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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010

Vol. 725 No. 2

Priority Questions

Irish Red Cross

David Stanton


19 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made in reforming the Irish Red Cross; the contact he continues to have with the IRC officials in relation to governance changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47413/10]

Brian O'Shea


22 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Defence when he expects to present the new finalised governance proposals for the Irish Red Cross to Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47411/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 22 together.

Proposals for reform of the governance of the Irish Red Cross Society arise from a resolution passed in November 2007 by the council of delegates of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC, which urged all national societies to examine and update their statutes and related legal texts by 2010.

A working group to propose changes in governance, including those recommended by the international federation, was established by the Irish Red Cross Society in 2008. To implement the recommendations made in the working group's report, significant amendments to the society's existing legislation, including the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, will be required. Representatives of the society and officials from the Department of Defence have had several meetings this year to discuss the specific changes required. A draft amendment order, which would substantially amend the 1939 order, has been drawn up and was recently referred to the Office of the Attorney General.

The proposed changes address issues relating to higher level areas of corporate governance such as organisational structures, electoral arrangements and membership. I outlined the main areas for consideration to the House during an Adjournment debate on 24 November 2010. As recently as last week, further proposals were received by the Department of Defence from the Irish Red Cross Society. These further proposals are being examined. Further discussions with the society and the Office of the Attorney General on the draft amendment order will take place shortly.

When the consultative process has been concluded, I propose to present the amendments to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights for its consideration prior to seeking the Government's approval to change the legislation.

Apart from the legislative changes that are being progressed, a new chairman, Mr. David J. O'Callaghan, was recently appointed by the President. Mr. O'Callaghan is a former Secretary General of the Department of Defence and has vast experience of public administration at senior management level. Since his appointment in September 2010, he has put improved governance of the society's affairs at the top of his agenda. The society has already implemented procedures to avoid a recurrence of the events that led to the recently completed investigation into the delay by the Tipperary branch of the society in forwarding funds raised during the Asian tsunami appeal from its branch account to headquarters. The society is well advanced in introducing strengthened new financial procedures. The recommendations made in the report of the investigation into the Tipperary bank account will also be implemented as a matter of urgency. I am confident the new Chairman will expedite the reform process in the society which also involves the drafting of a new constitution.

As part of the ongoing process of change that is being advanced in the Irish Red Cross, the new chairman and the acting secretary general met with senior officials of the international federation in Geneva last week to apprise them of the proposed legislative changes. The international federation has indicated it would welcome an opportunity to contribute to the final stages of the proposed legislative changes and I am happy to facilitate it in this regard.

The Minister referred to the internal report he commissioned on the Irish Red Cross. Will he agree this controversy arose because of the issue of unreported bank accounts? What are the Minister's views on the change from an external independent investigation to an internal one? Why were the former chairman, Mr. David Andrews, the former secretary general, Ms Carmel Dunne, and the whistleblower, Mr. Noel Wardick, not interviewed as part of this investigation? Has the Minister proposals to bring to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights regarding changes to the society's governance? Will he be in a position to bring these proposals to the committee in the near future, so that they can be discussed?

As regards whether an internal or external review might have been better, the judgment was made by the new chairman that an internal report would be quicker and cheaper. I have seen the report and I do not believe anybody could argue with its findings. It seems to be comprehensive from my point of view and proposes some changes. When I bring the draft governance issue to the committee, Opposition Members and others may well have views to bring forward at that stage concerning additional governance issues that may not have been addressed in the 2009 report, which I mentioned in the initial answer. I have no idea why some people were interviewed and others were not. Having seen the comprehensive nature of the report, I do not know whether additional people would have had something to add.

My intention was to bring the proposed changes to the committee around this time, but the two matters I mentioned in my initial response have delayed that. The international committee has indicated that it has some input and only last week we received some additional proposals from the Irish Red Cross. I would like to do a comprehensive job taking account of all the views. I would like to have all that information when I next come before the committee, which I would like to do in January.

On the face of it, it seems that progress has been made since the last occasion we had oral Defence questions. Are the further proposals that have come in from the Irish Red Cross substantial? For instance, do they deal with the issue of the length of time during which somebody can operate as a member of the executive board? Why does the international organisation wish to have an input into the final proposals? This did not seem to be the position over the last few months, as they had approved the proposals that were sent last year. There have been changes in that respect but what is the nature of the changes proposed by the Irish Red Cross? Why does the international committee want to have a hand in what happens at this stage?

I understand that the most recent proposals arise, to some extent at least, from the findings of the internal report, which was referred to by Deputy Stanton.

To which internal report is the Minister referring?

The most recent one.

On the accounts?

Yes, the most recent one on the accounts, which found many more accounts than the Tipperary bank account, as it transpired. It also has something to say about systems. My recollection is that the initial review, which was conducted by the Red Cross under Professor Roger Downer, recommended a limit on the number of terms — I think it might be two — somebody could serve on the executive committee. I will have to check that for the Deputy but I am pretty sure it is the case. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been asked for recommendations and has indicated that it will be sending in some. I do not know the nature of the recommendations at this point but I understand that the general thrust will be along the lines we have previously discussed, of extending the independence of the Red Cross Society from Government.

I wish to revert to the interview process and those who were not interviewed. Is it not strange that the secretary-general of the Red Cross up to mid-2007 was not interviewed, and neither was the chairman at the time, nor the whistle-blower? This was all about the internal review into the accounts, which the Minister mentioned. Can the Minister find out why they were not interviewed? It seems inexplicable that they were not. Has the Minister a sense of urgency with regard to the required changes? This is the third time we have asked questions about this matter, yet we have seen no proposals from the Minister and no reports to the committee. When will we see some action on this? The report said the matter was urgent and had to be addressed soon. It also said the practices and procedures were unacceptable. Surely the Minister has some plan or timescale to take action.

The Deputy has raised three separate points. The internal review has been published and is publicly available for anybody with an interest in the issue. People may well have views on it. I have access to it because it has been published and was made available to the Department and everyone else. It has come up with some important findings and there are two levels at which action can be taken. The first level is internal and I understand that a number of measures have been put in place by the chairman. Those can be done internally without any changes to the statute or regulation. It seems inevitable to me that, arising from the findings of that report, some changes will have to be considered and will probably have to be implemented when the legislative review is under way. This may well result in the entire legislation being revisited, rather than secondary legislation. Both may be considered but that is not yet clear.

The Deputy will appreciate that there is no requirement for any Minister to bring an issue of this nature to the committee. I am doing so as a courtesy to the House and because I believe that secondary legislation in many instances has an importance that, at a minimum, should see it being placed before a committee. That is the reason I am doing it, although of course I am not required to do so. I hope people will have an input at that stage, however.

With regard to the timescale, I have said previously that this is an opportunity to get this right, particularly if it is the case that primary legislation will have to be revisited. A few extra weeks will be important in order to assimilate the views of all the related stages.

During a recent Adjournment Debate, the Minister indicated that he had sought clarification from the Attorney General's office as to what exactly his powers are vis-à-vis the Red Cross. Has the Minister received that clarification and, if so, does it in any way enhance his powers to investigate aspects of the internal workings of the Irish Red Cross? Heretofore, the Minister has taken the position that he cannot become involved in the day-to-day management of the society.

With regard to the issue of independence, does the Minister intend to cast free the Irish Red Cross in the context of the present relationship it has with the Government? He has indicated some favour in that direction previously, which is a good idea.

I do not wish to open the issue of a member of staff who was dismissed and whose case has been the subject of an appeal hearing. Is there any indication, however, when the internal process in the Irish Red Cross will be concluded in regard to that case?

The interaction with the Attorney General's office continues and has been helpful. Naturally, when new issues have arisen from the views of the International Red Cross and also from this internal report, the interaction with the Attorney General must continue and be revisited. Having considered all that, perhaps the most important question will be whether primary legislation is required in this instance. Even if it is, I would choose to go to the committee with secondary legislation as early as possible. I hope to do so in January.

The likely outcome is that the independence of the Red Cross will be established beyond any question. I understand that the emphasis from the international body will be in that direction.

As regards the staff member mentioned, that matter is still under appeal so I do not think it would be helpful for the House to intervene during that process.

Overseas Missions

Brian O'Shea


20 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Defence the impact the reduction in provision for allowances for overseas deployment, as outlined in Budget 2011, will have on the capacity of the Defence Forces to serve overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47410/10]

In common with all areas of the public service, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will operate with reduced funding for 2011. The gross allocation for Defence and Army Pensions combined in 2011 is €933 million, an overall reduction of 4% on the 2010 allocation. Defence spending at €725 million, including capital spending, will be down by €30 million or 4% on the 2010 Estimate. The provision for Army pensions, Vote 37, for 2011 is €208 million. The cost of overseas allowances in a given year is principally a factor of the number of personnel serving overseas and the time spent overseas. While there has been a significant reduction in participation in overseas peace-keeping in 2010, and thus in the expenditure on overseas allowances, this was driven mainly by the unexpected withdrawal from Chad. Since then, civil and military management have been reviewing all available options to identify a suitable overseas mission for the Defence Forces.

Despite the reduced budgetary resources available to the Department generally, Ireland remains open to participation in peace-keeping operations. In that regard, I am glad to be able to advise the House that the Government yesterday approved the deployment of a contingent of the Defence Forces, as part of a joint Finnish/Irish battalion to UNIFIL. Up to 440 personnel could be deployed in the second quarter of next year to this mission. Discussions will now commence with the UN and with Finland on finalising the composition of the contingent and the deployment schedule. Thereafter, I will proceed in the new year to seek Dáil approval for the mission. This will complete the triple lock mechanism of UN, Government and Dáil approval before deploying members of the Defence Forces overseas.

Ireland is currently contributing 137 Defence Forces personnel to 12 different missions throughout the world. The main overseas mission in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed is the EU-led operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 43 personnel. Ireland's contribution to this mission will be drawn down in April next as the mission continues to transition to a training and support mission. Once we deploy to UNIFIL it is expected that our total overseas deployment at that stage will amount to just over 500. This is a very significant contribution in the context of the reduced resources available and reflects the Government's continued commitment to international peace-keeping and to the ongoing development of the Defence Forces.

That 440 members of the Defence Forces will go on a UNIFIL mission to Lebanon is welcome, and I compliment the Minister on that. However, the thrust of my question concerned the provision for allowances for overseas deployment. The overall reduction for the Defence Forces in the budget was 20%, or €10.7 million. How will this affect the allowances of those members of the Defence Forces who serve in Lebanon? Will they receive a smaller allowance than those serving in Chad? What exactly will the position be regarding the remuneration of Irish serving members?

As the Deputy and the House will be aware from my answer, there is sufficient provision to meet the cost of the proposed deployment to UNIFIL in 2011. This arises, mainly, because of the reduction in other missions. We made a substantial contribution to KFOR. The Chad mission, because of the nature of the terrain, inaccessibility and the huge cost of transporting equipment, tended to be very expensive. Set-up costs will arise in 2011 with regard to setting up in Lebanon. However, because of the nature of the UN operation there and the fact that it has been there for so long, the set-up costs will be considerably less than they might be in other instances. That will cut into the budget in the way it might in other instances. I strongly believe that we have sufficient to deal with all contingencies that might arise in relation to our commitment to overseas service.

Can I take it that there will be no reduction in overseas allowances for serving members, in spite of the reduction in allowances made in the budget?

We need to draw a distinction between the provision in the budgetary process for the overall allocation to the Defence Forces and how that will play out with individual members serving, wherever they might be. One representative association in the Defence Forces has signed up to the Croke Park agreement and the other has not. A complicated process is under way and it would be inappropriate to discuss that or to undermine it. I had a very positive meeting yesterday with RACO and PDFORRA and discussed all the matters of concern to them. In that regard, there are two messages. First, there is a welcome for the fact that a UN deployment is under way for 2011. Second, other issues that arise will be discussed within the processes. One group is within the process and the other currently remains outside.

Defence Forces Strength

David Stanton


21 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the progress made by him and the military authorities in relation to the necessary structural and rank changes to the Permanent Defence Forces to meet operational requirements under the Employment Control Framework; if he has received proposals in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47414/10]

Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force. Government approval was secured in the context of budget 2010 for a level of 10,000 all ranks. This reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes. In 2011, the Permanent Defence Force, like all areas of the public service, will operate on a reduced budget. I am advised by the military authorities that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force as of 30 November 2010 was 9,502, comprising 7,704 Army, 769 Air Corps and 1,029 Naval Service personnel.

The official confirmation and details were received on 18 October 2010 from the Department of Finance on the employment control framework (ECF) for the Defence Forces. The ECF is based on a figure of 10,000 all ranks Permanent Defence Force personnel, appropriately configured across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps to enable them meet the roles assigned by Government.

Officials from the Department together with the military authorities are in the process of reviewing the structures and posts required to meet the operational requirements of the Permanent Defence Force in accordance with the upper limits in ranks provided for in the ECF. Thereafter a detailed proposal will be submitted to me.

Detailed proposals on foot of the review of the structures and posts required to meet the operational requirements of the Permanent Defence Force, within the reduced numbers and reduced resources, will include a phased plan for promotions. This will seek to address the priority posts to be filled in relation to the re-organisation of the Permanent Defence Forces.

The official confirmation of numbers, provided by the ECF and the criteria of the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 are now being considered by the military authorities and officials of the Department, for the purpose of outlining a structure capable of meeting the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces.

Overall numbers in the Permanent Defence Force, including numbers serving at various ranks will be subject to ongoing control and monitoring by the Department of Finance on a monthly basis. This is to ensure compliance within the overall parameters and controls set by Government for each sector. The ECF also sets out that it will be necessary to underpin the re-organisation with the required amendments to regulations and administrative instructions.

While these are challenging times, my priority is to ensure that the Defence Forces are organised, equipped and staffed in a manner which will ensure that they can continue to deliver the services required of them by Government.

I am advised that at this time the Defence Forces retain the capacity to undertake the tasks laid down by Government at home and overseas.

According to the Minister's reply, the Permanent Defence Forces appears to be 500 under strength. Is the Minister allowed to bring the Defence Forces to a strength of 10,000, all ranks? Does this mean he has a flexibility to increase the numbers by approximately 500? Has he plans to do that in the immediate future?

Does the Minister know when the review will be completed? Has he asked the military authorities and his officials when the review might be completed and when it might be presented to him?

With regard to Deputy Stanton's first question, Deputies will be aware that a recruitment process is under way currently. Those who have been recruited in that process are not included in the numbers given in my reply. In the initial phase, approximately 40 personnel will be assigned to each of the divisions. I have organised the recruitment process in such a way that it is open to being worked on as the opportunity presents itself. That must be done within the financial constraints. It is important that the ECF and the allocation of posts be based of the 10,000 figure. That is how we will move forward.

The difficulty anticipated by Deputy Stanton would only arise at the end of the current phase of recruitment when a new phase begins. That will be this time next year or a little later. For the moment, the recruitment process is under way and there is considerable flexibility there.

The Minister did not answer my second question. When does he expect to get the review into his hands and take action on the ECF?

The Minister also spoke about phased promotions. Can he indicate when these might begin? Is the ECF not a crucial element in them? Will he let us know if there are surplus posts in the organisational structure that may need to be taken out as part of the employment control framework? Is that part of the reason he is not making decisions on this?

The implementation of the ECF has been the subject of discussions between the representative groups and Department officials, and considerable progress has been made. We went over this ground at yesterday's meeting with the representative associations. Difficulties that had been encountered up to that point were advanced somewhat.

There is an implementation body that deals with issues arising from the Croke Park agreement. It will meet next week, perhaps on 20 December. Organisations that are parties to the agreement have the right to attend the meeting in question, at which some of the issues to which the Deputy referred will be dealt with. I understand that promotional posts will begin to be filled in the early part of the new year. The process of filling these posts will continue throughout 2011.

The Deputy also referred to surplus posts. I understand that at present quite a number of people are acting up in various capacities. On the previous occasion on which I answered parliamentary questions in the House, I stated that this figure was more than 100. Even though I offered that number from memory, it turned out to be correct. Most of the posts in question will be replaced by the permanent posts on offer under the ECF. I am not sure whether there are surplus posts and I would be surprised if such posts existed.

Defence Forces Recruitment

David Stanton


23 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Reserve Defence Forces; the numbers recruited to the RDF since January 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47415/10]

I am advised by the military authorities that the strength of the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve was 6,103 on 31 October 2010, the most recent date for which figures are available. This comprises 5,832 Army Reserve and 271 Naval Reserve. The number recruited to the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, from 1 January 2009 to 1 November 2010, the most recent date for which figures are available, was 900. In March 2009 all recruitment to the RDF was temporarily suspended in the context of the Government decision on the implementation of savings measures relating to public service numbers and the reduced budgetary provision available for 2009. Following a subsequent review and examination of RDF personnel numbers and budgets for 2009, limited recruitment resumed. This recruitment was to fill vacancies arising as a result of existing RDF members resigning or being discharged in the normal manner.

This limited recruitment was subject to the overall strength level that existed at 1 January 2009 — 7,671 — not being exceeded. It also included a proviso that recruitment would be monitored and kept under review in the light of the uptake of paid training within the RDF and the future budgetary provision. In 2009, the budget available for the reserve provided for 60,000 paid training man days. In 2010, further budgetary reductions reduced the provision to 31,000 paid training man days. The man-day allocation provides for annual paid training for existing members of the reserve and also provides for targeted developmental training such as career courses and skills courses. The training of new recruits inducted into the reserve must also be met from within the man-day allocation. The level of recruitment must be carefully balanced to ensure appropriate training and development opportunities for all members of the reserve.

The Department, in consultation with the military authorities, is currently considering the level of recruitment to the reserve that can be supported in 2011 and beyond, having regard to maintaining the existing capabilities of the reserve to the greatest extent possible. This must factor in the resources available for 2011 and the further budgetary reductions required under the Government's national recovery plan.

How many personnel were recruited to the RDF in 2010? Has an instruction been issued in respect of suspending recruitment to the RDF for the foreseeable future? What are the Minister's plans with regard to the future of the RDF? If the current rate of reduction continues, the number of personnel within the RDF will drop to as low as 2,000 in a couple of years. Is the Minister in a position to provide projections in this regard?

I do not have a breakdown regarding the 900 personnel recruited in 2009 and 2010. However, I will obtain it for the Deputy. Quite a number of those who have been recruited are at the stage between approval and admission to the reserve. These individuals are obliged to undergo various security checks, and so on. There appear to have been some delays in this regard. I have not issued any instruction to the effect that recruitment to the reserve should be discontinued and I am not aware of such an instruction being issued by anyone else.

To be clear, neither the Minister nor anyone else has issued an instruction.

I am not aware of any such instruction.

That is not the same as an instruction not being issued. Will the Minister check whether such an instruction has been issued by either the military authorities or his Department and then inform us of the position? I have been informed that an instruction such as that to which I refer may have been issued and I am seeking confirmation with regard to whether that is the case. Will the Minister indicate the number of training days allocated for 2010? Will he further indicate the number of these that have been used to date?

In my initial reply I stated that there were 60,000 training days in 2009 and 31,000 in 2010. When I last checked the position at the end of the summer, a substantial proportion of the days allocated for this year had not yet been taken up. However, I will obtain the precise figure and forward it to the Deputy.