Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Shannon Airport Facilities

Mick Wallace

Question:

48. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if it is the case that Defence Forces personnel involved in aid to civil power duties at Shannon Airport in 2018 were not protecting US military aircraft involved in war or military activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39997/18]

This is not a new question, but there are always new circumstances. The world insists on throwing up new facts to support the case that what we are allowing to happen at Shannon is unethical, criminal and morally indefensible. For more than 15 years we have allowed our airspace and airports to be used to fuel the destruction of any country that gets in the way of the hegemony of the United States via the dispossession and murder of the people of these countries which are increasingly targeted on outright false and fabricated pretences. This action of ours can only be defended by a barely cohesive combination of the obfuscation of the truth, the bending of moral principles and wilful ignorance of the facts about what is being done in our name. We know that planes are involved in endless war, and Ireland is involved as well, as long as this behaviour continues.

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence 2015 is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. On each occasion that the support of the Defence Forces is required, including at Shannon Airport, An Garda Síochána requests their assistance and, accordingly, any security assessments and consequent decisions to seek support from the Defence Forces are a matter for An Garda Síochána.

The issue of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, it should be highlighted that successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions, applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and between my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security matters generally, including the Defence Forces ATCP roles.

The Minister has spoken about the past 50 years, but he knows well that the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 was a game-changer in terms of how Shannon Airport is used. The American military has been using Shannon to funnel death and destruction around the world. What it is doing in Yemen today has to be the most inhuman and disgusting episode yet. What is happening to that country is horrific, and we do not even get proper news coverage of it because the mainstream media is controlled in terms of the information being presented on that conflict. The line bandied about is that the people being targeted are Houthis and supported by Iran. That is absolute nonsense. They are ordinary people, fighting for their lives and their dignity.

White phosphorous was dropped in north Yemen by the bucketful. Did it come through Shannon? Do we care? The Minister has said that other Departments are making these calls, but the Defence Forces are in Shannon and are looking after planes that could be carrying cluster bombs or white phosphorous on their way to Yemen, the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates. It is simply immoral.

I acknowledge the points the Deputy has made and will take them on board. However, his question is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I know the Deputy is passionate about this issue, but the involvement of the Defence Forces solely consists of aid to the civil power to An Garda Síochána. I am aware that the Deputy has raised this issue on a number of occasions, but the Defence Forces involvement and role at Shannon Airport does not compromise our policy of neutrality. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Since 2003, An Garda Síochána has requested the support of the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on a number of occasions.

The issue of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

While I understand that four Departments are involved, the Minister of State's Department is one of them. Bad things are happening in Shannon, and the Minister of State is overseeing it. Not only are the media not telling the truth about what is going on in Shannon, but the UN itself is complicit. Two years ago, the UN told us that almost 10,000 people had been killed in Yemen. The most recent figure provided on those killed in the conflict was also around 10,000. One would swear that nobody has died there in the last two years. Millions will die of hunger there. Saudi Arabia has not been able to defeat Yemen militarily, so it has reverted to starving the people of Yemen into submission. The results of this policy will be unbelievable. I cannot believe the EU is prepared to turn a blind eye to this. A report was compiled by the UN which condemned the use of illegal cluster bombs and white phosphorous on civilians and fingered the Saudis for using such weapons. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon personally had the report rewritten to remove any reference to blaming Saudi Arabia. What is going on is unbelievable. We cannot even trust the UN to have an honest approach to this issue.

I do not know what role the Minister of State can play, but I plead with the Government to act on this at European level. Europeans cannot continue to ignore what is happening in Yemen. Millions will die if we do not do something about it.

I do not want to be flippant with the Deputy, but I will take his points back to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. I know the Deputy is very passionate about this, and I understand that he has his concerns. I will pass them on. The involvement of members of the Defence Forces here is confined to ATCP. We are not involved in policy or decision-making in this area. We assist An Garda Síochána on occasion at Shannon Airport. I reassure the Deputy that our policy of military neutrality is not compromised by this. I am very aware of the issues the Deputy has raised, and I know that he is genuine and passionate about them. I assure him that I will convey the points he makes to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The question he has raised is more suited to that Department.

Cyber Security Policy

Jack Chambers

Question:

49. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the role his Department plays in national cybersecurity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40000/18]

What role does the Department of Defence play in national cybersecurity? Will he make a statement on the matter?

As outlined in the Government's White Paper on Defence 2015, the issue of cybersecurity has very significant implications for governmental administration, industry, economic well-being and the security and safety of citizens. Cybersecurity is a standing item on the agenda of the Government task force on emergency planning which I chair.

The response to cyber threats remains a whole-of-Government challenge, with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment taking the lead role and with inputs in the security domain from An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces are committed to participating, under the leadership of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in the delivery of measures to improve the cybersecurity of the State.

Ireland’s national cyber security centre, NCSC, which is located in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, provides a range of cybersecurity services to owners of Government IT infrastructure and critical national infrastructure. The NCSC is also home to the national computer security incident response team, which acts as a national point of contact involving entities within Ireland, and as the point of contact for international discussions on issues of cybersecurity.

The scope of activities of the computer security incident response team, CSIRT, covers prevention, detection, response and mitigation services to Departments and State agencies and critical national infrastructure providers. The Defence Forces provide seconded specialists to assist with the work of this team when resources allow.

The national cybersecurity strategy, published in 2015, is a high-level policy statement from the Government acknowledging the challenges in facilitating and enabling the digital economy and society. The strategy is based on key principles, such as the rule of law, subsidiarity, and proportionality in response to key risks and threats facing Ireland. Work is ongoing on the development of a revised strategy, which is anticipated to be published by the end of the year. This revised strategy, in conjunction with the White Paper on defence, will continue to inform our engagement in this critical area.

As the Minister of State said, cybersecurity is the protection of Internet-connected systems, hardware, software and data from cyberattacks. The risks are growing in presence and destructive potential. The World Economic Forum's top ten risks lists cybersecurity after natural disasters and extreme weather. In recent days, we have learned from the Comptroller and Auditor General that the overall strategic direction of the national cybersecurity centre is not clear. No strategic plan is in place and not all objectives in the previous strategy were achieved.

Despite the high-level objectives in the White Paper, there are clearly issues with regard to cybersecurity. The fact it is in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment means it is seen more as an IT management issue rather than an issue of national security. I suggest, respectfully, that the Minister of State with responsibility for defence should try to have the unit removed from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and brought into the Department of Defence so he can lead policy on cybersecurity as it grows in the coming years. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General shows a clear need for this to become functional again. The oversight body set up to monitor its performance has not even met since 2015. We need action on this and it is the responsibility of the Minister of State to get a departmental change.

I must admit I have not seen the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General so I cannot comment on its contents. In budget 2018 additional funding was secured for additional personnel and technology in the national cybersecurity centre. A significant programme of recruitment will commence shortly.

I take on board the Deputy's points but this is a whole-of-Government approach led by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten. He retains overall responsibility for cybersecurity at national level. The Government task force on emergency planning, which I chair, maintains cybersecurity as a standing agenda item whereby regular updates are provided and issues of common interest may be raised and addressed. It also serves to reiterate the necessity for all Departments and agencies to address these risks when conducting risk assessments and assessing their risk management capabilities. I agree this is a huge issue but we have a whole-of-Government approach led by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten. He has a dedicated team working on this specific issue.

He might have a dedicated team, but if we want a whole-of-Government approach, it is important it comes from the Department of Defence because to have it in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment means the focus is more on addressing a technology issue rather than a national security issue. With regard to proactive cyberprotection, deterrents and cyberthreats, Ireland's development remains immature or non-existent. The Defence Forces should develop a cyberdefence team to protect the Irish economy and society. Cybersecurity is not being taken seriously by the Government because it is in the wrong Department. The Minister of State should look at the departmental structure and have it taken into the Department of Defence.

The Department of Defence has seconded people to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment but the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed serious difficulties with this. We are at an immature level of development with regard to cybersecurity. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has many responsibilities. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General makes clear there is no strategic direction. The oversight body does not meet and the Government's objectives are not being driven with regard to performance in this area. The Department of Defence should take ownership and control of this so it can develop a proper whole-of-Government response to the area of cybersecurity as it becomes a serious national threat. It would compromise foreign direct investment if our national infrastructure were to be seriously undermined and there were to be an attack. Then we would have proper accountability as to why this was not progressed in the previous months.

There is proper accountability at present in the Department of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. The question raised by the Deputy about the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General would be more appropriately addressed to the Minister, Deputy Naughten. Within the Defence Forces on the security side, we have people dedicated to working on cybersecurity. It would be a matter for the Government to assign the role to a different Department. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, is doing an excellent job. The previous budget provided additional staff and funding regarding cybersecurity. Of course, it is a priority for the Government to make sure the appropriate levels of security are available to the team there.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Bobby Aylward

Question:

50. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address the problems with recruitment and retention across the Defence Forces; his plans to improve pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces; his plans to improve pensions, benefits and retirement packages for former members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39965/18]

What are the plans of the Minister of State with responsibility for defence to address the problems with recruitment and retention throughout the Defence Forces, his plans to improve pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces, and his plans to improve pensions, benefits and retirement packages for former members of the Defence Forces? Will he make a statement on the matter?

Given the unique and demanding nature of military life, there is, understandably, a relatively high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel. This is not new and the Defence Forces have always had a level of turnover that exceeds other areas of the public service. To balance personnel turnover, there is ongoing recruitment at enlisted and officer level. This includes general service recruits, apprentices, cadets and direct entry officers.

In 2017, under my direction, the Department of Defence brought issues of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Sector Pay Commission. The Department of Defence has provided data as requested by the commission for consideration. The commission's work is ongoing. The Department will continue to engage with the commission throughout the process and will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the commission.

Defence Forces pay is increasing in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Members of the Permanent Defence Force have received the pay increases due under the Lansdowne Road agreement. New entrants to the Defence Forces will also benefit from the measures that were recently announced on amendments to the pay scales for new entrant public servants recruited since January 2011.

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement. The first increase, due from 1 January 2018, has been paid to Permanent Defence Force personnel and a second increase is due to be applied from 1 October 2018. Further increases are scheduled for 2019 and 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement at the end of 2020, the pay of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

The Department operates within the broader context and framework of public service pension policy. I am advised that military pension schemes, in the round, compare very favourably with the generality of pension arrangements applicable across the public service. There are no plans to amend the existing pension arrangements of Defence Forces personnel.

The first step in solving a problem is to recognise one exists. The Minister of State has not realised we have a problem on our hands. I had hoped to hear an admission or acknowledgement from him that the Government recognises the scale and impact of the issues facing members of the Defence Forces and their families. I come from Kilkenny, a town with a military barracks, and I have met members of the Defence Forces and their families. Their situation is dire with regard to take-home pay and other benefits. Over the summer, I met a former member of the Defence Forces in Leinster House. His wife was suffering from cancer and he should have been at home looking after her. He explained to me that he had promised his fellow soldiers that he would do everything he could on retirement to lobby politicians and turn the tide for those who serve.

Does the Minister accept that morale is very low within the Defence Forces, that pay and conditions of service are very poor and that there is a retention crisis? Will he go into further detail in his supplementary response on his plans to address these issues in the context of the impending budget?

I thank Deputy Aylward for observing the time limit.

I am not sure if the Deputy heard but I have recognised the challenges facing the Defence Forces on various occasions recently. We are going through a process. As I stated in my original reply, under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, PSSA, anybody with a salary of under €70,000 will have his or her salary restored to pre-FEMPI levels by 2020. The work of the Public Service Pay Commission is ongoing and it has received a robust, comprehensive joint submission from civil and military management, with detailed and evidence-based data. I expect a report on that shortly although I do not have a specific date. I will shortly receive a report on an earlier submission on pilot retention.

I wrote to the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, this week to start a dialogue about outstanding adjudications, which I hope the Department can discuss with PDFORRA over the next number of weeks.

I am listening to the Minister of State but I am talking about reality. What he is saying here is all rhetoric. As I said, I come from Kilkenny, a town with a military barracks. I know families who are affected by pay. Soldiers of this country are being badly left behind compared with other civil and public servants. They need a helping hand. Why are they on family income supplement, FIS? I know several military families in Kilkenny who are getting FIS. If they have a job in the public service, why are they on FIS? There is a reason for that and the Minister of State needs to wake up and see what is happening on the ground.

I will comment on the situation that has left many members of the 57th Infantry Group in an awkward position in Syria. There is much dismay among the families of those affected due to the manner in which this matter is being handled. A number of those affected by the delay have plans for vacation time with their families after six months' service in Syria, and they will now be forced to incur the costs of missed flights and accommodation deposits. Will the Minister of State and his Department investigate the possibility of assisting those affected in covering the associated costs of missing out on their travel commitments? I bring this up because four or five families contacted me yesterday whose husbands and fathers are serving in Syria where they will be stranded until 24 October. They need to be compensated for that and the families need to be looked after. I ask the Minister of State to take that on board also.

I announced this morning that the contingents will return home on Tuesday, 16 October. I took the decision this morning that personnel delayed in returning home will receive a €1,000 ex gratia payment in recognition of the disruption caused. I announced that in recognition of what the families are going through. This was done before the Deputy raised the issue. I have spoken to some of the families, many of whom are from Wexford, and members of my party have contacted me about this issue in recent days, including Deputies Phelan and Heydon, and a number of people from Cork. I understand the families will suffer and they may have had holidays planned, but they will receive an ex gratia payment of €1,000.

The Deputy spoke about family income supplement. Fewer than 1% of members of the Defence Forces and staff of the Department of Defence are in receipt of the working family payment. That payment is provided for a reason. Staff across the public sector receive the payment, as do employees in the private sector. The Defence Forces and the Department of Defence are not alone in this respect; other people also receive the payment. The working family payment is provided to assist families.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

51. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of recruitment plans for the Defence Forces for 2018 and 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39922/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

55. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of personnel serving in the Permanent Defence Force; the projected enlistment for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40058/18]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

62. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the degree to which he expects an increase in the strength of the Defence Forces with particular reference to the need to ensure maximum operational capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40067/18]

Brendan Ryan

Question:

64. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on reports that Defence Forces personnel are leaving for the private sector; his further views on the success of the recruitment drive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40064/18]

Jack Chambers

Question:

65. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the strength of the Permanent Defence Forces in whole-time equivalent terms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40001/18]

I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Deputy Aylward, on the need to urgently improve the pay and conditions of Permanent Defence Force, PDF, members. It is necessary to ensure we retain the members. I understand the approved establishment figure is at a strength of 9,500 members. What is the current enlistment figure? What proposals does the Minister of State have to ensure a substantial increase in the number of serving PDF members in 2019? We are aware of the upcoming challenges. Other Departments are recruiting in advance of Brexit and the possibility of the return of a border on our island. I would like to know what is happening in respect of the Permanent Defence Force.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 55, 62, 64 and 65 together.

The current whole-time equivalent strength of the Permanent Defence Force for the end of September is estimated at just over 9,000 personnel. The Government remains committed to returning to and maintaining the agreed strength of the PDF at 9,500 personnel, as set out in the White Paper on Defence 2015. In order to achieve this target, there are significant recruitment opportunities available in the PDF at both enlisted and officer level for eligible individuals who wish to have a rewarding and positive career in the service of the State. The PDF continues to offer excellent career opportunities for serving personnel and new entrants. General service recruitment campaigns, an officer cadetship competition, a competition for Air Corps apprentices, a competition for the Defence Forces School of Music instrumentalists and the 2018 Reserve Defence Force, RDF, recruitment campaigns all took place this year, and the applications are being progressed.

In addition, the Defence Forces medical corps is accepting applications from suitably qualified medical doctors, and the Naval Service has a number of opportunities for bridge watch-keeping officers, marine engineering officers and electrical engineer officers. Arising from the general service recruitment campaigns held earlier this year, new recruits will be inducted between September and the end of November. The 95th class of 85 recruits was inducted on 24 September. A second general service recruitment campaign was launched on 10 September 2018 and will close on 7 October 2018. I expect the Chief of Staff to propose similar plans for 2019. Final figures for numbers enlisted in 2018 will not be available until after the year's end. As of 25 September 2018, some 414 personnel have been inducted in 2018 and inductions will continue for the rest of the year. The bulk of inductions are weighted towards the second half of the year. Recruitment progress will be reviewed at year end and this will inform the approach in 2019.

The level of training and experience gained by members of the Defence Forces makes them attractive to private sector employers. The Defence Forces are not unique in this regard, and this is experienced by other parts of the public service and other military organisations internationally.

Additional information not given in the House

In 2016, the Government established an independent Public Service Pay Commission to provide objective analysis and advice on the most appropriate pay levels for the public service, including the Defence Forces. This informed the most recent pay agreement. Under my direction, the Department raised recruitment and retention issues as part of the submission to the commission. The Government has tasked the commission with examining these challenges in the defence sector in more detail. This work has commenced and the Department has submitted detailed material. The commission has commenced surveying members of the Defence Forces and is facilitated in this work by military management. With the support of the Chief of Staff, the Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and undertake the tasks laid down by Government, both at home and abroad.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He referred to a rewarding career in the Permanent Defence Force. From speaking to many serving personnel, I know it is not a rewarding or properly remunerated career at the moment, unfortunately. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan there is a strong Irish Army tradition. I have spoken to members of families who have served for three generations in the PDF and they are utterly dismayed by their pay and conditions and the lack of strength in serving barracks. Some military installations do not have adequate numbers to ensure they carry out their duties in the way that their officers and members wish to carry them out. The Minister of State mentioned recruitment campaigns, which we welcome, but alongside the campaigns, he must ensure conditions are in place to retain serving members. Is the Minister of State confident the establishment figure of 9,500 will be reached in the early part of 2019? My understanding is that establishment figure has not once been reached in recent years.

On a similar issue, will the Minister of State address the conditions under which the Defence Forces operate, particularly with regard to mental health services and psychiatric support?

On Deputy Smith's point about pay and conditions, I accept we have challenges in the Defence Forces, which I have highlighted at every given opportunity. I look forward to the outcome of the Public Service Pay Commission's deliberations. A number of processes are continuing under the PSSA, including pay restoration. The Defence Forces and civil and military management have also made a submission to the pay commission, the outcome of which I look forward to.

It is my aim to get back up to full strength. There are challenges in that regard which I am trying to mitigate to the best of my ability.

To answer Deputy James Browne's question, prior to the retirement of the Defence Forces' in-house psychiatrist, where a patient required outpatient psychiatric care, he or she would attend an in-house psychiatrist. Those who require outpatient care are currently referred to an external private psychiatrist, pending the appointment of an in-house replacement. All urgent cases have always been referred to an HSE emergency department for assessment. If hospitalisation is required, there are no reported waiting times. Where in an assessment by the HSE hospitalisation is deemed not to be required, the patient may be referred to an external private psychiatrist for treatment, if required, or to a non-psychiatrist care service in the Defence Forces, as appropriate. The issue is receiving attention. We are awaiting the appointment of a replacement in-house psychiatrist.

That concludes questions to the Minister of State with responsibility for defence matters.