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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Feb 2012

Vol. 754 No. 4

Priority Questions

Defence Forces Reorganisation

Dara Calleary


1Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence the progress he has made in implementing his decision to reduce the number of brigades from three to two; if he has met with various stakeholders; if so, with whom and when; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7012/12]

As part of the comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government decided to implement a revised Permanent Defence Force strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel. In response to this decision, I initiated a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces. This will ensure that the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force is prioritised.

The reorganisation will encompass a reduction in the number of Army brigades from the current three to two and will include the Reserve Defence Force. This fundamental reorganisation of the Defence Forces is a significant undertaking, and there is a range of options that must be considered. As I have previously stated, I have requested the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence to introduce detailed proposals for my consideration. These will include proposals on territorial areas of responsibility. The Secretary General and the Chief of Staff have initiated work on this and will keep me informed of developments on an ongoing basis. I understand this work will take some months to complete.

I am aware that there are many parties interested in the outcome of the reorganisation. However, in advance of my receiving a final report and recommendations, I will not pre-empt the ongoing work by commenting on potential future organisational matters. The representative associations and other relevant stakeholders will be consulted on matters that fall within their remit when options for the reorganised structure are considered and the likely impacts are known.

Is there a timescale within the Department for completion of this reorganisation? When will the new structures be in place? Is it envisaged that senior positions in the Army will be removed because of the restructuring of the brigades? Will there be relocation of personnel?

I have a specific issue about which the Minister may not have information, but I would appreciate if he could write back to me. An issue has arisen with regard to the relocation of officers and members of the PDF from Dún Uí Néill Barracks, who are currently entitled to a Border duty allowance. Those transferring to Athlone are allowed to retain that allowance, while those transferring to Dublin are not. I would appreciate an explanation from the Minister of this inconsistency in the treatment of the people involved. When does the Minister envisage being in a position to announce which one of the current brigades will no longer be in existence?

I will write to the Deputy about the issue of allowances.

The process we are discussing is a fundamental reorganisation of the Defence Forces. It is a significant undertaking that will require a large body of work. As mentioned already, there are a range of possible approaches that must be considered, and I do not want to pre-empt the work being undertaken. The experience from previous reorganisations of the Defence Forces has shown that time is required to formulate the options, evaluate each of them and subsequently decide on the best one to ensure that organisational structures are fit for purpose. I have asked the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General to provide detailed reorganisation proposals for my consideration. The effect of the changes cannot be determined at this stage with regard to the manner in which the Defence Forces are configured, and I want to await the deliberations that are under way at the moment.

The Minister said in his response that he would consult the various organisations. Have they been consulted yet? I know they are very upset that they found out about this reorganisation through the media. Has there been any contact between them and the Department since?

Certainly, they are aware of the decision. It was not a matter of consultation but one of policy, and it fell to me as Minister to make the decision. When the initial work has been completed by the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff, there will be a consultative process on issues of relevance to the organisations. Ultimately, the decision on the new structure will be made by me and not by the organisations themselves, but obviously we are anxious to ensure that the maximum consultation takes place. I assure the Deputy that insofar as there are issues that fall within the remit of PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, those discussions will take place. I have had some contact with them on a general basis, but there is specific work to be done now and it is being carried out.

Defence Forces Strength

Jonathan O'Brien


2Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Defence the total number of retirements this year in the Defence Forces; and the total number of Defence Force retirements he aims to achieve. [7201/12]

Dara Calleary


4Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence the total number of retirements from the armed forces before the end of February 2012 pension changes; the number of senior positions that are now vacant in the armed forces; his plans to maintain military capacities in view of these retirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7013/12]

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.

The Minister mentioned the limited promotion competitions. With regard to the 362 personnel expected to retire this year, including those who have already retired and those who have indicated their intention to do so, does the Minister have a breakdown of that number by rank? If he does not have this information, maybe he can send it on to me.

I am just checking whether I have a breakdown of the ranks involved. I do not think so, but I can certainly provide this information to the Deputy.

For the interest of Members of the House, the promotion competition for major general is taking place on 22 and 24 February; that for brigadier general is on 13, 20 and 21 February; that for colonel is on 12 March; that for the Army engineer corps is on 4 to 5 April; and there are a range of other dates between February and April on which the various other competitions for vacant positions will take place. Without major delay, I am expecting to be in a position to announce promotions once the independent boards have sat, the applications have been assessed and the recommendations have been furnished to me.

Will the retirements have any impact on our capability with regard to overseas or UNIFIL commitments for this year?

I do not have that information with me, but I will furnish it to the Deputy.

Army Barracks

Seamus Healy


3Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Defence if he will reverse his decision to close Kickham Barracks, Clonmel in view of the confirmation by his Department that no feasibility study was carried out prior to the making of the closure decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7011/12]

As I have previously outlined to the House, the consolidation of the Defence Forces formations in a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports in recent years. This was a key consideration of the Government in addressing the issue, as releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained, notwithstanding the fall in strength. I am satisfied that the decision taken by the Government in November 2011 to proceed with a further phase of consolidation is in the best interests of the Defence Forces and there are no plans to change that decision.

Is it not true that the closure of Kickham Barracks will not save the Exchequer money in either the short or long term? It is a very bad decision for the Exchequer, the Defence Forces, the families affected by it and Clonmel town. Is it not a fact that no feasibility study was carried out? The reason is that it would show, beyond doubt, that there were no savings to be made either in the short or long term. The Government is, therefore, taking advantage of the recession to close Kickham Barracks in Clonmel. A proper feasibility study was not carried out for these reasons. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter.

We have dealt with this issue on many occasions. The main objective of barracks closures is to release personnel for operational duties. Closures are needed to relieve the Defence Forces of the burden of manning and securing the barracks which are to be closed and maximise the proportion of personnel who can be released for front-line duties. The strength of the Army has been cut to its 1970 level and there is an urgent need to maximise efficiency to mitigate the effects of the reduction.

Releasing personnel for operational duties requires that the number of barracks be minimised. Major efficiencies in manpower usage result. Significant opportunities for increased efficiencies will arise in terms of the elimination of duplication, involving personnel engaged in security duties within the barracks, those working in administrative roles and in providing backup services such as maintenance and catering. The closures will also yield savings in the defence Vote on utilities, security duty allowances and maintenance. Apart from the savings arising from the closure of barracks, the transfer of personnel also gives rise to savings and efficiencies in the receiving barracks.

We are living in a very difficult time financially and the Government is obliged to reduce its expenditure. The Defence Forces are substantially reduced in terms of numbers from a number of years ago. As Minister, I had choices to make. Either we reduced expenditure on barracks that no longer offered any operational benefit and maintained the strength of the Defence Forces at 9,500 or we kept barracks that were not required open and ended up with Defence Forces personnel numbering between 8,000 and 8,500. I chose to maintain the strength of the Defence Forces to ensure Defence Forces personnel would be able to maximise their operational activities. The decision is not only in the interests of the Defence Forces but also in the public interest.

Individuals who have a different view must identify where we can find an additional supply of money. The State is dependent on funding provided by the European Union and the IMF because we are spending €16 billion to €18 billion more per annum than we receive in income. This was the contribution that could be made in the defence area to reduce expenditure in circumstances in which no job would be lost by anybody employed in the Defence Forces.

It is clear from the Minister's reply that even in the narrow focus of the expenditure of the Department of Defence there will not be savings now or in the long term. In fact, there will be increased costs in the short term. The Minister refuses to conduct a proper feasibility study that would include matters such as the cost of social welfare payments and medical cards being available to families as a result of this closure.

Will the Deputy ask a question, please?

Will the Minister, even at this late stage, prepare and complete a proper feasibility study? He is closing a barracks he has never visited. On the basis of courtesy alone, I ask him to visit Kickham Barracks in Clonmel.

I have already responded to the questions raised by the Deputy.

Question No. 4 answered with Question No. 2.

Army Barracks

Jonathan O'Brien


5Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Defence the army barracks he intends to close over the next three years; and the number of buildings currently in the ownership of the Defence Forces that he intends to sell over the next three years. [7202/12]

The defence property portfolio is kept under review to ensure the most effective use of military resources having regard to the roles assigned by the Government to the Defence Forces. On 15 November 2011 the Government approved a proposal from me to proceed with a further phase of consolidation of Defence Forces personnel in fewer locations with the closure of four barracks - the barracks in Clonmel, Mullingar, Cavan and Castlebar. The consolidation of Defence Forces formations in a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports in recent years. This was a key consideration of the Government in addressing the issue, as releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained, notwithstanding the fall in strength.

The latest phase of consolidation will bring to 14 the number of military barracks closed since 1998. A number of other smaller properties have also been identified as surplus to military requirements. Some of these have been disposed of, while others are in the process of being prepared for disposal. They mainly consist of married quarters and Reserve Defence Force premises. I can confirm that no further barrack closures are envisaged at this time.

I was surprised to be told by my colleague from Cavan this morning that there was an advertisement in the newspapers there seeking a premises to lease by the Department of Defence for Reserve Defence Force training, even though we are closing a barracks in Cavan town. Why was a decision taken to close a barracks when the Department was seeking to lease a property in the same town for Defence Forces personnel?

With regard to the current property portfolio, the properties will not be sold in the current climate, as we would not get value for money if we did sell them. Are there proposals to allow local authorities to use these properties for community purposes?

I will reply to the last question first. My Department has been actively engaged in seeking alternative uses for the barracks involved. There has been real interest in possible uses, but I do not wish to go into this in great detail now. Engagements and discussions are taking place in the case of each barracks. There is real potential for the properties to be utilised in a manner that is in the public interest and the interests of local communities. However, some of the discussions are at a very early stage.

Cavan Barracks is one of the barracks in which there is substantial interest. We are anxious to ensure we will still have an appropriate location for the Defence Forces Reserve and that issue is being dealt with. We do not need to maintain a barracks that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the needs of the Defence Forces Reserve. The Deputy is correct that an advertisement has been placed to see what appropriate premises might be availed of for the purposes of ensuring those members of the Defence Forces Reserve who are based in Cavan, have given good service to the State during the years and wish to continue their involvement with the Defence Forces can continue to do so without having to travel long distances. I am optimistic as to developments with regard to the vacated barracks, despite the current difficult property and financial climate. I expect it will be some time before I can make any announcements in this regard but I hope that, during the course of the year, I will be in a position to do so.

Does the Department have proposals to seek properties to rent in the other three locations where barracks are being closed?

These issues are still being addressed. I do not think it will be necessary to do so. In Mullingar, for example, I do not see that as an issue because of the proximity of Athlone. I will come back to the Deputy in that regard. The only advertisement I am aware of having been placed so far relates to Cavan.