Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Military Aircraft Landings

Clare Daly

Question:

5. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of Defence Forces' personnel providing aid to the civil power at Shannon Airport in 2018. [1960/19]

I am wondering about the cost and scale of the Defence Forces' involvement in aid-to-the-civil-power functions at Shannon Airport, where, as we know, their primary duty is to protect US military aircraft, such as the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transporter that went through the airport in October on its way to Tel Aviv. It came back via the airport a couple of days later. It is operated by the US Air Force airlift wing and is capable of carrying vast quantities of military weaponry to an area of the world where we know Palestinians have been under attack. What are we at?

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 is the provision of aid to the civil power, 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, An Garda Síochána issues a C70 form to the Defence Forces to request their assistance.

Since 5 February 2003, the Garda has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The cost of the presence of Defence Forces performing aid-to-the-civil-power duties at Shannon Airport in 2018 was €180,532.93. The cost relates to security duty allowances paid to members of the Defence Forces, rations and fuels. The cost of aid-to-the-civil-power operations is met entirely from the defence Vote.

I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between both 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 aid-to-the-civil-power roles.

Over a 24-hour period in November last year, eight days after the Globemaster aircraft passed through Shannon Airport on its way to Tel Aviv, probably with its military cargo of bombs and drones, Israel launched air strikes on Gaza that flattened multiple civilian buildings and caused absolute havoc. Given the war crimes being committed by the Israeli military and government against Palestinians, why is the Government allowing Shannon to be used by a military transport aircraft flying to Tel Aviv? Is the Minister of State not concerned that his Defence Forces personnel, who have other tasks to do, are tied up guarding that aircraft, which is potentially complicit in carrying out Israeli war crimes? Did our Defence Forces provide aid to the civil power for the aircraft on the day in question? For how many more airplanes en route to commit more crimes around the world, whether in Israel, Yemen or Afghanistan, were we providing cover in 2018? Does the Minister of State not believe 2019 is the year to start a change in this regard?

I am not aware that members of the Defence Forces were present. They were called out to provide aid to the civil power on the occasion but I do not have the details of the aircraft the Deputy is speaking about. She speculated on what was on board but the Defence Forces have no responsibility to search foreign military aircraft that land at Shannon Airport. This is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which can request aid to the civil power. I have set out the cost of aid to the civil power in 2018. I have already indicated on numerous occasions that the Department of Defence has no policy in this area. It is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and An Garda Síochána. We respond to An Garda Síochána when it requests aid to the civil power. That is the role we play regarding going to Shannon Airport.

The reply of playing dumb, seeing no evil and hearing no evil is not adequate in this scenario, particularly from a member of the Cabinet. For the Minister of State to say he does not know what is on board because the Defence Forces do not search aircraft is pretty convenient when other arms of the State have the power to search but absolutely do not bother.

It is almost exactly 17 years since the first prisoners arrived in Guantanamo Bay. We now know many of them were transported through Shannon Airport. Back in those days, we at least pretended we were not comfortable with it. This is no longer the case as we just say we do not know what is going on and that we do not really care. We know that one or a number of the carriers have regularly transited through Shannon. Some detainees have been in Guantanamo Bay for 15 years without any charge. Many of them are Yemenis. If they got out, what would they be going back to — a country destroyed by war, facilitated by the US military, which the Minister of State's Defence Forces personnel are tied up minding? I would like the information the Minister of State said he could get for me. I would like him to raise with the Cabinet the fact that if his personnel do not have the right to search, the Garda might do it and that he would help the force, thereby freeing up Defence Forces personnel to do their job elsewhere and allowing us to reclaim our right to be a neutral country.

There is absolutely no question about our military neutrality. I am not sure whether the Deputy has raised this issue with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney.

However, it must be highlighted that successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for more than 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 take the Deputy's concerns on board. She stated that she feels strongly about this. I have no issue with that whatsoever. She should take up this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.

I have. If the Minister of State could get him to get back to me, that would be a help.

It would be the more appropriate Department to ask that question of.

EU Directives

Jack Chambers

Question:

6. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when the working time directive will be implemented for members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1861/19]

I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence when the working time directive will be implemented for members of the Defence Forces and if he will make a statement on the matter.

As I previously informed the House, a Government decision dated 18 November 2016 approved the drafting of the heads of Bill to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. This will remove the exclusion contained in section 3 of the Act.

As I stated in my reply on Priority Questions earlier, I am not in a position at this stage to indicate a definitive timeline to introduce the appropriate legislation. There is ongoing contact with Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in this regard.

I must emphasise that the repeal of section 3 is only one aspect of the ongoing work. An internal Defence Forces working group is progressing further work on these matters.

As I previously stated, there is ongoing litigation regarding the application of the working time directive in the Defence Forces. This relates to specific circumstances. However, it limits the extent to which I can discuss ongoing work. As the Deputy will appreciate, it would also be inappropriate for me to comment in respect of any individual case or the legal strategy with regards to same.

I assure him that this matter is a priority for the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces and I have directed that work be progressed as quickly as possible. The Permanent Defence Force representative associations will be consulted on matters as they progress.

Late last year, we learned how a shortage of officers in the Defence Forces resulted in bomb disposal experts and marine engineers having to work 70 hours and 65 hours a week, respectively, without any overtime, and a survey carried out by RACO highlighted the Government's total disregard for implementing the directive, which would cap their working week at 48 hours. Germany, Britain and Sweden have implemented this directive and the Government has done likewise for the Garda. Despite losing a landmark case last year - I understand further cases will proceed in the High Court this year - there has not been any material action on this.

A RACO survey showed officers guarding Portlaoise Prison were doing 65 hours a week, those on guard duties at Shannon Airport were doing 53 hours a week, bomb disposal experts, as I have said, were doing up to 70 hours a week, and a Naval Service officer of the watch was doing 63 hours a week. Is it the case that it was only after PDFORRA assisted one of its members with a court action that the Department agreed to discussions on this matter? The Defence Forces deserve better. How many meetings have been held with the representative organisations about implementing this directive?

I am not sure of the specific number of meetings but the nature and duties of military life in general bring demands that are atypical to other security and emergency services. The directive allows for derogations and compensatory rest.

As I indicated, the Defences Forces have undertaken significant work in examining the nature of the duties of the organisation on how the directive can be applied to its members. I stated that there is a civil and military team working together on this. As I stated to Deputy Ó Snodaigh earlier, the military is to report back to the Department over the next short period regarding some of the work that it has done. I want to ensure that the representative associations will be fully consulted on this work. A volume of work that has been done between both civil and military authorities.

There is a legislative aspect to this as well. It is not merely that we are to implement the directive overnight. This is difficult work and we must look at the needs of the organisation going forward.

I can understand the frustration of people. When we do this, I want to make sure that we get this 100% correct.

The reason I asked the question about the representative associations is that PDFORRA stated that it saw more of the Department's officials in the courts than at negotiation meetings. There is a concern that the Department is more concerned with the High Court cases than with honouring and addressing this issue in a meaningful way. PDFORRA states that, as of late June 2018, departmental officials were admonishing the Defence Forces for stating that if they took their claims, that would delay the process of applying the directive. The Department, therefore, was threatening the members and the representative associations taking those claims. That is not the way to negotiate a meaningful solution to this issue.

The White Paper on Defence includes a core issue. Given the retention and recruitment crisis, the directive will never be implemented with the admirable target of 9,500. The Minister of State needs to have a discussion at Cabinet with the Ministers, and with DPER, to look at increasing the numbers to try and materially address this issue by reflecting a greater number in terms of the White Paper because directive will never be implemented with such a target. The Government needs to get real about that and an update on the White Paper would achieve that.

I do not accept that we threatened any association.

That is what PDFORRA said.

I ask its representatives to reflect on the language they use when they are chatting to the Deputy but I do not accept that for one minute.

The most important aspect is it is necessary to ensure that all work arrangements meet all the provisions of the directive and that there is dialogue with the representative associations. There has been dialogue in the past and that dialogue will continue right into the future when we talk about the directive. Complex work has to be carried out. On the other side of that, litigation has been brought forward. Of course, I must be cognisant of the language that I use when I speak about the directive, but the representative associations will be kept fully informed on the position regarding the directive going forward.

Defence Forces Medical Services

James Browne

Question:

7. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a psychiatrist has been appointed to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1808/19]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

15. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to implement the recommendations of the review of psychiatric services for the Defence Forces in view of the recent unsuccessful attempts to recruit a full-time military psychiatrist; if other recommendations remain outstanding; and his further plans to strengthen services for the mental health of Defence Forces members. [1801/19]

I ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a psychiatrist has been appointed to the Defence Forces and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 15 together.

A psychiatrist has not yet been appointed to the Defence Forces. A review of the Defence Forces psychiatric service recommended the employment of a full-time military psychiatrist. The previous incumbent providing these services to the Defence Forces on contract retired in May 2018 while arrangements were being made to implement this recommendation.

To continue to provide an interim in-house service until such time as the military psychiatrist position could be filled, efforts were made to engage a locum psychiatrist. However, this proved to be unsuccessful.

Subsequently, it was agreed to launch a procurement process to contract a third-party private service provider for psychiatric services as a bridging arrangement pending the appointment of a locum or full-time psychiatrist.

A direct entrant competition for the position of military psychiatrist was launched on 26 July 2018 and closed on 30 September 2018. No applications were received for this competition.

Further options have been under consideration as to how to proceed. In this regard, I have recently given approval for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian psychiatrist. It should, however, be noted that there is a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists. The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces.

Currently, patients presenting to Defence Forces primary carers - medical officers or contracted civilian GPs - with a requirement for urgent psychiatric assessment are referred to HSE emergency departments.

They are then assessed by the duty on-call psychiatric staff who triage referrals. These patients will either be admitted for inpatient care or referred onward to HSE outpatient psychiatric services, where appropriate.

It must be stressed that there is no delay in referring patients requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment. On presentation to HSE emergency departments, those requiring hospitalisation are immediately admitted. The waiting time for non-urgent outpatient cases is approximately three months. Defence Forces primary carers have been authorised to refer cases to local external private psychiatrists for outpatient treatment where deemed appropriate to provide them with the broadest range of options in dealing with the spectrum of cases that present to them, .

The review of mental health services for the Defence Forces also contained several recommendations regarding clinical psychology services. The recruitment of a civilian psychologist in addition to the existing Defence Forces psychologist has been fully implemented and the arrangement is due to be reviewed after a period of 12 to 18 months has elapsed. In addition, systems have been put in place to collect statistics in respect of the demand for psychological services as recommended in the review.

With regard to mental health supports generally, I assure the Deputies that the health and welfare of the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann is a high priority for me, the Department and the Defence Forces. Mental health services are part of a range of medical and non-medical services provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them.

In addition to the clinical supports I have outlined, non-medical mental health services are provided by the personnel support service, PSS. The PSS makes confidential services, including critical incident stress management, and psychological support available to all Defence Forces personnel through its network of barrack personnel support service officers and occupational social workers at formation, unit and barrack level.

As additional support, my Department has arranged the provision of a confidential counselling, referral and support service for serving members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and Civil Defence members on a wide range of personal and work-related issues. A freephone confidential helpline staffed by fully trained experienced counsellors is available on a 24-hour basis, 365 days a year.

I am satisfied that the available medical services offer comprehensive supports to Defence Forces members and I assure the Deputies that they are kept under constant review.

There will be significant disappointment within the Defence Forces that no psychiatrist has yet been appointed. I may have missed it but will the Minister of State clarify whether there have been any applications for the post of psychiatrist in the Defence Forces? I understand the previous position was at lieutenant colonel level, which has a pay grade of approximately €60,000 to €70,000 or approximately half what a consultant psychiatrist would expect to be paid in the HSE. I ask the Minister of State to address whether that forms part of the difficulty in attracting a psychiatrist to the Defence Forces.

Defence Forces members are under significant mental strain in the normal course of their duties. They operate in strenuous circumstances, often in dangerous environments. Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is common among soldiers. It is treatable but requires early intervention. The availability of a psychiatrist to soldiers at the earliest point is of critical importance. The Workplace Climate in the Defence Forces research identified the type of stress and strain under which soldiers operate. The current low staffing levels place additional strain on members of the Defence Forces.

A direct entry competition for the position of military psychiatrist was launched on 26 July 2018 and closed on 30 December 2018. No applications were received for the competition. Further options have been under consideration as to how to proceed. In this regard, I have recently given approval for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian psychiatrist. However, it should be noted there is a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, as the Deputy recognised. The proposal I approved before Christmas has gone to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for final sign-off. As the Deputy stated, the salary offered is only half of what may be on offer in the private sector or the HSE. That is probably the main reason for the lack of applications for the position that was advertised.

I have outlined that we have all the back-up services required for members of the Defence Forces. The PSS in place for serving members of the Defence Forces in Ireland and overseas is excellent and I compliment it on its work.

I have previously asked about this issue. I am not surprised that there were no applications for the advertised position. That is the current situation. There is an urgency to this because men and women deployed abroad may return with PTSD. There are also the issues we have raised in terms of the work and pay conditions and other stressors.

Has the Minister asked the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland for its view on the lack of applications? He stated that low pay may be the reason for the lack of applications but there may be others. We urgently need to find out from the professional body what is the reason for the lack of interest such that there are applications when the position is next advertised and a service can be set up which will serve the Defence Forces well in the future.

There is a nationwide shortage of suitable psychiatric personnel across the board in the HSE, not just within the Defence Forces. There are issues with a significant shortage of psychiatrists in the south east and in many other parts of the country. Pay may be one of the reasons for the shortage. It is one of the reasons I approved the proposal to go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I hope that will be approved and that we will soon be able to re-advertise for the post.

The Deputy referred to PTSD among those returning from service overseas. The PSS personnel in barracks across the country are excellent. They work in a professional and discreet manner and refer people on for further health assistance or care if required. Deputies should be aware that assistance is available for any member of the Defence Forces serving in Ireland or overseas who is suffering from any sort of stress and I encourage such members to seek that assistance if required.

My question regarded whether the Minister had sought the input of a professional or representative organisation, which may prove worthwhile.

I will take three supplementary questions. I call Deputy Browne.

Members of the Defence Forces give loyal and determined service to this country and deserve the best supports they can be given, including the availability of a psychiatrist. There have been many reports regarding the poor pay and other conditions in the Defence Forces. The pay on offer may be one difficulty in attracting a psychiatrist but there is a difficulty in respect of conditions, supports and facilities for psychiatrists to carry out their work in many general mental health services. Are the proper facilities and necessary supports in place to attract a psychiatrist into the Defence Forces?

When difficulty is experienced in recruiting a psychiatrist, the HSE will take emergency measures such that a psychiatrist working in another part of the HSE will provide cover until a psychiatrist has been recruited. That is currently being done in respect of child psychiatric services in Wexford. Has the Minister of State asked the HSE if it can provide cover until such time as a psychiatrist is recruited to the position in the Defence Forces?

Does Deputy Ó Snodaigh have a supplementary question?

As I asked earlier, has the Minister of State contacted the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland for its input?

There is a new strategic HR unit within the Department of Defence. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that if one advertises for a position at half the salary being offered by the HSE, there will not be any applications. There have been no applications for many of the vacant positions within the HSE.

Has the Minister of State asked the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for military salaries to have equivalence to the HSE salary scale? What is he doing to bridge the gap? If the position is re-advertised at a median point between the HSE salary scale and what was advertised before, there will be no further applicants. It would not be a proper advertising of a position if the Minister of State knows there will not be any applicants.

There are other Members waiting and I have called the Minister of State to reply. I cannot deprive other Members.

I have approved the proposal that a civilian psychiatrist on contract should be recruited to provide services to members of the Defence Forces. There are several steps under way with a view to commencing the recruitment campaign. I am hopeful the position I have proposed to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be filled.

I am not going to indicate what the proposal is because it would not be appropriate to do so. However, we are also looking at formalising arrangements with external service providers. Arrangements for this procurement process are also under way. In the interim, measures are in place to ensure services are available to members of the Defence Forces through the HSE. The Defence Forces deserve the best. That is why I believe we have the best personnel support services, PSS, available. The staff in that unit need to be applauded for the work they do above and beyond the call of duty. I note they do that work in a professional and discreet manner.

Defence Forces Expenditure

Bríd Smith

Question:

8. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the planned increase in defence spending for 2019 in all areas; the details of the increase planned to deal with issues of pay and work conditions suffered by Defence Forces members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2005/19]

I am taking this question on behalf of Deputy Bríd Smith. Will the Minister of State provide the details of the planned increase in defence spending for 2019 in all areas? Will he also provide the details of the increase planned to deal with issues of pay and work conditions of Defence Forces members?

The total gross provision for the defence sector for 2019 is €1.007 billion, which is an increase of over €60 million or 6.4% on the 2018 provision. This comprises €758 million for Vote 36 - Defence, an increase of over €50 million, and €249 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, an increase of €10 million. Overall, approximately 77% of the defence sector provision relates to pay and pensions.

The 2019 provision for pay in Vote 36 is €529 million, which provides for the pay and allowances of over 10,400 public service employees, including 9,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, 550 civilian employees and 355 civil servants. The Government has ensured full funding has been provided for 2019 for the target strength for the Permanent Defence Force of 9,500.

Pay is continuing to increase in accordance with public sector pay agreements. Following on from increases paid under the Lansdowne Road agreement, further increases were paid in 2018 under the Public Sector Stability Agreement 2018-2020, with additional increases due in 2019. The allocation includes €6.3 million to meet the additional commitments for 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled for 2020. In accordance with the provisions of Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a more comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence Sector. The work of the commission is ongoing. The Government will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the commission.

The non-pay allocation, including capital, for 2019 for Vote 36 is €229 million and this provides for essential and ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs, as well as the provision of essential procurement and upgrading of defensive equipment and infrastructure. The non-pay allocation has increased by €31 million over the 2018 level.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In accordance with the national development plan, NDP, the capital allocation for defence has risen to €106 million for 2019, an increase of €29 million. The NDP provides for a total of €541 million over the period 2018 to 2022. This level of capital funding will allow the defence organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as identified and prioritised in the defence White Paper, and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces built infrastructure continues to be enhanced and modernised and to that end the defence Vote makes provision for increased investment in this area, with over €28 million allocated for 2019, an increase of almost €5 million or 20.6%. I have also secured an additional €10 million for Vote 35 for 2019. The allocation of €249 million will provide for the payment of pension entitlements to former members of the Permanent Defence Force and certain dependants.

The allocation of over €1 billion for the defence sector for 2019 emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned by Government, both at home and overseas and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all their assigned roles.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a major crisis in our Defence Forces with regard to pay, retention and conditions. There is also a crisis of low morale and non-recognition of army personnel regarding PDFORRA. Large numbers of members of the Defence Forces are leaving. Many of my constituents in Dublin Mid-West are in the Defence Forces. I know from them that the force morale is extremely low. It was incredible that in September 2018, many Deputies joined members of the Defence Forces in a protest about pay and conditions. It is indicative that serving and retired members of the Defence Forces have to protest against the Department. PDFORRA has also had to bring the Department to court with regard to basic pay and the working time Act. It is indicative of what the Department is doing to the Defence Forces.

The Public Service Pay Commission was established to provide objective advice to the Government on public service remuneration policy. 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 Service Pay Commission. As a result of that initiative, the commission is now beginning and in-depth and advanced examination of these issues. In 2018, the average earnings for enlisted personnel were: €37,529 for a three-star private; €41,076 for a corporal; €44,622 for a sergeant; €49,605 for a company quartermaster sergeant; €53,606 for a battalion quartermaster sergeant; €54,817 for a sergeant major. The Department of Defence has provided data as requested to the Public Service Pay Commission for its consideration. This was sourced by the civil and military working group. The commission's work is ongoing. I am aware it has surveyed some members of the Defence Forces and interviewed them face to face regarding pay and conditions.

There are other Members waiting. I call Deputy Gino Kenny for his final supplementary.

That is not a reality facing those in the Defence Forces. They will tell Members that is not the case. If 20% of Defence Forces' members are applying for working family payment, there is something seriously wrong. This is mirrored across the public service. Some of the statistics are quite incredible. On average, Defence Forces personnel are working 64 hours per week. That is unsustainable both mentally and physically, yet army personnel are meant to work these hours for a low wage. This issue will not go away. It has to be addressed through pay and conditions and also by recognising the union, PDFORRA, which represents rank and file. Army personnel need to be recognised as a union because they are just as important as any worker in society.

There have been salary increases from 1 January 2018 and 1 October 2018. There will be further increases this year under the public service stability agreement.

I am not making up the figures I provided. They were the gross average earnings in 2018. I have highlighted the work of the Public Service Pay Commission. I have taken the Deputy’s concerns on board and acknowledge there are challenges with regard to Defence Forces pay and conditions. It is now up to the commission to examine the data that the civil and military management have submitted to it. I want to give it time and space. As I informed Deputy Jack Chambers earlier, I am hopeful that the people who drew up the submission will have an opportunity to address the pay commission. However, that is entirely up to the commission.

Defence Forces Reserve

Jack Chambers

Question:

9. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his priorities for the Reserve Defence Force in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1860/19]

What are the Minister of State’s priorities for the Reserve Defence Forces in 2019? During his tenure, he has said little about the Reserve Defence Force. There has been a recruitment problem which has been outlined by the Reserve itself. What are his plans to address the diminishing numbers in the Reserve?

The Reserve Defence Forces, RDF, comprise the First Line Reserve, the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve. The Government recognises the important role that the three elements of the RDF play in contributing to Ireland's defence capability. The 2015 White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the Reserve Defence Forces and it is currently on a developmental path arising from the recommendations of the White Paper.

Under the current phase of implementation of White Paper actions, two White Paper projects have been identified which are important precursors to the establishment of a specialist Reserve. The specialist Reserve will seek to develop individual members of the Reserve, who by virtue of their professional civilian qualifications, have the competence to undertake specialist tasks. The Government has decided that a panel of such professionally qualified members of the Reserve, to be known as the specialist Reserve, should be established. A gap analysis of skill sets in the Permanent Defence Forces, PDF, will identify potential roles for Reserve members who possess specialist skills. Options to develop the First Line Reserve are also currently being examined.

Last July, the Chief of Staff assigned the responsibility of director of Reserve Defence Forces to the director of combat support and ISTAR. In this context, plans for 2019 provide guidance, across all units and formations with Reserve Defence Forces assets, in developing their capabilities. This is in line with the single force concept and the role of the Reserve as described in the White Paper for Defence. The focus will be to harness RDF skills and talent, maximising their development on the basis of mutual engagement with the PDF. Specific project areas will focus on training, regulation, recruitment, retention and promotions and will be supported through RDF and PDF reciprocal training, mentoring and education.

A key ongoing challenge for the Reserve Defence Forces is to recruit and retain personnel. I am aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment, which provides for 4,069 personnel and recruitment is ongoing. The Defence Forces will run two recruitment campaigns for the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve this year, one in March and a second in October. Supports being provided to maximise recruitment to the RDF include the use of social media and outreach activities by RDF members. PDF recruit exit interviews now contain information on applying for membership of the RDF.

Engagement will continue with the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association, RDFRA. My officials are scheduled to meet RDFRA in the coming weeks. I would like to assure the Deputy that I remain committed to the ongoing development of the RDF within the framework set out in the White Paper, having regard to resource availability. It is my intention to ensure that momentum on its development is maintained throughout 2019 and the coming years.

The Minister of State told me in reply to a parliamentary question just before Christmas that the effective strength of the Reserve Defence Forces stood at 1,745. As with the Permanent Defence Forces, the Reserve has been in decline for years. While the Reserve Defence Forces had 2,280 effective members at the end of 2015, this had reduced to 2,049 by the end of 2016 and to 1,975 at the end of March 2017. The agreed established strength of the Reserve is 4,069.

While the Minister of State mentioned that he wants to have specialist training for the Reserve Defence Forces, to value them and to recruit them, the reality is represented by what the Reserve Defence Forces said themselves at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence in 2017 when they said that there are elements within the Department that they feel "simply could not care less about the Reserve Defence Forces." Some of the issues that were mentioned at that committee meeting need to be addressed at a policy level because the numbers are diminishing and the Minister of State needs to seriously address it or we will not have a proper Reserve.

I got correspondence about the issues that were raised at the Oireachtas committee by the Reserve and the Department replied to that in conjunction with the Permanent Defence Forces. They raised a number of issues and those issues were answered and replied to. The effective strength of the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve as of 31 December 2018, which is the latest date for which figures are available, was 1,779 personnel. The Army Reserve had 1,666 and the Naval Service Reserve had 133. The strength of the First Line Reserve on 31 December 2018 was 288 personnel.

I have previously stated that if people have any ideas about encouraging the general public to get involved in the Reserve Defence Forces they should make them known. We have put a very rigorous recruitment programme together that is very attractive in terms of training and education for people when they join up.

Much of this relates to the large breakdown in rural and regional units of the Reserve Defence Forces. Mr. Richardson mentioned at that committee meeting that 6,000 applications were received between September 2015 and December 2016 and out of those applicants, 60 were recruited. That shows the mismatch between the numbers who might be interested and the numbers who go on to become reservists. We have a destructive policy where there is an element of contagion. The breakdown of the units is leading to a lack of involvement in proper defence policy.

The Minister of State needs to have the Reserve as a more integral part of defence policy so that they are actually valued within the whole architecture of defence.

The Chief of Staff has appointed a director of the Reserve, as I stated in my original reply. That shows the commitment from the Permanent Defence Forces and the value they place on the Reserve but it is up to the units on the ground to encourage members to apply, to join and to become members of the Reserve as well. When I speak to my colleagues across Europe, they all have the very same issue with the Reserve and the number of people who apply for the Reserve Defence Forces is not the same as would have applied previously. I have stated at the committee on numerous occasions that if members have any ideas around encouraging young people to join the Reserve Defence Forces they should make them known because people have received fabulous opportunities due to being members of the Reserve Defence Forces. Those people do not want to join the PDF but they want to be members of the RDF. They show the leadership skills and learn specific skills in different areas that they might not otherwise be able to get.

Defence Forces Recruitment

Brendan Smith

Question:

10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the proposed recruitment programme for the Permanent Defence Forces for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1957/19]

Brendan Smith

Question:

14. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of personnel serving in the Permanent Defence Forces at the end of 2018; the projected enlistment for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1956/19]

As the Minister of State knows, the quality of personnel serving in our Permanent Defence Forces is a great asset for our country. We see that in the work of members at home and abroad, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. The decline in the serving numbers has to be a source of concern to all of us and we need to get the numbers back up in excess of 10,000. I understand that there were about 9,000 serving members towards the end of December. The Minister of State knows that is not a sufficient number to enable our Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out their mandated duties and there is an urgent need to have the numbers enlisted increase.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 14 together.

As of 31 December 2018, which is the date for which the latest figures are available, the whole time equivalent strength of the PDF stood at just under 9,000 personnel.

There are significant career opportunities available at both enlisted and officer level for eligible individuals who wish to have a rewarding and positive career in service to the State. The Permanent Defence Forces continue to offer excellent opportunities for serving personnel and for new entrants.

In order to return to the agreed strength of 9,500 Permanent Defence Forces personnel, recruitment continued throughout 2018. This encompassed two general service recruit competitions, and competitions for cadets, apprentices and instrumentalists along with other intake from direct entry streams. This has resulted in over 611 personnel inducted in 2018. This figure does not include the 15 members of the PDF who were awarded a cadetship last year.

Recently, I met senior civil and military officials to review recruitment plans for 2019 and I can confirm that, subject to further consideration, similar recruitment competitions to those held in 2018 will take place in 2019. At this point it is not possible to predict the precise numbers that will be recruited but it is anticipated that this will be in the region of some 800 personnel. The military authorities have advised that targeted media campaigns using social and traditional media, cinema and print will continue to form important elements of their recruitment drive. A variety of recruitment initiatives will also be undertaken throughout the year, including outreach events at local and national level. Additionally, the Defence Forces will accept general service recruitment applications outside of the two normal competition periods.

Some specialist posts such as pilots, air traffic controllers and certain technicians are presenting challenges for recruitment and retention. I have previously acknowledged this fact, which is reflective of the current economic circumstances and attractive job opportunities in the private and commercial semi-State sectors. The level of training and experience gained by members of the Defence Forces makes them very 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 by other military organisations internationally. A range of alternative recruitment approaches are being developed, aimed at addressing such vacancies in specialist areas.

A scheme has been introduced that permits former officers with specialist skills to re-enter the Permanent Defence Force and arrangements are in train to provide a similar scheme for former enlisted personnel. Currently there is direct entry provision for those with professional qualifications, which is utilised for the recruitment of medical officers and engineers. A working group is examining the scope for greater use of such direct entry recruitment for certain specialist positions.

The Public Service Pay Commission is examining the issue of the recruitment and retention of specialist personnel within the Defence Forces. When the commission reports, its findings will be considered at that point. The Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government, both at home and overseas.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is disappointing to note that even in the month of December the numbers declined in our Permanent Defence Force. The Minister of State will recall that at the PDFORRA conference last October, its members highlighted how large numbers of soldiers, sailors and Air Corps staff were buying themselves out of the Defence Forces because they were unhappy with the pay and conditions. As we know, PDFORRA has been a good, strong and reasonable advocate on behalf of its members. I know from speaking to PDFORRA that it is anxious that pay and conditions be improved as rapidly as possible.

The serving personnel figure of fewer than 10,000 is stretching our Army in carrying out its mandated duties. It is essential the numbers are increased in 2019. Unfortunately, there will be additional requirements on our Permanent Defence Force in the south of Ulster and along the Border. None of us want to see checkpoints again. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit - and I sincerely hope there is an agreement between the British Government and the European Union - there will be additional responsibilities on our Permanent Defence Force.

I take the concerns the Deputy raised but the EU and UK have recognised that the open border on the island of Ireland has been essential to peace and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. There is no planning for infrastructure at the Border. In the normal course of events, the Defence Forces carry out analysis and background research into contingencies and this is no surprise. The Deputy spoke about members of the Defence Forces returning to the Border. That is not the case and that is not being envisaged. In the context of security and research, with regard to the Border or otherwise internally in the Defence Forces, it is important that we carry out due diligence.

With regard to the pay and conditions issues raised by the Deputy, the Public Service Pay Commission is looking at this specific issue. A joint military and civil submission was made to the commission in December. I hope we will have an outcome in the first quarter or early in the second quarter of 2019.

I assume, from what An Taoiseach said the other day, that in the context of contingency planning for the outcome of Brexit, every State agency will be doing some prudent contingency planning. I assume this is also under way in the Defence Forces. I never want to see at a checkpoint again. I grew up with them. When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, I consigned them to history in my mind, as I have told the Minister of State at committee meetings. There has to be a review of Army infrastructure in the Border region regardless of Brexit. I argued vehemently with one of the Minister of State's predecessors about the closure of Dún Úi Neill barracks in Cavan. It was the most modern barracks in Europe. It was the only purpose-built Army barracks in our State. It was the most efficient military installation and, unfortunately, it was closed. Now the two military installations along the Border are Aiken Barracks in Dundalk and Finner Camp in south Donegal. Regardless of Brexit, there should be a review of the military infrastructure in the central Border area.

Even though the Minister of State cannot even reach the establishment level of 9,500, does he accept there is a need to look at increasing it to carry out the existing tasks and duties of the Defence Forces? Otherwise the men and women will be stretched to breaking point. There is also a need to go beyond the establishment figure to address some of the problems identified earlier by the Minister of State when answering me on the working time directive.

My priority is to ensure we get back up to 9,500. The Government has provided a full budget to reach this figure. I take the Deputy's views on board. I reiterate the Taoiseach's words earlier last week. All agencies and organisations of the State are engaged in prudent planning for Brexit. I am repeating exactly what the Taoiseach and all Ministers have stated previously. It is my priority to make sure we get back up to 9,500. There are a number of issues with regard to recruitment. I have asked the Department to conduct a review of recruitment. It is something I will prioritise for 2019. We will look at it and we will have a review. I want to make sure it happens this year. A review has not been carried out for a long number of years. My priority, and the priority of the organisation, is to ensure we get back up to 9,500 personnel. It is important that we get back up to this number. Getting back up to 9,500 has been fully budgeted.

Defence Forces Equipment

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

11. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers are trained in the use of respirators and-or breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material; if the use of same is now mandatory; and the date on which it became mandatory. [1803/19]

This question relates to the change in the health and safety regime brought about in recent years because of disclosures from whistleblowers, which have led to changes in health and safety in the Air Corps in particular. Are all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers trained in the use of respirators and breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material which, in the past, were wrongly handled and possibly exposed people to poisoning and ill-health?

I am advised by the military authorities that all members of the Defence Forces are trained in the fitting of the general service respirator as part of their basic training and that tests of elementary training are conducted annually in a respirator test facility. This training is in keeping with chemical, biological, radioactive and neurological training that all Defence Forces personnel undergo following basic training.

I am further advised by the military authorities that only those Defence Forces personnel who are required to work with chemicals and toxins are required to undergo respiratory protective equipment training. Such training is provided to members of the Defence Forces in accordance with the relevant health and safety legislation.

With regard to the Air Corps, I am advised that it uses two types of respiratory protective equipment depending on the type of activity being carried out. These are respirators, which are air purifying, and breathing apparatus, through which air is supplied. I am advised that personnel who require respiratory protective equipment training are trained as necessary.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement but part of the question was when did it become mandatory. The final part of the reply seems to suggest that not all Air Corps personnel are trained in the use of respirators. When exactly did it become mandatory for all Defence Force personnel to have this training? Is the training in full use currently?

With regard to the Air Corps, I am surprised that people who specifically deal with chemicals are trained in the wearing of respirators only if they are involved in dealing with these types of chemicals. Full training is given to these people and they undergo relevant retraining to ensure they are fully trained.

The question is when that happened.

I do not have a specific date but to my knowledge full training is carried out in line with what is required. I will come back to the Deputy with a specific date.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.