Other Questions.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Billy Timmins

Question:

62 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Defence if recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force and the Cadets has been suspended for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17939/09]

The Government introduced a moratorium on recruitment to the public service with effect from 27 March 2009. In this context and given the reduced budgetary provision available for 2009, all recruitment to the Defence Forces, which includes both the Reserve Defence Force and the cadets, has been suspended for the present. The moratorium and the reduction in the pay budget were introduced as a cost saving measure to achieve necessary savings in the pay bill in the public sector. These savings will have to be achieved.

However, the implementation of the moratorium will require careful management. I have asked my officials, in consultation with the military authorities, to review all of the implications of the moratorium for the defence organisation and to identify any key priority issues that may require further consideration. My officials will also be working closely with officials from the Department of Finance. My objective is to ensure that the moratorium is managed in a manner that meets the Government's objectives and ensures the best outcome possible for the defence organisation as a whole. I assure the House that any recruitment in 2009 will prioritise the operational requirements of the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces has accepted cutbacks since the White Paper was introduced. Massive savings have been made and if every other Department had accepted the same level of cutbacks, we would not be in the position we are in now. Can the Minister be clear that there will be no recruitment to the Reserve Defence Forces this year? I remind the Minister that a large number of young people went through the process, training and education only to be told that they will not be part of the reserve. They are very disillusioned with that type of planning. It is hard to explain to them why they cannot join.

Can the Minister be more specific on the issue of cadets? Young people are planning for September, when people go to college. The Minister says the programme is suspended. When will he make an announcement so that people can plan for September? The cadet force is vital for the future of our Defence Forces. They are the future leaders of our Defence Forces. Morale is low enough in the Defence Forces. It will be a major blow to the Defence Forces if the Minister implements the policy.

I do not accept that morale is low in the Defence Forces. The Department of Defence has been very responsible in expenditure since the White Paper. It is probably the best behaved Department in the State from the point of view of public expenditure.

Yet, the Department is now punished for it.

Nevertheless, we are in difficult economic times and each Department must accept a certain amount of pain. Considering the figures, the Department is accepting less of the pain than others in recognition of what it has achieved in the past.

I am acutely aware of those who went through the process and were then told they cannot join the reserve. I am discussing this matter with the Department of Finance and my officials. I will make an announcement on the cadets as soon as I have had talks with my colleague, the Minister for Finance.

I received representations from an individual in south Tipperary who indicated that there were 20 people in the recruitment process. The recruitment process has stopped because of the announcement of the embargo on 27 March. The great fear is that this group is becoming disillusioned and will be lost forever. That could have a knock-on effect on attracting others. It is vital that the blunt instrument approach of the embargo is dealt with. In regard to the Reserve Defence Force, I take it the Minister will take the case to the Minister for Finance to get leeway in respect of these people. I understand it takes several months to come through that process. Will the Minister seek leeway for such people to complete the process?

The difficulty is we have only a certain amount to pay people who engage in training.

Some people have indicated they would go without the payment.

I understand that. My officials have a difficulty with the idea of a sort of two-tier reserve, with one group entitled to take up paid days while another group is excluded. That is one side of the story. The other side relates to the Deputy's valid point that we want to include people if possible. They have evinced an interest in the matter and it is damaging to morale and disillusioning to be told at this late stage in the process that they must be excluded. I am acutely aware of this and I will try to sort it out if I can.

I have two brief questions for the Minister. With regard to the Reserve Defence Force, how much does the Minister envisage he will save by stopping recruitment in a full year for the forces and cadets? He indicated this was a cost-saving measure. Will the recruitment embargo in the Reserve Defence Force have a knock-on effect on training camps in the current year? Will there be a reduction in the number of man days at camps? Will he provide details of this?

A saving, particularly as regards public expenditure, can sometimes consist of an accumulation of small savings. I imagine the amount is quite small but it is part of an overall pattern.

Does the Minister have a figure?

I will get the figure for the Deputy. On the question regarding man days, just in excess of 81,000 man days were utilised last year and this year we have provision for 60,000 man days, according to the difference in financing. I believe that is something in the order of €2 million but I will get the exact figure for the Deputy.

Military Uniforms.

Ulick Burke

Question:

63 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Defence the arrangements in place regarding uniforms for female members of the Defence Forces during pregnancy; if a maternity wear uniform is available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17869/09]

A maternity wear uniform was introduced into the Defence Forces in the middle part of the 1990s. The provision of this type of uniform has been an evolving process. There have been many design and specification changes over time in response to reviews and submissions on the need for change or alteration to the uniform. This change process has always had at its core the needs and comfort of the individual.

The Defence Forces clothing committee is tasked with the oversight and implementation in regard to all orders of military dress. In this connection, a working group was tasked with reporting on female clothing, in particular in the Defence Forces. This working group continually updates the main committee and has as one of its current tasks a review of maternity uniform.

Recommendations for changes to specifications, textiles and design will be incorporated into the final report of the working group. The Defence Forces meets or exceeds the best international military standards in the design and specification for all orders of military dress, including maternity wear uniform.

This question was put down because an inquiry was received from some of the female members of the Defence Forces. As the Minister is probably aware, despite his campaign to enlist more females into the Defence Forces, in general, women are not overly enthusiastic about joining up. The Minister must give them every possible encouragement and this is one area where it is only common sense as female members of the Defence Forces would like, when serving their duties, to be able to wear their uniforms.

At this stage I understand that towards the end of pregnancy, women must wear civilian clothes as they cannot wear a uniform. It should be a very simple matter to design a uniform to accommodate these people. The special clothing committee could surely report on this very rapidly and its recommendation could be accepted by the Minister or chief of staff.

We must do everything to encourage more females to join the Defence Forces because at present, they make up just over 5% of the force. I agree with the Deputy on that point. However, female members of the Defence Forces who are pregnant are not deployed on overseas duties. In addition, if they are members of the Naval Service, they are not deployed at sea and if they are members of the Air Corps, they are not expected to fly.

I am aware that certain of the representative organisations have made representations to the effect that some female members of the Defence Forces would prefer to wear civilian clothes while they are pregnant. The military authorities have a difficulty with this because they say that, by definition, the Army is a uniformed force.

A great deal of work has been done on the design and specification of maternity uniforms for female members of the Defence Forces who are pregnant. Despite this, however, difficulties continue to obtain. From that point of view and from being aware of the position, I have asked the working group to report to me as quickly as possible. I would be well disposed to accept its recommendation in this regard. I am advised that, in the context of its design and specification, the maternity uniform that is available at present meets best international standards. If improvements can be made and if I obtain the appropriate submission, I will respond.

If a working group is considering the matter then clearly, the uniform is not suitable. The issue of pregnant personnel being on duty does not arise. However, when these individuals are in the office or back at base, they like to be in uniform. These women want to wear that in which they feel comfortable; that is why they resort to wearing their civilian clothes. This is not a major issue to everyone but it is important to those involved. It is vital that the small percentage of females serving in the Defence Forces who are pregnant should be accommodated and should be made to feel as comfortable as possible.

I accept that it is not a question of people being on duty. I was merely making the point that the Defence Forces do not ignore the fact that people might be pregnant.

I take the Deputy's point that Defence Forces personnel want to feel as comfortable as possible. The uniform was last redesigned in the mid-1990s. If improvements can be made — and in light of developments in the interim — I will be very disposed to accepting the recommendation when I receive it. I have asked the working group to report as quickly as possible.

Naval Service Vessels.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

64 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if he will ensure that a preventative maintenance manual will be developed for each vessel in the Naval Service as recommended in the value for money review of Naval Service vessel maintenance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17787/09]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

103 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if he will establish a dedicated maintenance management team for Naval Service vessel maintenance as recommended in the value for money review of Naval Service vessel maintenance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17786/09]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 64 and 103 together.

The value for money review of Naval Service vessel maintenance was recently completed and was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this month. The review comprehensively examines all aspects of Naval Service vessel maintenance and was undertaken by a steering committee comprised of civilian personnel from the Departments of Defence and Finance and military personnel from the Defence Forces. The review discovered there was a low incidence of unscheduled maintenance resulting in lost patrol days and that the maintenance function was appropriately focused on supporting the operational targets of the Naval Service. This is underpinned by an ongoing programme of planned preventative maintenance.

The recommendations to which the Deputy's questions refer are but two of a range of such recommendations aimed at improving the maintenance function within the Naval Service. The recommended completion of a planned preventative maintenance manual for each vessel and the introduction of a dedicated maintenance management team will enhance the co-ordination of maintenance resources within the Naval Service.

The planned preventative maintenance manuals will contain a detailed list of maintenance activities on a ship-by-ship basis outlining the number of personnel required to complete each task, the necessary parts and consumables, the frequency of task and an estimate of the duration of each task. This will inform maintenance planning and provide a basis for better monitoring of the efficiency of maintenance tasks undertaken. As noted in the review, the Naval Service has already commenced work on these manuals.

The review recommended the establishment of a dedicated maintenance management team. This team will complement and draw from the existing management structures and will provide high-level and centralised co-ordination of maintenance execution. This will ensure that maintenance resources are optimally deployed in line with maintenance priorities. The Naval Service has established this team, the work of which is ongoing.

I am pleased that many of the issues highlighted by the steering committee in the review were already being addressed by the Naval Service and that many of the recommendations identified during the course of the review were quickly acted upon, where possible. The defence organisation has a good track record of implementing the findings of value for money reviews and I am confident that the further recommendations outlined in this review will be acted upon in due course.

I was surprised to discover that there is not a preventative maintenance manual for each vessel. I would have thought that such manuals would be provided as a matter of course. Are makers' maintenance manuals not provided with each vessel? Such manuals are provided with motor cars and surely they must also be provided with large vessels. It is also extraordinary that an overall management team is not in place. The Minister stated that these matters will be dealt with in due course. Is that good enough, particularly if that which we are discussing is important in the context of ensuring better efficiency and value for money and bringing about savings? Should the Minister not focus on these matters immediately and ensure that prompt action is taken in respect of them?

I agree with the Deputy. The management team has already been put in place and work on the preventative maintenance manuals has already commenced. The value for money review highlighted a number of issues, on many of which the Naval Service was already working. As already stated, the Department of Defence has a good record in implementing the findings of value for money reviews. In view of the fact that the management team has been established and that work on the preventative maintenance manuals has already begun, it is evident that the response has been prompt.

So the management team has been established.

One of our naval vessels will soon be 30 years old and will by that stage have outlived its usefulness. It is possible that, due to cutbacks, this vessel may not be replaced in the immediate future. Will the Minister clarify whether it will be replaced? If the vessel is to be retained, then it is important that it be properly maintained. Maintenance is going to be extremely important not only in the context of the vessel in question but also with regard to the other two vessels that are due to reach the end of their operational lifespans in the next two to three years.

The value for money review discovered there was a low incidence of unscheduled maintenance resulting in lost patrol days. However, it also discovered that the situation could be improved in two ways. The first of these is by putting a dedicated maintenance management team in place, which has been done, and the second is by drawing up preventative maintenance manuals for each ship, work on which has already commenced.

I agree that the economic situation may impact on the replacement of naval vessels. To date, however, I have not received instructions to the effect that I should not proceed in this regard. A system is in place to replace the vessels in question and I have not, as yet, been informed that I should discontinue the process of replacement.

I take the Minister's point with regard to the fact that restrictions have not been placed on him in the context of proceeding to acquire the three new vessels that are needed. However, should a cost-benefit analysis not be carried out in respect of the older vessels, particularly in view of the fact that maintenance costs begin to increase and stack up as vessels get older and become decrepit? A balance must be struck between maintaining older vessels and purchasing new vessels which would require a much lower level of unscheduled maintenance. The purchase of such vessels would lead to savings being made.

I would appreciate all the assistance Deputy O'Shea can provide when I am discussing this matter with the Department of Finance. It is true that the older a vessel, the more difficult and expensive it is to maintain. The position will improve as a result of the implementation of the recommendations in the value for money review. We are all aware that approximately 30 years is the extent of the operational lifetime of any vessel. It is much better that vessels be replaced as the end of that 30-year period approaches. As already stated, I have put in place plans to replace the vessels that are nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. I have not, as yet, been instructed to discontinue the process in this regard.

Departmental Properties.

David Stanton

Question:

65 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the action he has taken to expand the naval base at Haulbowline, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17793/09]

Haulbowline Island comprises approximately 84 acres. The property is vested in the Minister for Finance. The Naval Service currently occupies approximately 40 acres and these lands are administered by my Department. The balance of the island lands were formerly under lease to Irish Ispat, formerly Irish Steel, prior to the liquidation of that company.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has lead responsibility for the remediation of the Ispat site while the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has responsibility for the future use of the area of Haulbowline Island that is not part of the naval base. My Department has signalled Naval Service interest in the future use of the site to both Departments. The Naval Service interest in the site relates primarily to meeting the berthage needs of the naval fleet. The Naval Service has also expressed interest in acquiring part of the former Ispat site to consolidate the existing naval base while also providing better access.

My Department is also represented on the working group, under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, concerning the future of the former Ispat site and will make its requirements known when this group meets.

I thank the Minister for that response. How soon does the Minister envisage the Naval Service and his Department taking over a part of the island for berthing purposes? Will he agree it is essential that expanded berthing facilities be made available because there is not enough room for the naval ships, which is causing a difficulty; that the solution lies there and that it would not take much to expand now? Has he had discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on this matter? Would he exploit this position?

I agree we need more territory. Deputy Stanton is correct about that. We have expressed our interest in acquiring more for the reasons he stated. I understand this matter will shortly become live when the working group under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment meets. I understand it is about to be established and we will be represented on that working group. The sooner that working group meets, the better from our point of view. We have a great interest in expanding somewhat in that location for the reasons the Deputy stated.

Can the Minister give a timescale for that? Are we talking about weeks, months or years before a decision is made on this matter?

It certainly will not be years. I am informed it will be very shortly. I will try to get a more precise timescale for the Deputy.

Reserve Defence Force.

Noel O'Flynn

Question:

66 Deputy Noel O’Flynn asked the Minister for Defence the impact the moratorium on recruitment to the public service is having on the Reserve Defence Force; if he expects the numbers in the RDF to decline in 2009 and 2010; the discussions he is having with the Reserve Defence Force’s representative association; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17720/09]

David Stanton

Question:

69 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future of the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17794/09]

Jack Wall

Question:

83 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Defence the reason he is not proceeding with plans to allow members of the Reserve Defence Force to serve overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17773/09]

Sean Sherlock

Question:

84 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence if he is considering proposals for the disbandment of the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17782/09]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

89 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Defence if there will be recruitment into the Reserve Defence Force during 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17467/09]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

97 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will confirm that the Reserve Defence Force is working effectively and efficiently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17788/09]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

99 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will confirm that the phased enhancement of Reserve Defence Force capabilities provided for in the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan will be completed. [17789/09]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

104 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence if there will be recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17525/09]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 69, 83, 84, 89, 97, 99 and 104 together.

The Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan provides for the phased enhancement of the Reserve over the period from 2004 to the end of 2009. Significant progress has been made to date in implementing the plan. The Reserve has been re-organised along similar lines to the Permanent Defence Force. There has been increased investment in the Reserve with new equipment and clothing and opportunities for improved training. Pilot schemes for the introduction of the integrated Reserve were conducted in 2007 and 2008 and plans to send members of the Reserve overseas by the end of 2009 were at an advanced stage.

As the Deputies will be aware, the Government has introduced a moratorium on recruitment to the public service with effect from 27 March 2009. As with the public service generally, the defence organisation is required to operate with reduced funding for 2009. In this context, all recruitment to the Reserve has been suspended for the present.

The moratorium and reduced budgetary provision have also prevented the recruitment of members of the Reserve to the Permanent Defence Force for the purpose of overseas service and this project has been postponed for the foreseeable future. This is a disappointing development for those members of the Reserve who had volunteered as candidates for overseas service and I would like to thank them for the dedication and interest they have shown.

It is not possible at this time to predict the impact that the suspension of recruitment will have on the Reserve. The trend over recent years has shown a decline in applications for membership of the Reserve but the changed economic environment could halt this trend. This situation will be closely monitored.

It is clear we are facing challenging times and the reduction in funding for 2009 has impacted on the Reserve as it has the broader defence organisation. However, there are no plans to disband the Reserve Defence Force and I am not considering any proposals in this regard. While the budgetary provision for the training of members of the Reserve has been reduced, it will be sufficient to allow all current members of the Reserve to undertake paid training this year.

Discussions are ongoing with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association on a range of issues relating to the Reserve.

As the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan is reaching its conclusion, options for the future development of the Reserve will be considered. This will be informed by the lessons learned from the implementation process. In addition, the Reserve Defence Force has been selected for review as part of the 2009–11 phase of the Government's value for money and policy review initiative. This review will include an examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Reserve. It is anticipated that this review, together with the general budgetary situation, will also assist in informing decisions regarding the future of the Reserve.

Will the Minister tell the House the numbers currently in the Reserve Defence Force, the establishment number as projected in the White Paper and the reason for the difference? Also, will he outline the efforts he is making to recruit to the first line Reserve? Major emphasis was put on the first line Reserve, which would involve recruiting people formerly in the Permanent Defence Force. Those people would be better equipped to serve overseas, for example. Also, has the idea of the integrated Reserve been scrapped? What is happening as regards the first line Reserve and the integrated Reserve? Has anything happened in regard to both of those proposals?

Regarding Deputy Deenihan's first question, the numbers in the Reserve on 31 March last were 7,513 personnel — 5,761 male and 1,752 female.

What is the establishment figure?

I will communicate that to the Deputy. I do not have it to hand.

I understand it is approximately 12,000.

It is something in that order, yes. We will communicate the figure to the Deputy.

We are awaiting recommendations from the military authorities on how best to deal with the first line Reserve. Those recommendations have not come to hand as yet.

Regarding the integrated Reserve and the initial results in terms of getting a particular group of the Reserve to integrate to allow them step in with the PDF in the event of a contingency, the pilot phase has been disappointing in terms of the numbers it has yielded but nevertheless it has resulted in approximately 300 people being trained to integrate in the circumstances outlined in the White Paper. We have learned lessons from the pilot project, however, and are examining the type of training and systems being put in place to advance the integrated Reserve experiment. As soon as the position has been reviewed we will return to the integrated Reserve issue.

Regarding the members of the Reserve Defence Force who were scheduled to engage in action with the Permanent Defence Force later this year, that plan has been abandoned.

Overseas, yes. Is there any possibility that decision can be reviewed? Does the Minister intend communicating with the Minister for Finance on that issue or is the only reason it was abandoned financial?

It was abandoned because the relevant legislation provides that overseas service is confined to members of the Permanent Defence Force. The Reserve Defence Force members are not members of the Permanent Defence Force but it was hoped to temporarily integrate members of the Reserve in the Permanent Defence Force. I refer to the members of the Reserve who had done the integrated training and expressed an interest in going overseas. Unfortunately, the recruitment ban of 27 March has prevented us from recruiting people into the Permanent Defence Force and therefore we cannot send the Reserve Defence Force members overseas.

There are two obvious ways around this. The first is to change the legislation which is a rather tortuous process because there is much legislation backed up already. We will be changing the legislation in due course, but as a general amendment to defence legislation which will incorporate a number of other matters as well.

The other way would be to get an exemption from the Department of Finance, as the Deputy suggested. As I stated, we are looking at various issues related to how the embargo impacts on the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve. When we have worked our way through those matters, I hope to speak to the Minister for Finance and to discuss the question of exemptions with him. However, I must tell the House that when I am discussing exemptions with the Minister for Finance my focus will be on the availability of the Defence Forces to do their job, as Deputy Deenihan stated, both at home and abroad.

I want to include a number of Deputies.

Does the number of 7,500 the Minister for Defence mentioned include the active and inactive list and will he give a breakdown of the active and inactive list of members and the ranks in each case?

What is the role of the reserve and what has it been doing to fulfil this role in the past number of years? Does the Minister agree that one of the functions of the reserve has been to give an outlet to young men, in particular, and now young women, who have had an interest in military affairs for a number of years and that it has proven effective in that regard? It will now be abandoned because of the embargo.

What are his views on the danger of the reserve going into decline because it is an organisation that depends on continual membership and, with rolling membership and numbers in decline, it might become ineffective? How many members of the reserve will resign or retire by the end of the year?

The Deputy has asked many questions.

It is Question Time.

On active and inactive members, it is impossible to give a precise answer to that.

The list exists.

All I can say is that the reserve has been vigilant in recent years in removing inactive persons from the roll. Last year 4,321 reservists utilised 81,000 man-days in terms of paid training. The total number on the books is 7,500. I am convinced that the majority of those would be fairly active.

The list is available. Can the Minister get those numbers for us because they are available?

Please allow the Minister.

As near as I can, I will get the figures for Deputy Stanton.

On the Deputy's other point, I agree that the reserve is a useful outlet for persons who are interested in matters military. I do not know how many will resign between now and the end of the year. The trend in recent years has been that the numbers joining the reserve have been falling off, but in the changed economic environment it may well be different.

I want to get in a supplementary for your colleague.

The reasons for consistently recruiting have not disappeared. The embargo has interrupted those for the good reason that we must bring the public finances back into control.

I am always anxious to support the Minister and to ask him questions. The Minister will have noted I tabled a question about Chad because I wanted to tell him that my constituents in Tallaght, who met him in Chad, were very impressed.

A brief supplementary, please.

I would not be as used to it as the rest of them.

On the Reserve Defence Forces, I will not repeat what has been stated already, but I want to bring a different perspective to it. The Minister will be aware that Deputy Noel O'Flynn tabled this question but it is an issue in Tallaght as well.

A question, please.

I had three young people at my clinic on Saturday week last wanting to know why they are being cut off. They were recruited, they believed they completed their induction, they were very anxious to serve and suddenly they have been told they will not be needed. Surely such exemptions could be allowed.

Does the Minister accept that the Reserve Defence Force is a cost-effective organisation for the relatively small amount of money involved — approximately €10 million apart from the PDF associated costs — and that in it we have a substantial body of men and women relatively cheaply by way of support for the civil powers? I ask him to confirm that the phased enhancement of the force's capabilities, which was provided for in the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan, will be completed. In a general sense, from the point of view of reassuring the members of the reserve, can the Minister confirm that the reserve will continue to have an important role in this country?

I can confirm that. That is my intention. There is no intention to disband the reserve.

On the specific problem Deputy O'Connor mentioned, I already indicated to the House in reply to earlier questions that it is a matter I will take up. I have been discussing it with my officials and I will take it up with the Department of Finance to see whether we can get around that issue. The Department has only so much money for so many paid man-days this year. It might be possible within that arrangement to resolve the problem mentioned by Deputy O'Connor.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.