I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 4 together.
The number of personnel who retired from the Defence Forces in the period 1 January 2012 to 3 February 2012 was 125, and a further 237 personnel have indicated their intention to depart the Defence Forces before 29 February 2012. No target has been set for the number of retirements from the Permanent Defence Force. It should be noted that the Permanent Defence Force numbers have remained below those agreed under the employment control framework. It is the Government's intention that the Defence Forces retain the capacity to operate effectively across all of their assigned roles. It was against this backdrop, and having regard to restricted financial allocations, that the Government decided to maintain the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. This recognises the significant modernisation that has been achieved to date.
In response to this revised strength ceiling of 9,500, there will be a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces encompassing a reduction in the number of Army brigades from three to two. I have already referred to the work being undertaken by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of my Department in this regard.
I recognise that the departure of the number of personnel outlined earlier over a short period will require close monitoring, particularly where vacancies arise in critical appointments. To address this issue, it is envisaged that limited promotion competitions will take place to provide candidates to fill critical vacancies, and arrangements for these promotion competitions have already been made. In addition, within the agreed 2012 Estimates, limited recruitment will be undertaken in 2012. Throughout this process careful monitoring will take place to ensure that any problems arising in the interim period are managed.
As of 31 December 2011 there was one vacancy at the rank of major general and one vacancy at the rank of brigadier general. Promotion competitions to fill these vacancies are currently under way. There were six and 12 vacancies, respectively, at the ranks of colonel and lieutenant colonel. The number of vacancies cited has been calculated based on the total number of Permanent Defence Force personnel specified in the employment control framework, which is 10,000. Once the reorganisation has been completed, it will be necessary to recalculate the number of vacancies based on the outcome of that process and in light of a reduced strength of 9,500.