the decision to close barracks, including the closure date of 31 January 2009. I have had no request for a meeting from RACO.

Surely, if PDFORRA asked to meet shortly after the announcement of the closure of barracks, the Minister could have arranged a date to meet by now. PDFORRA is concerned about the welfare of its members and the disruption of family life involved for 650 people who will be moving to different locations and workplaces. This will involve changing schools in some cases. In many cases it will involve travelling long distances to work because people cannot source alternative accommodation. In 2004 an announcement was made about the decentralisation of the Department of Defence and the defence headquarters to the Curragh. It still has not happened. The Minister expects these people to move from four barracks in the space of 14 weeks. That time lead-in is not adequate in view of the disruption involved, which has manifested itself outside this House and continues to do so in the counties affected, including some of the Minister's people.

My secretary wrote to PDFORRA on my behalf on 13 November, making it clear to PDFORRA that I would be prepared to meet to discuss the implementation of the Government decision, not the substance of the decision. I am awaiting a response from PDFORRA to that letter. If PDFORRA wants to meet me to discuss the implementation of the decision, I assure the House there will be no difficulty.

Regarding the 14 week timescale, discussions have taken place on behalf of the staff being moved, between my officials and the representatives in PDFORRA. There have been various discussions on the timetable. On a number of occasions, including to delegations that came to see me on this matter, I have said that if we cannot meet the target of 31 January, so be it. I am not hung up on the target. As of now, I expect it to be met but if it is not met by 31 January I am prepared to give it another while.

In view of the fact that some personnel live across the Border in Derry and elsewhere and some personnel are serving in Chad at this moment, what accommodation has he made for these people? The Minister must realise that accommodation must be made for these people in their new workplaces. What guarantees can the Minister give the House that there will be adequate accommodation, whether office or storage, for personnel moving into a whole new work environment?

I can give the House this guarantee, that no one will be moved until the facilities in the receiving barracks are adequate. As a representative of a party in favour of cutting public expenditure to a greater extent than the Government is——

That has nothing to do with it at all.

——Deputy Deenihan will support that. I recall Deputy Deenihan's immediate reaction to barrack closures. He did not question the merit of the barrack closure at all, in sharp contradiction to the Deputy James Bannon who stood on a platform in County Longford, trying to score political points off my colleague, Deputy Peter Kelly.

It was the same with Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher.

He said that Fine Gael would oppose the closure of the barracks no matter what. It did not matter what it cost.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher did exactly the same in Donegal.

This is playing politics and talking out of two sides of one's mouth.

I am not playing politics.

Perhaps Deputy Deenihan will enlighten the House——

I am asking the Minister a question.

——as to where Fine Gael stands on this matter. Is Fine Gael for or against the closure of the barracks?

I will explain the procedure, which is that the Minister answers the questions and the Deputies opposite pose them.

I would like to get some clarification. The people are entitled to know where Fine Gael stands on this important matter.

Information and Communications Technology.

Brian O'Shea


65 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Defence the steps he has taken to define and classify the risks and threats in the area of cyber security and defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42930/08]

Cyber security, cyber crime and Internet security represent challenges that are constantly evolving and require vigilance and appropriate responses. Cyber security is multifaceted. The nature of the threat and the potential impact also varies considerably depending on the approach and objective of those with malicious intent.

Each State agency, business and individual should take every precaution with regard to security. Awareness of security, the risks and available safeguards, can be seen as the first line of defence for the security of information systems and networks. I am aware of considerable activity in this regard. My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, has undertaken a number of awareness campaigns aimed at individuals, SMEs, the education sector, the public sector and business.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Garda Síochána are also active in areas such as cyber crime and cyber bullying. The legislative programme includes the criminal justice (cybercrime) Bill, being prepared by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This Bill gives effect to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime as well as to the EU Framework Decision on attacks against information systems.

My Department and the Defence Forces focus on the risks and threats arising in the context of the roles laid down by Government for the Defence Forces. My Department and the Defence Forces implement a programme of continuous review of ICT security in order to keep up to date with current threat levels. This risk assessment is carried out by a high-level board comprising civil and military personnel and is supported by subgroups that carry out specific reviews where a security risk is identified. Detailed policies and guidelines are provided to all users of ICT systems and considerable resources are invested in assessing weaknesses and protecting systems against cyber attack and malicious security breaches. The Defence Forces take comprehensive measures with regard to the security of their information and communications systems when deployed in Ireland and overseas. Details of measures taken are not publicised for security reasons but, given the levels of upgrading and increased protection put in place in recent years, the vulnerability to such attacks has been greatly minimised.

I thank the Minister for the reply. Could the Minister confirm that his is the lead Department in this area? Can the Minister assure the House that, if a cyber attack like the one mounted on Estonia in April and May 2007 were to occur here, we have the capability to minimise the effects of the attack as the Estonian authorities were capable of doing? Is he aware that during the five day war between Russia and Georgia, cyber warfare was engaged in by both belligerent parties in parallel with conventional military operations? Can he inform us of the international contacts he is developing in respect of this issue? My understanding is that there must be international co-operation in order to deal with the malevolent forces that engage in cyber warfare.

The Department of Defence is not the lead Department. We operate the same system as under the emergency planning provisions. Each Department is primarily responsible for its own security. The central, co-ordinating Department is the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. That has been agreed by the committee on emergency planning.

I am aware of the situation in Estonia, to which Deputy O'Shea adverted. We have invested much time and effort to develop systems to protect information accumulated by the State or other organisations. In the event of an attempted crime, the Garda Síochána is the relevant authority. The Department of Defence has been extremely active. We keep upgrading the equipment, we have people who are well clued in, we have a high level committee constantly assessing the risk of a cyber attack and we have sub-committees that focus on anything that is identified. I have had dozens of meetings with the emergency planning committee since I took over as Minister. It has had very little discussion on cyber crime. I get a threat assessment at each of those meetings, both from the Garda Síochána and from the military. Cyber crime has not featured. The risk of a cyber attack is regarded as being extremely low. However, in deference to Deputy O'Shea's interest in the matter and now that it has been brought to my attention, I will raise it at the meeting of the emergency planning committee due to be held before Christmas. Eleven Departments are represented on that committee and I will ask them to communicate with their own Departments and give me an update on the position.

On the international dimension, we have kept in touch with our international colleagues in this regard because it is a multinational operation. An interesting workshop is being organised by the OSCE for next March, which we hope to attend, on combating cyber crime on a multinational scale.

I thank the Minister for undertaking to raise this issue at the next meeting of the emergency planning committee but he should seriously consider having the Department of Defence as the lead Department. I am aware that a cyber attack is seen as very unlikely but I am sure he will agree there is a need to be prepared for any eventuality, particularly as these sort of attacks can materialise out of nowhere and can be devastating because of the extent of the areas that can come under attack. It is not just the public Internet connections and information systems. It can attack bodies like the banking institutions and affect the exchange of information.

I agree with Deputy O'Shea about the possible devastating impact of such an attack. Considerable discussion has taken place on who should be the lead Department in this regard and after due consideration it was decided that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should be the lead Department. I do not have time to go into all the factors that led to that conclusion but in the event of a cyber attack or a threatened cyber attack I, as chairman of the emergency planning committee, would convene a meeting of the committee. The Department of Defence would chair that operation but we will be depending on the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to co-ordinate the response across the different Departments.

Defence Forces Policy.

Jimmy Deenihan


66 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence if, with regard to the agreed action plan under the pay agreement and modernisation agenda for the Defence Forces, the specific initiatives and commitments under the heading “organisation and strength”, specifically the identification and exploration of the challenges to achieving optimum structures and flexibility, that have taken place within the timeframes laid down in the action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42868/08]

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.

The key issue is that the representative bodies agree that the Minister and the Government make the decision about the closure of barracks but there is a commitment in this pay agreement that where closures were to take place, there would be consultation beforehand with the representative groups. In this instance, that did not happen. That is the main point of contention.

Will the Minister clarify if there is a template for the closure of barracks that would ensure that if barracks were to be closed in the future, a certain procedure would be gone through? I am sure the Minister will agree that the representative bodies should have been consulted in line with this pay agreement. That agreement was signed up with Government and the procedures were not followed. This agreement was voted on by their members but some of those members are now asking, when is a deal not a deal? They are confused about what has happened. Will the Minister confirm that it was part of that pay agreement that consultation should have taken place first? Is there a template for barrack closures? Is this a breach of this pay agreement?

I do not believe it is a breach of the pay agreement. My understanding of the pay agreement is that if we were proposing to close barracks in normal circumstances we would consult. As Deputy Deenihan knows, this was a budgetary decision taken by Government in regard to cutting public expenditure generally. This relates to the Department of Defence specifically. It was not a unilateral decision by me to close barracks on which I got the agreement of Government. It was a collective decision of Government in the context of the budget. It was a budgetary measure and we are under no obligation to discuss in advance items that will be in the budget. That is the context of it. If it was being done in the usual way outside the context of a budget, whereby I decided that we needed fewer barracks, I would consult with the representative organisations.

The Minister mentioned cost a few times. What is the saving factor when it is factored in that the four barracks due to be vacated will have a huge cost in terms of security, heating and maintenance? If this closure of barracks is all about cost, what saving will result? Is that factored in to the budget? Does the Minister know the exact saving he expects to make from the closures? Can he tell us the saving that is expected?

First, it is not all about cost. It is also about collective training. I have been under pressure from the military from the time I took over this Department to consolidate the number of barracks to allow people going into dangerous foreign territory to train together. It is felt to be in the interest of the safety of the troops that they should train together in advance of going into darkest Africa.

That is another issue.

I can confirm to Deputy Deenihan that I have a good deal of correspondence to back that up.

Second, in regard to cost, the Deputy will be aware there is a later question on cost which we will reach. However, a cost-benefit analysis done by the Department shows that the total cost of this measure over the next three years will be approximately €5.9 million. As against that, recurrent savings will be approximately €2.7 million per annum. On the value of the properties we will get back, the savings will be approximately €30 million. It will be of huge benefit to the Exchequer, therefore, but cost is not the only factor. There is also the question of collective training as we undertake more dangerous missions.

Defence Forces Property.

Brian O'Shea


67 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Defence the cost-benefit analysis that has been undertaken regarding the potential net savings to the Exchequer arising from the planned closure of St. Bricin’s Military Hospital and four military barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42931/08]

The closure of barracks and the consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The consolidation process is designed to facilitate collective training and improved training standards, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties. 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 I have said in response to many questions in this House, Defence Forces properties are kept under constant review so as to ensure the most appropriate organisation of the Defence Forces, taking account of the operational requirements. The development and increased capability of the modern Defence Forces, when taken together with the improved security situation along the Border, has removed the rationale for having seven barrack posts along the Border and provided the opportunity for consolidation of units in a smaller number of locations. Four barracks at Monaghan, Longford, Lifford and Rockhill will be closed under the current consolidation plans.

The closure of St. Bricin's Military Hospital is a separate matter and arises from the Government decision to relocate the Defence Forces headquarters to the Curragh. Under the arrangements, services for the Defence Forces generally, which are currently provided by St. Bricin's Military Hospital, will transfer to the Curragh. St. Bricin's will remain in operation as a military medical facility, MMF, serving the eastern brigade until a modern facility suitable for the brigade is provided. Planning for the new facility has just begun.

The current plan has been put together in close consultation and co-operation with the Defence Forces general staff. It provides an overall package that will serve the needs of the Defence Forces into the future. A detailed cost-benefit analysis was compiled by the Department on the overall package of consolidation proposals. The immediate costs which will be incurred in preparing the barracks to receive the troops will be approximately €3.2 million, against annual recurring savings estimated at €2.7 million. Over a three year period, with the disposal of the properties, the net benefit to the Defence Forces will amount to some €23.6 million.

In the case of St. Bricin's, the upgrading of the military hospital in the Curragh will amount to some €2 million while the provision of the new medical facility in Dublin will amount to some €750,000. The funds realised from the disposal of St. Bricin's will be used to offset these costs and for further investment in Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure. In accordance with Government policy, receipts from the sale of military installations which are surplus to requirements will be reinvested in the Defence Forces.

Listening to the Minister one would think this was a strategic decision. Do the closures not arise from the fact that the Minister had to achieve economies in his budget this year? The real reason this is happening is to save money. Although there may be side benefits, such as those the Minister outlined, this would not have happened if he had not been asked to achieve economies. What evaluation has been done on the properties to be disposed of? Was any evaluation done before the budget announcement? Will we reach a situation such as the Minister's predecessor reached in October 1998 when he had to admit to the House that private security in Ballincollig was costing €1,400 per day? In these recessionary times there is very little demand for any properties here, to say the least. These could be on the Minister's hands for quite some time and a high security bill could be involved. What is his response to PDFORRA's estimate that the additional facilities that need to be provided at Dundalk, Finner Camp in Ballyshannon and Custume barracks in Athlone could cost approximately €3 million?

One of the first things I received when I came into the Ministry of Defence was a request from the military to close further barracks on the basis that peace had arrived in Northern Ireland and there was no justification for seven Border posts. The British were already in the process of beginning to close their Border posts. The point was very forcefully made to me about the necessity for consolidated training. The missions we take on are more and more dangerous so it is important for troop safety that they train together. That was a consideration and there was also a cost element. I resisted the pressure from the military for quite some time but in the new economic environment I have had to look anew at what they said. Deputy O'Shea is correct that I had to achieve savings in the Department of Defence, like the other Departments. I could not have achieved these savings with the number of barracks we have, four of which are due to be closed.

The approximate estimated value of the four barracks is €21 million. For commercial reasons, I do not want to give the individual figures for each barracks. We have done a detailed cost-benefit analysis on the situation and over the next three years we estimate the change of station allowances, the cost of transport for 18 months, security in the closed barracks and all the other costs we will meet will come to approximately €23.5 million less than what we will save through recurrent savings on maintenance, administration, utilities, etc., and the potential value of the property we are getting back. That cost-benefit analysis is being given to the Comptroller and Auditor General or the Committee of Public Accounts — I am not sure which — and will appear in the public domain in the very near future.

I am pleased the cost-benefit analysis will be published — I was going to ask that question next. Is it realistic in the current climate to anticipate that the properties will be sold for any kind of a decent price? PDFORRA sees the change of station allowance as costing the State approximately €2 million and travel allowance for an 18-month period as costing approximately €3.7 million. That does not tally with the Minister's figures. I take it that he contests those figures vigorously. PDFORRA says that to provide the facilities its members will need at the locations to which they are being transferred would cost approximately €30 million. The Minister did not respond to that in general but would also contest it. Deputy Deenihan asked earlier when the facilities will be ready. Has the Minister any idea when the proper facilities will be available?

I contest those figures. I am told that €500,000 is all that is necessary to immediately spend on the barracks to which the troops are going because there are extensive facilities available in those barracks already. I am taking into account the various allowances, the cost of transportation and that €500,000. We envisage spending another €2.5 million on infrastructure over the next three years and that brings the figure up from €3.2 million to €5.9 million. I cannot understand how anybody can come up with a figure that says closing barracks will cost us more than keeping them open, especially when we have experience in the past of the savings we have got from barrack closures. That makes no sense.

Defence Forces Accommodation.

Jimmy Deenihan


68 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in excess of 20 Defence Forces officers who are attending full-time third level education courses in Dublin are required to live in steel containers in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines, Dublin; his views on whether this accommodation is suitable for members of the Defence Forces; the alternatives that were examined before the decision was made to use this accommodation; the reason these alternatives were rejected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42819/08]

Defence Forces regulations require members to live in barracks unless they are given permission to live out. Over the years the practice has been for significant numbers of personnel to live out of barracks. As part of the Defence Forces modernisation programme, approximately €40 million has been spent since 1999 on refurbishing both long-term and short-term accommodation across the Defence Forces.

Arising from the changing security situation and to provide a sound basis for future modernisation of living-in accommodation, my Department, in conjunction with the military authorities, is undertaking a study to identify the Defence Forces' overall long-term operational requirement for living-in accommodation. The study will also examine and determine the nature and standard of accommodation to be provided. There has been a delay in finalising the report but it is expected to be available by the end of the year. However, one of the preliminary findings of the study is that there is sufficient, good quality accommodation to meet the current requirement across the Defence Forces generally and any shortages are confined to only a few locations where the demand is high.

The outcome of the study will provide the basis for a three to five-year programme of refurbishment of living-in accommodation to be undertaken in conjunction with the overall Defence Forces infrastructure development programme. In considering the priorities for the building programme for 2008 and 2009, my Department has decided no further costs will be incurred on the refurbishment of living-in accommodation until this plan is in place. The requirement for living-in accommodation in Cathal Brugha Barracks is being considered as part of the overall Defence Forces requirements and the provision of any accommodation required there will be addressed in the plan. Approximately 77 officers are living-in in the barracks. This includes the officers referred to in the question.

I emphasise the accommodation referred to is of a temporary nature pending completion of the living-in accommodation plan. These units were built specifically as accommodation units for single occupancy. The units consist of en-suite accommodation and are fully furnished and heated. The temporary accommodation was specified, sourced and procured by the Defence Forces. The accommodation units comply with all relevant regulations and health and safety requirements.

I understand a number of these containers, which I am sure the Minister has seen, were used in the Glen of Imaal and a commitment was given to provide portakabins as a temporary measure. I have received information that the containers are totally inadequate and they are a total insult to the people living in them. The Minister would not live in them and I would not expect anybody to live in them. His reply is not accurate based on the information I have received and it is not acceptable.

While the Minister awaits the presentation of the report to which he referred, it is not acceptable that these officers must continue to live in this totally unacceptable accommodation. Will he consider other alternatives? For example, accommodation is available in Griffith College. Why does he not provide an allowance to the officers to seek accommodation in the private sector, as is the case with Garda recruits? Does he agree it is not acceptable to have these young officers, who are the future of the Army, living in these conditions?

In the various contacts I have had with elements of the military and the representative organisations, this matter has never been drawn to my attention. Nobody has mentioned it or has written to me about it.

I am bringing it to the Minister's attention.

I am assured by my Department that the military engineers who sourced and prepared these accommodation units are perfectly happy with them. They compare favourably with the accommodation our troops must occupy sometimes when they are overseas.

That is a different issue.

I accept that is a different scenario but I have been asked by my Department to convey an invitation to the Deputy to visit the barracks and to examine the units. We can discuss the issue after he has seen them for himself.

Such containers are usually found on building sites and workers drink tea in them.

Has the Deputy seen them?

Yes, I have a photograph which I meant to bring with me to show the Minister. I will pass it on to him.

I invite the Minister to visit the barracks.

I will. I have visited a number of barracks and I intend to visit the remaining barracks. However, the containers are not acceptable. Will the Minister confirm whether they were used in the Glen of Imaal and then transferred to this barracks?

I will find that out for the Deputy. The matter has been brought to my attention by this parliamentary question. I do not have the information but I will get it to him and let him know.