Other Questions

Could we please have more co-operation on this and keep within the time limits, which are the same?

EU Presidency Priorities

Niall Collins

Question:

15. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Defence his assessment of Ireland’s EU Presidency with regard to defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29080/13]

Since the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, conducts the Union's common foreign and security policy assisted by the European External Action Service. The EU's common security and defence policy forms an integral part of the Union's common foreign and security policy. In the area of common security and defence policy, the role of the Presidency is now centred on supporting the High Representative and the European External Action Service in this regard. This arrangement provides Ireland with a significant opportunity to influence the common security and defence policy agenda.

As part of Ireland's Presidency of the European Council 2013, I prioritised a number of areas to progress during our Presidency. These priorities included preparations for the European Council meeting in December 2013, which will discuss security and defence issues and which comprised a meeting of Heads of State, continued development of EU common security and defence policy, enhancing EU-UN relations, EU co-operation in the area of maritime security and surveillance, addressing the impact of the financial crisis on defence through pooling and sharing, and support for jobs, growth and innovation through focusing on the role of small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, in fostering innovation in the security sector.

In relation to progress made during the Presidency, the key event was the informal meeting of Defence Ministers held in Dublin Castle in February last. At my invitation, the UN Under-Secretary General in the department of peacekeeping operations attended the meeting. This was the first time that the UN was represented at a meeting of EU Defence Ministers. The Secretary General of NATO, on his first formal visit to Ireland, also attended the meeting. A range of issues were discussed, including the upcoming European Council on defence, Mali, the Horn of Africa and partnerships between the EU and the United Nations.

Three very successful seminars have also been held in Ireland. The first seminar was on the topic of co-operation between regional organisations and the United Nations in the area of crisis management, peace support and peace enforcement operations. The second seminar dealt with the issue of maritime security and surveillance and the third seminar dealt with the upcoming European Council meeting on defence to be held in December 2013.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A further seminar was held in Brussels in conjunction with the European Defence Agency on countering the threat from improvised explosive devices, IEDs. A second seminar will also be held in Brussels later this week, which will be hosted by the Irish Presidency, in association with the Estonian Ministry of Defence and the European Defence Agency. This seminar will deal with the issue of cyber-security co-operation in the European Union and advance the debate on European Union member states' preparedness to face cyber threats at national level and across the EU as a whole.

The outcomes of all seminars held to date have been very positive and these seminars have stimulated debate and advanced the work of the EU institutions in these areas. The defence priorities have centred on how Ireland and the Union as a whole can contribute to international peace and security and the enhancement of the EU's common security and defence policy, which are central to ensuring the security and safety of our citizens.

Obviously, the Minister's reply is comprehensive. Indeed, he made a number of interesting speeches in the course of the past six months which we all would do well to study in detail.

I have two issues. The Minister made major mention of the importance of improving EU-UN relations. How would he indicate the progress he has achieved in that area? In the area of common security and defence policy and the agenda in that regard, what are the specifics the Minister would claim to have put on the agenda in the course of the past six months and how have those specifics been advanced?

In the context of EU-UN relations, one of the issues on which we wanted to focus particularly is the need for EU states to provide greater participation in UN missions and to ensure there are the necessary resources across the European Union to facilitate appropriate missions being undertaken, and that resources are used wisely and acquired in co-operation. One of the issues with regard to the United Nations is that whereas the European Union contributes substantial funding to UN missions, the numbers participating from the defence forces across the EU in UN missions are remarkably small. One of the reasons for one of the seminars we held was to bring together the UN, NATO and EU Defence Ministers and top level members of the defence family across the European Union to focus greatly on how Europe can better engage in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and humanitarian missions, how we can facilitate a faster reaction when necessary, and how, in the context of using resources, there can be a greater use by way of pooling and sharing in the acquisition of resources and greater compatibilities, even when it comes to simple communication equipment that might be utilised by EU member states working in partnership in particular missions. Substantial progress has been made in advancing these issues and in creating an agenda of interest.

On Thursday this week there will be the first ever top-level conference on cyber security, bringing together top-level officials in both the defence and justice area at EU level. It is happening under the Irish Presidency in Brussels so as to provide for greater co-operation and co-ordination in dealing with cyber security issues across the justice and defence sectors. That is instead of each sector operating in isolation.

Defence Forces Operations

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

16. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the number of incidents for which the services of the Army bomb disposal unit were required in the years 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if he will provide examples of incidents that the unit have dealt with in the first half of this year. [28709/13]

The primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with An Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to the role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist An Garda Síochána when requested. The explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, teams respond when a request is made by An Garda Síochána for assistance in dealing with a suspect device or for the removal of old ordnance. The number of times that the EOD teams have been deployed in the years 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013 is as follows. In 2011, there were 237 call-outs, with the number of viable improvised explosive devices, IEDs, dealt with at 70; in 2011 there were 209 call-outs, with the number of viable improvised explosive devices dealt with at 96; and in 2013 to date, there were 119 call-outs, with the number of viable improvised explosive devices dealt with at 46.

Apart from IEDs, other types of call-outs would include hoaxes, false alarms, post-blast analysis, dealing with unstable chemicals and conventional munitions destruction of old historical artillery shells. Incidents in 2013 to date have been in the main IEDs and dealing with finds of old munitions, as well as unstable chemicals in laboratories. All EOD call-outs are treated as viable devices until post-operation analysis.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report. I believe he would join with me in commending the explosive ordnance disposal teams of the Defence Forces on their outstanding courage and bravery, as well as their technical ability as outlined by the Minister. I presume that in recent days those teams have been standing by.

The Minister has mentioned what the teams deal with and in my constituency in the past couple of months, the EODs were called to a number of suspect devices by An Garda Síochána. Is the Minister happy that the resources available to EODs are sufficient? In Fort Lee in Virginia in the US, there is a 40 week course for engineers in the area. Is he satisfied with the level of technical education available to our very brave soldiers in the area? Is he aware of the number of personnel involved in teams?

The terrible Boston tragedy some months ago reminded us how terrible these kinds of dastardly events can be, as well as the kind of harm that can be done to the public. Is the Minister concerned by reports indicating a number of Internet sites - he has already mentioned cybersecurity - where bomb-making materials and expertise is evident? Does he have plans, in conjunction with other EU defence Ministers, to address the problem?

To take the Deputy's last question first, there are a number of sites on the web providing substantial detail on how to make bombs. It is a continuing and difficult issue and I can see it from both sides in my role as Minister for Justice and Equality and dealing with counter-terrorism. One cannot police every website in the world and information is currently readily available.

It is an issue of which the security forces, both the police and Defence Forces, are aware. Unfortunately the reality is that we live in a world where someone who wants to manufacture a form of improvised explosive device can learn very easily how to do that.

Having said that, it is right that I praise the brave members of the Defence Forces who are called out regularly to neutralise improvised explosive devices. They do it with extraordinary skill and bravery. They have and will continue to have any equipment they require in this area and they have excellent training. Indeed, members of our Defence Forces are recognised globally as having substantial expertise in this area and they have used that expertise to train others in different parts of the world in how to neutralise improvised explosive devices.

In response to the specific question from the Deputy, there are currently five EODTs located throughout the country. Teams are based in Costume Barracks in Athlone, Collins Barracks in Cork, Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines, Gormanstown in County Meath and at the Defence Forces Training in the Curragh, in support of Dublin Airport. The Defence Forces maintain the capacity to stand up additional teams if required. A team typically consists of three personnel, made up of one officer, one NCO and one driver. A team is also always accompanied by a security team, which travels with the EODT to provide protection. This is an area in which, unfortunately, we were forced by events that occurred on this island over many years to develop a substantial level of skill and expertise. It is one of the great skills that vests within our Defence Forces.

Defence Forces Recognition

Derek Keating

Question:

17. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Defence if he will consider awarding a service medal for the military personnel who served this country in a most professional, brave and dedicated manner during the period of Irish history known as The Troubles; if he will recognise publicly the many unsung heroes (details supplied); his views on whether such personnel, many of whom have retired, deserve to be honoured by this State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28741/13]

There are currently two medals that mark the service of personnel with either the Permanent Defence Force or the Reserve Defence Force. The medal known as the "Service Medal” may be awarded to an officer, non-commissioned officer or private of the Permanent Defence Force or a member of the Army nursing or chaplaincy services who possesses the qualifying criteria for the award. In addition, in 1961, the "Service Medal - Reserve Defence Force” , formerly known as the "Service Medal FCA" and "An Slua Muirí" was introduced for members and former members of the Reserve who meet the qualifying criteria laid down. The awarding of either of these medals to qualifying personnel reflects the service given by those personnel to either the Permanent Defence Force or the Reserve Defence Force, as the case may be and, by extension, to the wider public, during the periods for which they served.

While acknowledging the significant role of all Defence Forces personnel to the security of the State throughout the period of the Troubles, I am satisfied that these medals meet the need of marking service of personnel with either the Permanent Defence Force or the Reserve Defence Force and I have no plans to introduce additional medals.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I grew up on a daily diet of the Troubles on television, radio and in the print media. I welcome the move away from terrorism; away from the killing, mayhem and other illegal activities that took place over those unhappy decades. Such activities were carried out by a number of groups including the IRA and supporters of that organisation, including Sinn Féin, members of which have been elected to this House. I had hoped that the Minister would recognise a need to remember and distinguish those members of the Irish Defence Forces who throughout the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s, protected our Border, defused bombs, assisted the Garda with State security and carried out many other acts of bravery. The Minister will agree that the Irish Army is recognised throughout the world as a highly professional, brave and dedicated troupe of men and women who have served this country with great honour. During those troubled times, they provided the State with a service that warrants the term "hero". It is in that spirit that I tabled this question, to seek some recognition through a service medal.

The fact that the G8 summit is taking place on our island is a remarkable sign of confidence from the eight world leaders of the powerful nations that the island of Ireland is now a safe, peaceful and suitable place to visit and enjoy. Who would have thought ten or 20 years ago this would happen? It is in this spirit the members of the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force who played their part should be awarded with special recognition. I recognise the Minister's report and I am disappointed. Will the Minister consider this and consult the Chief of Staff to seek his view on recognising the very special period during the troubled times we had and the very special brave and honourable way a small group of people in our nation played a major part in securing safety on the island?

Other than the service medal, and the service medal for the Reserve Defence Force, other medals are awarded to members of the Defence Forces. I do not know whether the Deputy is aware of this. Military medals are bestowed in recognition of specific acts or service which can vary in significance from routine duty to bravery and valour. The following medals have been awarded to personnel who have served in the Defence Forces since 31 July 1924: emergency service medal, good conduct medal, military medal for gallantry, distinguished service medal, UN peacekeeper's medal and the military star. A series of medals are and have been given in various circumstances. When I was last in the Lebanon with members of our Defence Forces I was very proud to be present when they were given their UN service medal for peacekeeping in southern Lebanon. A variety of medals are made available to members of the Defence Forces in various circumstances. I have no plans for any additional medals at present.

Defence Forces Personnel

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

18. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Defence the number of persons that have retired from the armed services in 2010, 2011 and 2012. [29115/13]

The total number of personnel who left the Permanent Defence Force in the period 2010 to 2012 is 2,066, broken down as follows: 534 personnel left in 2010, of which 53 were officers; 729 personnel left in 2011, of which 72 were officers; and 803 personnel left in 2012, of which 70 were officers. The total number of personnel who left the Reserve Defence Force in the period 2010 to 2012 is 4,012, broken down as follows: 2,182 personnel left in 2010, of which 49 were officers; 1,161 personnel left in 2011, of which 47 were officers; and 669 personnel left in 2012, of which 59 were officers.

Personnel leave the Defence Forces on a voluntary basis for a variety of reasons including having completed the requisite years of service or having reached the maximum age limit. In addition, there are occasions when personnel are compelled to retire due to medical or disciplinary issues.

Defence Forces Representation

Michael Moynihan

Question:

19. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Defence his views on PDFORRA taking up associate membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29095/13]

The position is that under the terms of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 the Defence Forces representative associations are prohibited from being associated with or affiliated to any trade unions, or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Accordingly, the representative association PDFORRA cannot be affiliated to ICTU at present. A similar arrangement applies to the Garda Síochána representative associations. The basis for the prohibition is that it would be inappropriate to apply the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to members of the Defence Forces. The taking of any form of industrial action is felt to be irreconcilable with military service. As has been done in the past, the Defence Forces may be called on to contribute to maintaining vital services in times of industrial action. The potential for serious difficulties could arise in these circumstances if the associations were associated with or affiliated to ICTU.

A number of mechanisms have been put in place through the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme to compensate for the prohibition on affiliation to ICTU. These provide the representative associations with structures and processes which enable them to make representations and negotiate on behalf of their members.

In addition, a framework exists that facilitates the associations engaging with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between ICTU and the official side at national level. This parallel process was successfully operated in respect of the most recent rounds of discussions, facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission on an extension to the Public Service Agreement 2010–14, which concluded last month. I am satisfied with the present arrangements in place and have no plans to make any changes.

I understand that the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, wrote to the Minister recently seeking associate membership of ICTU. In PDFORRA's correspondence, it points out that, with the Minister's permission, it has joined the Irish Conference of Professional Service Associations and has also been allowed to affiliate to the European Federation of Employees in Public Services. It should at least be possible to explore allowing PDFORRA to take up associate membership of ICTU. One is conscious that a strike of public servants or a national strike would require members of the Defence Forces to be called upon, but one could not, nor would not, countenance a situation in which their membership of ICTU would give rise to their refusal. That is not what is envisaged.

I am also conscious that the International Labour Organisation, ILO, has pointed out that Article 5 of its Labour Relations (Public Services) Convention 1978, convention No. 151, provides that organisations such as PDFORRA "shall enjoy complete independence from public authorities". Ireland could be viewed as being in contravention of this article, given the Department of Defence's refusal to allow listed personnel to join organisations like ICTU. I would welcome any further comment from the Minister.

The Deputy may be aware that PDFORRA requested on a number of occasions - in 2002, 2009 and 2012 - to become either affiliated to or to take up associate membership of ICTU. These requests from PDFORRA raised significant challenges requiring mature consideration. Ireland has always been at the forefront in Europe in accepting defence forces into industrial relations mechanisms. The system in place in the Defence Forces continues to operate well and I believe that Defence Forces personnel have achieved significant benefits down the years through the existing process. Personnel are the critical resources of the Defence Forces. Consideration of a request for associate membership of ICTU requires us to consider the potential conflicts and divided loyalties that may well arise where the Government decides to deploy the Defence Forces in a situation of industrial unrest. In such circumstances, it is impossible to escape the unique position of the Defence Forces and, indeed, the Garda Síochána in the State. It is important that the Defence Forces can deal with matters appropriately in the context of performing their crucial role in the State.

I am aware that previous Ministers refused this request, but it is an anomaly and an anachronism that organisations such as PDFORRA cannot be represented to some extent in pay negotiations. The idea that they could be represented by their employer, who is their paymaster, is nonsensical.

The loyalty, solidarity and support of the Defence Forces, as represented through PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, are beyond question. There is no doubt in my mind, as I am sure there is no doubt in the Minister's mind, that there would be no set of circumstances in which these organisations would seek to put the security of the State or the wishes of the Minister of the day under threat or challenge.

I strongly agree with Deputy Ó Fearghaíl. The request for associate membership of ICTU is a reasonable one. In the recent Croke Park II and Haddington Road negotiations, there was a disquiet among members of the security forces regarding the State's major economic developments and the fact that such important servants of the State were not given a direct input into the decisions being taken on their futures.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has attempted to shape a way forward for the economic future of the country. Looking back at history, it is clear the right to collective bargaining is a fundamental civil right. The Minister might remember I tried to have that vindicated in this House on a number of occasions, when both he and I were on the backbenches. It is right that he consider this for PDFORRA.

It is very important, when there are discussions relating to terms and conditions of employment, such as occurred recently and which led to the Haddington Road agreement, that the representative bodies, be they from the Defence Forces side or the Garda side, feel they can be fully engaged. The parallel process that took place facilitated that. However, I have stated I am happy to look at how that process can be improved. We should not always assume existing structures are as perfect as they might be. I am very happy to see whether things can be changed in a way in which there might be a perception of greater engagement.

I wish to praise the different representative bodies in dealing with what were known as the Croke Park II discussions, subsequently the Haddington Road discussions. The Defence Forces representative bodies dealt very carefully and very committedly with those matters. Quite rightly, they sought to protect the position of their members but they also engaged constructively to assist and identify how crucial savings could be made. When it came to the Haddington Road agreement, the Garda representative bodies similarly engaged constructively.

I am aware Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is pushing me to do something his party has never agreed to do at any time it was in government throughout the history of the State. It is always interesting to try-----

Nothing wrong with that.

-----to figure out whether this is a new Fianna Fáil policy, or some sort of revised policy for Opposition that will be buried should that party ever find itself, in some distant future, back in government again.

I have no idea how serious the Deputy is in dealing with the issue.

Thank you, Minister. We want to take in the next question.

I will conclude on this for Deputy Broughan. It is important to note the first objective of the ICTU constitution is: "to uphold the democratic character and structure of the trade union movement, to maintain the right and freedom of association, the right of workers to organise and negotiate" - all of which are of great importance - "and all such rights as are necessary to the performance of trade union function, in particular the right to strike".

As has happened in the past, the Defence Forces can be called upon at any time to aid the civil authority. The potential for serious difficulties could arise in such circumstances, if PDFORRA were associated with ICTU, as clear conflicts of objects and policies could and, I believe, would arise. This is a complex issue and we must recognise that both the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána play a specific and particular role in the State.

We are moving with great speed today. I believe this is the first time we have got through this number of questions.

Defence Forces Personnel Official Visits

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

20. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the recent visit of the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces to Lithuania. [29112/13]

The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Seán McCann, paid an official visit to Lithuania during the period 28 May to 1 June 2013. His visit was conducted in the context of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union as part of the 18 month Trio programme of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece. The visit afforded the Chief of Staff the opportunity to call on the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defence, where he met the Minister of National Defence, Juozas Olekas, and senior military staff. Ireland’s experience in hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union was discussed to facilitate preparations for the handover to Lithuania in July 2013. This will be the first occasion Lithuania will host the Presidency.

The Chief of Staff briefed the Lithuanian delegation on the defence issues I prioritised for our Presidency and the progress made in these areas. The outcome of the meetings and seminars held during the Irish Presidency, which were utilised as an opportunity to progress the development of the common security and defence policy agenda, were also discussed. During the visit, joint areas of interest, including Ireland’s overseas engagements in missions and Ireland's and Lithuania’s involvement in the European defence agencies' maritime surveillance project, were also discussed. Lithuania also expressed an interest in hearing about Ireland’s expertise in countering improvised explosive devices. During the official visit, tours and briefs of the headquarters of the Lithuanian land force, air force and navy, search and rescue units and various other elements of the Lithuanian armed forces were undertaken.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn may ask one brief question.

I assume there is nothing to read into the fact that Lithuania has been a member of NATO since 2004 and nothing about which to be concerned. We know the Minister is mad to get Ireland into NATO. Should we be concerned?

This is part of the Deputy's party's daily hang-up. We have dealt with it at great length before. Since 1999, Ireland has been part of Partnership for Peace, together with other neutral states in Europe. This body plays a hugely important role in UN peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, something we have in common with Lithuania. The Lithuanian Minister, whom I know, is looking forward to Lithuania taking over the Presidency in some ten days' time. One of the things we have been doing, certainly in the area of defence and also on the justice side, in the weeks leading into that country's Presidency is co-ordinating issues it will take over from us. As we are now in our seventh Presidency and this is Lithuania's first Presidency, we are providing every backup and assistance we can. Lithuania is anxious that its Presidency be a success and that it can progress issues that have been addressed during the course of our Presidency. It was a very worthwhile visit by the Chief of Staff to Lithuania and it is most important that visits of this nature take place.