Other Questions

Defence Forces Remuneration

David Cullinane

Question:

36. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the submission made to the Public Service Pay Commission by his Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that states the Defence Forces are currently experiencing a significant exit of trained and experienced personnel due to the improving economy and the increased opportunities available to further develop their careers; the way in which this is impacting on recruiting specialised personnel; and his plans to address the severe pay issues for low and middle ranking members of the Defence Forces through a change of policy that would end the practice of enlisted personnel receiving an annual gross income of less than €24,518 per year. [23199/17]

David Cullinane

Question:

63. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason for an estimated one in ten members of the Defence Forces being in receipt of less than a living wage of €24,518 per annum; his views on the claims by military families that poor wages are a significant factor which has resulted in spiralling levels of debt and hardship for Defence Forces personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23198/17]

This question is to ask the Minister of State what he is doing to address the severe pay issues among low and middle ranking members of the Defence Forces who are crying out for help.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 63 together.

As I confirmed in my earlier reply, my Department has raised recruitment and retention issues, as part of its submission to the Public Service Pay Commission. This submission was made in accordance with the required protocols for submitting observations to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for onward transmission to the commission. In the interests of transparency all submissions made to the Public Sector Pay Commission will be published on the commission’s website. Pending publication of same and in the light of the anticipated forthcoming negotiations I am not in a position to disclose further specific details in relation to my Department’s submission.

With regard to staffing, the manpower requirements of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, are monitored on an ongoing basis in accordance with the operational requirements of each of the three services. Personnel are posted on the basis of operational needs across the defence organisation, both at home and abroad. As there is a significant turnover of personnel in the Defence Forces, targeted recruitment takes place on a regular basis so as to maintain the personnel numbers at or near the agreed strength levels. In terms of overall strength, the Government remains committed to maintaining the stabilised strength of the PDF at 9,500 personnel.

In recent times, the Defence Forces have witnessed the loss of personnel, including specialist personnel, across all three services. Given the improvement in the domestic economy and increased demand for experienced specialist personnel, this has presented a significant challenge for the defence organisation. This was specifically noted in the pay commission's report.

The Lansdowne Road agreement provided for increased salaries during 2016 and 2017 in a manner which benefited the lower paid. These benefits come in the form of increases in gross pay in 2016 for those earning up to €31,000 and in 2017 for all those earning up to €65,000. In addition, the Government has introduced legislation which has commenced the process to reduce the pay reduction applied under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts.

In regard to the pensions-related deduction, PRD, which is commonly referred to as the pension levy, the exemption threshold for payment of the levy will increase substantially during the course of the agreement from €15,000 to €28,750, which means that annual income subject to the levy below €28,750 will no longer be liable to the deduction.

As mentioned earlier, future rates of remuneration will be determined as part of the anticipated negotiations in the coming weeks.

Does the Minister of State accept that there is a problem with retention as a result of low pay and low morale? In answering another question earlier the Minister of State tried to equate the enthusiasm of applicants and raw recruits to being the morale of the entire Defence Forces. That is something he cannot do. Is he aware that from 2013, over 2,200 members of the Defence Forces have either retired or dropped out and that that figure could have been much higher but for the challenging economy outside the Defence Forces and the lack of job opportunities? Will he agree that unless action is taken, he will see an accelerated rate of Defence Forces members retiring early or dropping out? Unless the Minister of State starts to address the pay and conditions, and the retention problem, not only will he not achieve the 9,500 figure he mentioned but it will be much lower than it is at present.

Is the Minister of State aware that almost 750 Defence Forces personnel are surviving on wages below the living wage of €24,500 and that the number of those dependent on the family income supplement, FIS, to provide for their families who have declared thus far has doubled in the past year to 124?

I have asked the Department of Social Protection for the exact number of members of the Defence Force that are in receipt of family income supplement but I am not able to find that out.

He gave it out yesterday.

I hear different figures from everyone around the House. Someone told me previously that 70% of members of the Defence Forces are on family income supplement. I totally dispute that figure. I have acknowledged in the past, and I will continue to do so until we solve the problem, that there are retention issues and the reason for those is the improving economy. I want to state also that the Irish Defence Forces was the only public service organisation that had continuous recruitment from 2011. When no other organisation in the public sector was recruiting, the Irish Defence Forces continued to recruit.

I referred earlier to the public pay commission report published last week, which set out clearly the challenges we face as an organisation. We are moving on to part 2 of that with public service pay and representative organisations will be very much included in that.

Last week, 9 May, the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, responding to a question from my colleague, Deputy Pat Buckley, stated that 124 people who stated they were members of the Defence Forces were in receipt of FIS. The figure for the previous year was 127, and it was 49 in 2013. I hope that is helpful to the Minister of State and that he will not have to ask for the figure. The question is already answered.

The key concern is for the families of members of the Defence Force if they are living in poverty and if the members cannot carry out their duty to turn up at their barracks because they cannot afford to buy petrol for their cars or ensure that their families are looked after.

That is the concern. If that continues in a changed economic environment, more personnel will be lost and the crisis within the Defence Forces will get bigger.

The fact that, in this day and age, there are those in the service of the State with responsibility for protecting the State and who face the possibly putting their lives at risk are on an annual gross salary of less than €25,000 needs to be addressed. To be fair, the Defence Forces comprise one of the arms of the public sector that has taken a severe hammering over the past ten years. If we are honest about it, we will realise that the inability of the Defence Forces to go on strike and the fact that personnel are not unionised and must take and carry out orders may be taken advantage of.

The Minister of State has spoken about the inaction of previous Ministers for Defence. It is irrelevant. He is the person in charge now and the person tasked with defending the Defence Forces and bringing a proposal on public sector pay to the table. We need to see a significant increase in pay, not a minuscule one or one that does not actually afford any extra purchasing power. In this day and age, the salary does not provide an adequate standard of living. We seriously need to address pay. We are always talking about the loss of experienced personnel, the officer corps, but the privates and NCOs are the ones on seriously low incomes and the ones who are mainly affected.

I am not sure whether the Deputy listens to other spokespersons. They come in and defend various interests, be it the nurses, teachers or gardaí. I absolutely admire them for defending various organisations and I will defend the Defence Forces absolutely, but everyone is looking for more money. Has the Deputy been around for the past five years and noted where we have come from since 2011? Since the Deputy's party's Government left office in 2011, we have improved the economy. The needs and requirements of members of the Defence Forces are highlighted in the Public Service Pay Commission document. I will absolutely fight my living best to make sure they get recognised for their work, capability and capacity and for the way in which they defend the security of the State. I will absolutely do so, and have no problem doing so, but I will also recognise the challenges we have. I am not prepared to go back into recession years, such as 2011, 2012 and 2013, before which we just threw the money at public servants. We have to work this out in a very prudent way and with prudent management of our economy. I hope that every Member of this House recognises that.

I thank the Deputy for letting me know there are 224 members of the Defence Forces in receipt of family income supplement. I will not have to go looking for the information now.

Air Corps

Brendan Smith

Question:

37. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to provide additional resources in 2017 for the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23267/17]

As the Minister of State is well aware, there has been much negative commentary on the inadequacy of the Air Corps at present. Can he outline for us what additional investment he will be able to make in both personnel and equipment for the Air Corps in 2017 and how he will try to halt the decline in the activities of the Air Corps and the increasing problems the Air Corps is facing?

With regard to the Air Corps, a key focus for me is on the recruitment of personnel and the initiation of procurement priorities identified in the White Paper on Defence. The Air Corps continues to provide a broad range of services on a daily basis in accordance with its primary security roles, including Army and Naval Service supports, maritime patrols and fishery protection and supports in aid to the civil power, such as operation of the Garda helicopters and fixed-wing fleet. In 2016, as with all other elements of the Defence Forces, the Air Corps responded to 100% of requests for aid to the civil power, comprising 1,350 separate missions, and carried out 297 separate maritime patrol missions in support of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.

In addition, the Air Corps continues to undertake a diverse range of non-security-related tasks, such as providing the emergency aeromedical support service, in addition to inter-hospital transfers and search and rescue supports, which are provided in accordance with relevant service level agreements. Its involvement in the response to the recent gorse fires further exemplifies its utility.

In terms of funding, budget 2017 provided an additional €7 million in capital funding for the overall defence Vote and the updated capital provision for the years 2017 to 2021 now means that there is a capital provision of €406 million available over the current five-year period.

The White Paper provides that the Air Corps Cessna fleet is to be replaced with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks. In this regard, earlier this month my Department initiated a tender competition for these aircraft. The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the two Air Corps CASA 235 maritime patrol aircraft, with consideration to be given to their replacement with larger more capable aircraft that would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo-carrying tasks. In addition, last year my Department placed a contract for a Pilatus PC-9M aircraft to replace the aircraft that was written off following the tragic accident that occurred in 2009, and this aircraft is scheduled for delivery this year at a cost of €5 million plus VAT.

I am satisfied that the range of measures and initiatives being taken will enhance the resources available to the Air Corps and help to ensure that the Defence Forces can continue to fulfil all roles assigned by the Government in the White Paper on defence.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He stated the Air Corps was able to respond to all requests for assistance. I did not see any official denial that the Air Corps was not able to respond when the terrible accident occurred off the coast of Erris. The Minister of State might just clarify the position.

With regard to the recruitment and retention of personnel, does the Minister of State intend to introduce an initiative such as the one that existed in regard to the service commitment incentive scheme that retained trained Air Corps personnel? I believe there was a bonus payment of €20,000. A distinguished former senior officer of the Army, former Brigadier General Ger Aherne, was quoted recently as saying, "The cost-benefit analysis of this approach, where the training cost of a pilot is in the region of €1.5 million, is a no-brainer." Does the Minister of State intend to introduce such a measure to try to retain Air Corps personnel when they are trained and working so as not to have the Air Corps as a training school for the private sector? It is very important that when we have highly skilled, trained personnel, we retain them.

A service level agreement between my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provides that the Coast Guard's search and rescue services can request the support of the Air Corps on an "as available" basis. The Irish Coast Guard, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, has overall responsibility for the provision of search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. Availability of Air Corps support is dependent on a number of factors, including the availability of suitable aircraft and flying crews, ATC cover and weather conditions.

We have challenges within the Air Corps associated with pilot retention and air traffic controller retention. There is huge demand in the commercial sector for both of these well-trained and skilled operators. I am not sure whether the Deputy has looked at the report of the Public Service Pay Commission published last week. It highlights the challenges and efficiencies within the Irish Defence Forces. It is now a matter for the public pay talks, which will start on Monday next, to achieve any sort of incentive scheme for pilots.

I thank the Minister of State. I understand that in the past in our country, in much poorer days, we had very sophisticated aircraft for ensuring airspace security. There are very busy air corridors through our sovereign airspace nowadays. In the plans the Minister of State has to purchase new aircraft and perhaps upgrade aircraft, is he proposing additional capacity to ensure we are able to meet our sovereign obligations in regard to our own airspace?

The Minister of State's reply to my supplementary question contradicted his initial reply in regard to the capacity of the Air Corps to respond to requests for assistance.

A letter to the committee from the Department of Defence states the Cessna fleet will be replaced by three larger aircraft, suitably equipped for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks. It states the procurement process has commenced. Since we are dealing with the questions of funding and upgrading the fleet of the Air Corps, can the Minister of State outline the process involved?

Can it be considered in the procurement process that these new planes be used to tackle gorse fires, as they could do so on a larger scale than helicopters which did a tremendous job in recent times? A plane, however, fitted out properly, would be able to tackle such fires on a greater scale.

I may come back to the Deputy on the issue because I am in no way qualified to answer the question of whether Cessna aircraft would be able to put out gorse fires.

A service level agreement is in place with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport which is responsible for the Irish Coast Guard service. We offer backup or top cover on an availability basis to that Department for the Irish Coast Guard and the HSE for inter-hospital transfers through another service level agreement. We have had challenges in the past 12 months in fulfilling these agreements and informed both the Department and the HSE about them. We have been totally upfront in our contacts with both organisations.

I ask the Minister of State and Members to adhere to the time limits for questions in order that we can get through the next five questions.

Civil Defence

Peter Burke

Question:

38. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the position on the relocation of the Westmeath Civil Defence headquarters further to his officials meeting members of Westmeath County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23085/17]

As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, I provide policy direction for Civil Defence and oversee the management and development of Civil Defence at national level. At local level, Civil Defence units are based in each local authority area under the operational control of the relevant local authority. On a day-to-day basis, these units operate under the control of a Civil Defence officer who is a full-time employee of the local authority.

Civil Defence operating costs in each county are co-funded by the Department of Defence and the local authority. The Department provides 70% of the funding by way of an annual grant, with the remaining 30% funded by the local authority. The provision of accommodation for local Civil Defence units is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. This is a long-standing position which was reaffirmed in the 2015 White Paper on Defence. Civil Defence units provide significant supports for their local authorities and other principal response agencies. I have witnessed at first hand their response to flooding events and I am aware that Westmeath Civil Defence was active in support of the local community during the flooding in late 2015 and early 2016.

Senior officials of the Department have met senior officials of Westmeath County Council to discuss the options available to the council in the provision of accommodation for Westmeath Civil Defence. The council declined an initial option of availing of Columb Barracks for use, including for use by Civil Defence. My Department has recently received correspondence from the council and I expect further engagement on the matter of accommodation for the Civil Defence unit to take place in the near future.

Further to a visit to the former temporary headquarters of Civil Defence in Mullingar, County Westmeath, I tabled a Topical Issue and had a debate with the Minister of State because of the conditions in which the organisation was accommodated. My party colleague on Westmeath County Council, Councillor Andrew Duncan, tabled a motion at a recent meeting to encourage the local authority to put a plan together for the location of a permanent facility for Westmeath Civil Defence. Unfortunately, the organisation has been treated badly by the State because it was put in a disgraceful location and volunteers were challenged every day by the surroundings in which they had to work. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure his Department liaises strongly with the county council because a number of options are on the table and a solution is needed for volunteers who are the first responders in many incidents.

I facilitated a meeting with the Deputy, local people and Civil Defence volunteers and was informed about the state of the Civil Defence facilities in County Westmeath. They are not fit for purpose, especially for volunteers who give freely of their time. Communications are continuing between my Department and the local authority in County Westmeath to come up with more permanent and suitable accommodation for Civil Defence members in Athlone. I have instructed senior management to communicate directly with the county council. The Deputy has brought this issue to my attention on numerous occasions, with the volunteers and Civil Defence members.

I acknowledge that the Minister of State has a strong interest in Civil Defence. It is important that volunteers be respected and that we encourage them. He has visited many locations around the country, which I encourage. It is important to liaise strongly with volunteers, but it is also important to secure a permanent solution for Westmeath Civil Defence. The organisation needs to house expensive equipment in appropriate locations and train volunteers in state-of-the-art facilities. These volunteers give of their time free of charge and work to support their communities. They support events such as Darkness into Light and Crinniú na Cásca. I would be grateful if the Minister of State kept the pressure on and thank him for meeting a Civil Defence delegation at his office in Leinster House. We need to keep the issue to the fore.

I support what the Deputy is calling for. Civil Defence should be properly resourced and housed in appropriate and modern facilities. They should be appropriate in the first instance and modernised as funding comes available. Such funding should always have been available. My question relates to other uses for Columb Barracks. Has consideration been given to using part of the site for homeless former veterans? The Irish United Nations Veterans Association raised this issue with me and probably the Minister of State.

We have been in consultation with Westmeath County Council on the vacant premises at Columb Barracks and asked officials to come up with a plan. As the Deputy noted, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government recently examined all vacant lands in the country for housing. My Department is dealing with that matter. I have asked the officials in the property management section to proceed with the sale of Columb Barracks. For safety reasons I do not like barracks to be left vacant.

With regard to Westmeath Civil Defence, my Department resources Civil Defence adequately and fully funds specialised equipment. I encourage senior officials in Westmeath County Council to take this matter seriously. I agree with Deputy Peter Burke that the permanent facilities for the volunteer members of Westmeath Civil Defence are not adequate and need to be replaced. My officials will work closely with the local authority in that regard.

Defence Forces Equipment

Bernard Durkan

Question:

39. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has had discussions at EU level with a view to delivering better value for money when purchasing new equipment platforms for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23326/17]

This question relates to the extent to which the Minister of State has had discussions with his EU colleagues in utilising the economies of scale that may accrue from purchasing new equipment platforms through the general thrust of the European Union being the larger single market.

The primary purpose for the procurement of defensive equipment by the Department of Defence is to enhance the capability of the Irish Defence Forces and to afford the greatest possible force protection to Irish troops on domestic operations and overseas peace support operations. The White Paper on Defence identified, as key operational priorities, the replacement of major equipment platforms across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service and the initiation of infrastructural development programmes. The Department is currently engaged in work on a new equipment development plan covering the next five years.

At EU level, there is a range of initiatives in the area of capability development that are in place or are currently being discussed. These include Ireland’s participation in the European Defence Agency, EDA. Ireland has participated in the European Defence Agency since it was established in 2004. The primary reason for Ireland’s participation in the European Defence Agency is to support the development of Defence Forces capabilities for peacekeeping and international crisis management operations.

Ireland also participates in a collaborative database which is managed by the EDA. This database provides a platform for engaging with other member states on a number of fronts, including collaborative or joint procurement.

Plans are under way in the EU for the development of the Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO. It is envisaged under this structure that member states would collaborate in the development and acquisition of essential capabilities for Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, operations in the area of international crisis management. Any participation by Ireland in PESCO will be entirely voluntary, as provided in the Lisbon treaty protocols, and will be subject to the approval of Dáil Éireann in accordance with the provisions of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.

The Co-ordinated Annual Review on Defence, CARD, initiative aims to create greater transparency among member states in sharing information on future defence policy, capability development, budgets and investment. It is expected that such transparency will support greater collaboration among member states on investment in capabilities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The initiative recognises that Defence policy, including defence spending, is entirely a national competence. Any information sharing will be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis.

In regard to the European Defence Action Plan, EDAP, the action plan was adopted by the College of Commissioners in November 2016. The aim of the plan is to explore how EU policies and instruments can ensure that the EU’s industrial and skills base will be able to deliver the required defence capabilities in view of current and future security challenges. There are proposals in the plan to increase transparency in relation to defence procurement to make it more open and transparent.

A key objective of the aforementioned EU initiatives is to increase collaboration in the development and acquisition of capabilities.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. This is a question I have raised on numerous occasions over the past number of years, namely, the equipping of the Defence Forces. Does the Minister of State see an opportunity in the context of the discussions now taking place to modernise our Defence Forces and their equipment at all levels in a way that is required in order to bring them up to international best practice and standards?

Over the last number of years, the Government has invested €250 million in the ships replacement programme. At the moment, our armoured personnel carriers are being refurbished at a total value of €55 million. We have also issued a tender for the replacement of the Cessna aircraft in the Air Corps. It is important in any investment we make in the Defence Forces that there is a provision - there is one in Europe - in regard to how we can get better value for money for the taxpayer in working and collaborating with our close EU neighbours in terms of investment in machinery or otherwise for the betterment of the Irish Defence Forces.

In the course of the discussions now taking place, can the Minister of State quantify the extent to which benefits from lower costs can be achieved through the aegis of the European Union? What is the extent of the contract to replace the Cessna aircraft? Is it intended to have a new contract with Cessna, or will different aircraft be considered?

Can the Minister of State give a commitment that the Defence Forces and the Department will engage in ethical purchasing when purchasing equipment in the future? Some €1.9 million has been spent on purchasing military drones from Israel and, over the last five years, €5.8 million has been spent on military equipment purchased by the Defence Forces from Israeli companies. These companies are in a country that abuses human rights.

We will stick to our neutrality policies when operating with other countries.

To respond to Deputy Durkan, when I go abroad and visit our troops, whether in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, or in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, we are the envy of other countries when it comes to our equipment, the level of equipment we have and the value for money we are getting for our investment. We put the replacement for the Cessna out for tender, so if a company wants to tender for the new aircraft, it is welcome to do so. We stick to our policy of neutrality when it comes to negotiating or collaborating with other countries.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Niamh Smyth

Question:

40. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the medical service of the Defence Forces is continuing to prescribe the anti-malarial drug Lariam for members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23306/17]

Clare Daly

Question:

74. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 1459 of 2 May 2017, the current position regarding the prescribing of Lariam to the Defence Forces; the reason there is no plan at this time to withdraw Lariam from the range of anti-malarial medications available to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23972/17]

My question is to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the medical service of the Defence Forces is continuing to prescribe the anti-malarial drug Lariam for members of the Defence Forces, and if he could make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 74 together.

Malaria is a serious disease which killed approximately 438,000 people in 2015, with 90% of deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. As reported by the World Health Organization, it is a serious threat to any military force operating in the area. Anti-malarial medications, including Lariam, remain in the formulary of medications prescribed by the medical corps for Defence Forces personnel on appropriate overseas missions. This is to ensure that our military personnel can have effective protection from the very serious risk posed by malaria. Significant precautions are taken by the Irish Defence Forces and medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of members of the Defence Forces to take any of the anti-malarial medications.

It is the policy of the Irish Defence Forces that personnel are individually screened for fitness for service overseas and medical suitability. The objective is to ensure that our military personnel can have effective protection from the very serious risk posed by malaria. The health and welfare of the Defence Forces are a priority for me. The choice of medication for overseas deployment, including the use of Lariam, is a medical decision made by the medical officers in the Defence Forces, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Irish Defence Forces. I am advised that the policy of the Defence Forces on the use of malaria chemoprophylaxis, including the use of Lariam, is in line with United Nations and World Health Organization guidelines.

We have all known for some time that the use of the drug has caused, and still causes serious, problems for members of our Defence Forces. These are views that have been expressed by both current and retired members of the Defence Forces. Serious concerns have been raised for many years about the use of Lariam as an anti-malarial drug for members of the Defence Forces serving in Africa and in other areas where malaria is a problem. There have been serious indications that the drug can cause the risk of mental health problems. It is a huge issue. Last year, the British Ministry of Defence acknowledged that 1,000 ex-servicemen and women are suffering severe psychiatric and mental health problems as a result of being prescribed Lariam. Similarly, in 2013, an RTE investigation suggested there is a three to five times increased risk of suicide among Defence Forces personnel who have been prescribed the drug.

Despite the Minister of State's statements, he is not in line with anything. He is substantially out of step with best international practice in this regard by continuing to prescribe this dangerous and discontinued drug as the first line of defence in providing anti-malarial vaccinations and assistance. He is just teeing up the State for massive payouts and damages in the future. The case for removing Lariam is probably iron-clad at this stage. Other jurisdictions have moved in that direction, and the Minister of State is lagging behind. His response on 2 May seemed to indicate that because we have a stockpile of the drug, we might as well use it and let it run out. That is completely wrong for members of the Defence Forces. It is completely out of sync with the majority of Deputies in this House who have signed a motion to say that this drug should be discontinued.

I ask the Minister of State to rethink a step that is not in keeping with the thinking of this House and best international practice.

As I stated in my original reply, I am advised by the Defence Forces' medical policy that the use of malaria chemoprophylaxis is in line with United Nations and World Health Organization guidelines. I have listened to the views of the Deputies on a number of occasions. However, I have been informed by management of the Defence Forces organisation that Lariam is the most appropriate medication for the missions in which we participate in Mali and sub-Saharan Africa. It is the medication that fights malaria, a serious disease that killed approximately 438,000 people in 2015. The advice I have received is the best possible from the Defence Forces. I am not a medical doctor, as I have stated in the House on numerous occasions. I do not have the medical knowledge to disregard the advice I have been given.

Is it not extraordinary that the Defence Forces continue to use Lariam when the chairman of Roche, the company that manufactures it, has said its use against malaria is no longer necessary? Dr. Franz Humer is on record as saying science has advanced considerably since Lariam was introduced and that there are more effective anti-malarial drugs available with reduced side-effects. Surely the Defence Forces should be using such drugs. Lariam has been withdrawn from sale in Ireland. Its side-effects can be very severe and include anxiety, depression, paranoia and suicidal behaviour. Fifty serving and former members of the Defence Forces have lodged claims against the State, as Deputy Clare Daly mentioned. The Government is teeing itself up for further claims against the State. Legal proceedings have been served in 37 cases. Surely the game is up for Lariam.

The Minister of State's is now a lonely voice. I remind him of the hepatitis C scandals in the 1990s. In 1991 the Blood Transfusion Service Board was alerted to the fact that a batch of anti-D produced in 1977 might have been contaminated, but despite the alert, it continued to use it and the women were not given any information. The slip-ups were repeated and nothing was done. We are in danger of repeating that tragedy. It took a mother, Ms Brigid McCole, in taking a case against the State to rectify the matter. I remind the Minister of State that despite all of the digging of heels, the State ended up paying out €1 billion, including associated legal costs, in meeting 4,500 claims in the hepatitis C scandal. This is happening on his watch. Does he want to ruin the lives of Defence Forces' personnel and put them into a similar position to Ms McCole? Does he want to ruin his own reputation, just as the reputation of the present Minister with responsibility for NAMA, Deputy Michael Noonan, was affected by his treatment of Ms McCole? We must own up to our mistakes, discontinue the use of this failed drug and remove it now.

I will be very brief. There are other drugs available. Most other armies operating in sub-Saharan Africa use doxycycline or Malarone, in particular. Has the Minister of State ever asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to peer review the use of Lariam by military services around the world, given that it is a number of years since it was first introduced? In recent times the vast majority of military forces operating in such areas have switched from the use of Lariam because of the effects it has on their troops.

There are no plans to withdraw Lariam from the range of anti-malarial medications available to members of the Defence Forces. As I have indicated, it remains in the formulary of medications prescribed by the medical corps for Defence Forces personnel on appropriate overseas missions to ensure they have effective protection against the very serious risks posed by malaria. The use of and the information on the medication is kept under ongoing review.

Deputy Niamh Smyth spoke about Roche. My understanding is it pulled out of Ireland for commercial reasons and absolutely no other reason. It stated as much when it pulled out of Ireland in late 2015 or some time in 2016.

Deputy Clare Daly has stated that I said there was a large stock of Lariam in the Defence Forces and that that was the only reason we were using it. We are using it because it has been prescribed by the medical corps of the Defence Forces. That is the best available advice I have been given by the Defence Forces.

The Minister of State needs to get some new advice. This will be his legacy.

The advice is that it is the best anti-malarial drug available for use by members of the Defence Forces.

Defence Forces Recruitment

Peter Burke

Question:

41. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the position on measures being taken to facilitate a return to service of former members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23084/17]

I wish to ask the Minister for Defence about the position on measures being taken to facilitate a return to service of former members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Government is committed to maintaining the establishment of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, comprising 7,520 Army, 886 Air Corps and 1,094 Naval Service members, as stated in the 2015 White Paper on Defence. On an ongoing basis the manpower requirements of the Defence Forces are monitored in accordance with the operational requirements of each of the three services. As there is a significant turnover of personnel in the Permanent Defence Force, targeted recruitment has been and is taking place so as to maintain the agreed strength levels. As in other areas of the public service, challenges have arisen in the recruitment and retention of personnel in particular areas of expertise. I am supportive of initiatives beyond the traditional recruitment processes to fill skill gaps in this context. Facilitating a return to service by former members of the Defence Forces is one such initiative. Former members offer the twin advantages of expertise and familiarity with the military. Previously, individual requests have been dealt with on a bespoke needs basis, given the relatively low number of such applications. The applications were at officer level. However, this initiative is not without challenge and requires careful consideration. Civilian and military officials are engaged in scoping appropriate terms and conditions for the re-employment of former officers of the Permanent Defence Force. In due course the approach will be discussed with the relevant representative organisations.

I understand there are some former members of the Defence Forces who are willing to return and contribute to removing the deficits in the Defence Forces. While the matter is being addressed in a more long-term manner by the approach being taken by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform with regard to the report of the Public Pay Commission, many members of the Defence Forces must retire early or take leave for a variety of reasons. A large volume of these members are fit and healthy and still desire to work on behalf of their country. They bring a huge wealth of experience and value to the Defence Forces. Members of the Defence Forces can serve up for to 21 years in the ranks of private and corporal, subject to meeting the demands of fitness, overseas service and medical and training criteria. Members in the rank of sergeant and higher can serve up to age of 50 years, the minimum pension age. PDFORRA has made repeated calls for this limit to be extended and it could be cost-effective for the State.

I am engaged in continuous negotiations with PDFORRA specifically on that issue. On facilitating a return of ex-service members and particularly officers to the Defence Forces, I have directed both the Secretary General of my Department and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces to carry out a scoping exercise and return to me with some proposal that has been negotiated with the representative organisations to see a return of these personnel.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. How many applications have there been from ex-members to re-enter the Defence Forces? Does the Minister of State have that information? Does he believe that if the scheme was implemented, it would encourage more ex-members to return to the service? Why can such a scheme not be implemented immediately? What is the timeline for it?

My understanding is there are two such applications, one of which is in the Air Corps. My understanding is that it is from a pilot. The other is in the Army where there is a specific need in the context of EODS. As I mentioned, there are various elements to be considered in devising arrangements for re-engagement. I have instructed both the Secretary General of my Department and the Chief of Staff to come up with a proposal for the re-entry of previous employees of the Defence Forces.

That concludes Question Time for today. I apologise to those Members who did not get in. I did the best I could to keep things moving, but, unfortunately, we ran out of time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.