Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Cybersecurity Policy

Jack Chambers

Question:

6. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the work of his Department and the Defence Forces in cybersecurity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38426/19]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

11. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the role his Department has in the management of cybersecurity threats; the way in which he co-ordinates this work with other Departments; and if, in his view, there is a sufficient level of cybersecurity resourcing and preparedness. [38499/19]

Will the Minister of State please report on the work of his Department, and the work done by the Defence Forces on cybersecurity? He will be aware that when I raised this issue previously, he deflected and referred to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which is out of sync with how similar issues are managed by western democracies. The Department, the Minister of State and the Defence Forces need to show more leadership in this area. It represents a risk to the State. We already know of the underlying criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General of the current unit within the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 11 together.

As outlined in the Government's White Paper on Defence 2015, the issue of cybersecurity has 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 cyberthreats remains a whole-of-Government challenge, with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment taking the lead role, 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.

The first national cybersecurity strategy, agreed by Government in 2015, set out a series of measures that would be taken to build the capability of the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC, and to achieve a high level of security for computer networks and critical infrastructure in the State. The NCSC, which is located in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, provides a range of cybersecurity services to owners of Government ICT infrastructure and critical national infrastructure. The centre is focused on developing capacity to protect Government information and communications networks, and on engaging with stakeholders on sharing information, securing systems and responding to incidents.

The NCSC is also home to the national computer security incident response team, CSIRT, which acts as a national point of contact involving entities within Ireland and as the point of contact for international discussions and collaboration on issues of cybersecurity. A revised national cybersecurity strategy is to be published by my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, in the coming weeks that will address issues raised by the Deputy such as resourcing and preparedness. Officials from my Department and members of the Defence Forces have been actively involved in the development of this revised strategy which, in conjunction with the White Paper on Defence, will continue to inform our engagement in this critical area.

In addition, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have a service level agreement with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to provide support in the area of national cybersecurity. The overall aim of this agreement is to improve the cybersecurity of the State through various types of assistance and support while also ensuring the operational requirements of the Defence Forces are prioritised.

As the Deputies will no doubt be aware, cybersecurity is a multifaceted challenge that is constantly evolving. The nature of the threat and the potential impact also varies considerably depending on the approach and objective of those with malicious intent. In that context, my Department implements a programme of continuous review in relation to ICT security to keep up to date with current threat levels. Details of measures taken are not publicised for security reasons.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

While it would also be inappropriate for me to comment on the specific cyber activities and the resourcing of same by the Defence Forces, for both security and operational reasons, the priority for the Defence Forces communications and information services, CIS, corps is the protection of the Defence Forces communications network. Other activities undertaken by the CIS corps include the monitoring and handling of cyber incidents, the enhancement of Defence Forces cyber situational awareness, and the provision of cyber awareness training.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Cyberattacks signify a grave threat to countries across Europe, yet we are not doing enough to protect ourselves. One example was in 2017 when Ireland's power grid was the subject of a suspected nation-state attack, which was discovered two months after the initial attack. It was not detected by Ireland; it was instead notified to the Irish authorities by the UK's national cyber security centre. This is an example of how cyber attacks represent a threat to our State infrastructure and to the broader foreign direct investment here. It should not take a serious attack to properly resource and plan a significant, modern defence matter, which is being reflected across many countries in the EU. We need to resource it.

It was reported during the summer that the Defence Forces stood down an internal cybersecurity team because of the lack of personnel and qualified staff and a further exodus of specialised personnel. That team was responsible for monitoring the security of military IT networks to safeguard them from hostile state attacks. Not only do we have an issue with the unit within the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, due to the exodus of personnel, there are question marks over monitoring our own internal networks in the Defence Forces. That is also a concern.

My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, retains overall responsibility for cybersecurity at national level. The Government task force on emergency planning also maintains cybersecurity as a standing item on the agenda where regular updates are provided and where issues of common interest may be raised and addressed. The Deputy is correct that cyber attacks present a new threat and it has to be taken seriously by Government. This is why we have a dedicated team in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As I said, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, retains overall responsibility for this area. The Defence Forces have their own cybersecurity team to look after their own networks. It is important that we are able to maintain security on our own networks, that we do not depend on any outsourcing of any capabilities to come in to assist in that, and that we can handle our own cybersecurity. This is a matter of concern. Given the number of multinational companies operating in Ireland, we have to be prepared for any cyberattack. As chairman of the Government task force on emergency planning, I assure the Deputy that we get regular updates. I have met people who work in the cybersecurity centre and they are top class. We would want to be very careful not to rubbish their capability and what they are able to do.

I apologise for missing the introduction. I did not realise the questions were being grouped.

I heard the Minister of State's words of confidence towards the end of his contribution. Having spoken with some people in the industry at a recent conference, they highlighted the various insecurities in our system. I wonder, specifically, where is this co-ordinated within government? The Minister, Deputy Bruton's, Department, has the key role, as the host for the NCSC. I am interested in how the Department of Defence fits in with that. Where is the primary point of defence for cybersecurity? Where would we best deploy extra resources if we were able to get them? This should be a priority for Government because we live in an increasingly insecure cybersecurity world. As the Minister of State said, given that we are the host for some 30% of all EU data, there could be reputational damage to that industry if the State's security systems cannot protect our networks, and to the defence system of the country. Where is the co-ordination and who is the lead Minister when it comes to cybersecurity?

As I said earlier, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has overall responsibility for cybersecurity at national level. If business people have come to the Deputy and they are concerned, I ask him to bring those concerns to the attention of the Minister as soon as possible.

If there are Members of this House who are concerned about the inadequacies of Government in this area, there is no point raising them here in the House. They should raise them with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, who, with the team working in the departmental cybersecurity centre, has overall responsibility for this area. I have full confidence in this team, led by the Minister, Deputy Bruton.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have a service level agreement with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to provide support in the area of national cybersecurity. The overall aim of this agreement is to improve the cybersecurity of the State through various types of assistance, while at the same time ensuring the operational requirements of the Defence Forces are prioritised. As I said, there is a service legal agreement in place under which personnel of the Defence Forces are seconded to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment but, as of now, no Defence Forces personnel are on secondment.

The deflection to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, does not wash. If there is an attack here, the Defence Forces will have to be involved. We know that the Defence Forces are unable to monitor their own internal networks on a 24-7 basis. Coupled with the fact that owing to a shortage of personnel in the Defence Forces, it is not possible to second Defence Forces personnel to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the same way as has been done up to now, this represents a serious threat to Ireland that we need to address. It is a threat to our foreign direct investment and State infrastructure and is a threat that exists in many other democracies across the world.

The Minister of State's suggestion that we are criticising the staff is unfair. The strategic role of the cybersecurity unit in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment was heavily criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who said it lacked a strategic approach. We know that owing to the decline in Defence Forces personnel, there are no staff available for secondment to that unit. Deputy Kehoe, as Minister of State with responsibility for defence, has a responsibility to respond to this 21st century threat. It is not politics; it is a reality. The response needs to be greater than a deflection to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment because this represents a serious threat to us all if it comes to pass.

In regard to the cross-departmental preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit, one of the areas where preparation is needed is the area of cybersecurity. We know from the Edward Snowden revelations and others that all digital information leaving Ireland is accessible from Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ. While in the past we have had a co-operative arrangement with the UK, which I hope will continue, there must be a real risk for us in the UK not being a fellow European Union member, in that it may restrict our access to co-ordination with what is happening in the UK in that regard. One has a different working relationship with a country that is not a member of the European Union. What, if any, preparations have been made by the Department of Defence, alone or with the Department of Communications, Climate Action or Environment, in terms of enhancing our security, taking account of the new cybersecurity environment that will exist when, and if, the UK exits the European Union?

The Deputy's final question is more appropriate to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, who has overall responsibility for this area. I am not trying to deflect from or make politics of this issue. I have stated on numerous occasions that cyberattacks are a 21st century threat. There are many international IT companies located in Ireland, including Google, Facebook and Amazon. In regard to what Government has done already, budget 2018 provided increased funding for additional capacity in the national cybersecurity centre, NCSC, in terms of personnel and technology. The resources for the NCSC have been considerably expanded in recent years to meet its new responsibilities under the EU directives. A new cybersecurity strategy is being prepared, which takes into account the latest assessment of risks and international experience. Ongoing resourcing requirements will be reviewed in the context of the next cybersecurity strategy, which will be published in the coming weeks by my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton. The Minister provided an update in this regard at the most recent meeting of the Government task force on emergency planning, which is led by Mr. Richard Browne and meets every six or eight weeks. The national cybersecurity centre does fantastic work. Its work, on a daily basis, to protect our IT systems should not be diminished.

In response to Deputy Jack Chambers, the priority of the Defence Forces is to protect its own networks. If there are Defence Forces personnel surplus to requirements, under the service legal agreement, they will be seconded to the NCSC. Unfortunately, there are no surplus staff. These people are highly sought after by the private sector. This is one the issues considered by the pay commission.

Overseas Missions

Seán Crowe

Question:

7. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali; the work undertaken to date; and when the mission will come to an end. [38458/19]

I am seeking an update from the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, on the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali and its work to date.

Government and Dáil approval was received in June of this year for the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

MINUSMA was established on 25 April 2013 by UN Security Council Resolution 2100 to stabilise the country after the Tuareg rebellion in 2012. The role of the mission is to ensure security, stabilisation and protection of civilians; supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation; assisting in the re-establishment of State authority; the rebuilding of the security sector and the promotion and protection of human rights in Mali. 

Two officers deployed on 7 September to Bamako, where the MINUSMA force headquarters is located. They have since completed some initial training and have taken up their respective roles in the force headquarters. An additional 11 personnel drawn from the Army Ranger Wing, ARW, deployed with the German armed forces to Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, on 12 September 2019.

All deployed personnel are currently embedding with the larger German company and are carrying out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate.

The ARW will deploy as a team to carry out surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. They will deploy as part of a larger intelligence surveillance reconnaissance company and, therefore, would not be deployed in isolation. The task force utilises technology via unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, and human sources, that is, personnel on the ground engaging with local people, to gather intelligence for the UN mission. The ARW will support this effort by providing personnel to undertake these tasks. While the Army Ranger Wing team will engage on a day-to-day basis with the individuals in the local population as part of their intelligence and information gathering remit, they will benefit from the security effort that is in place to protect the full company.

This MINUSMA deployment is for a period of 24 months from September 2019 to September 2021.

As the Minister of State will be aware, Sinn Féin did not support the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing to Mali. We voted against it in this House, as did others. We did so because we were being asked to endorse and become part of the UN's response to a coup in that state and to train Malian military to fight a civil war. This is a security peace enforcement mission that involves taking sides and Sinn Féin believes this undermines our neutrality. The mission in which the Army rangers are involved has a security-only focus. It does not involve any roadmap to peace. In Sinn Féin's view, the Defence Forces should be seen as mediators, continuing Ireland's proud role in supporting peace efforts in the region or anywhere else in the world, and not as one-sided enforcers. The deployment of personnel to act as enforcers rather than mediators changes the nature of Irish engagement with international politics.

Does the Minister of State receive regular updates on the mission and the security measures to protect Irish troops?

I am in receipt of regular updates. Officials from my Department are in regular contact with the military authorities and I receive military advice on the security situation in Mali at the time of deployment. As stated by Deputy Crowe, this is a UN mission but Ireland is partaking in the international community response to the shooting of innocent people on a daily basis in Mali. Peacekeeping is a core element of Ireland's foreign policy, derived from our commitment with the UN member states to building and strengthening global peace and protecting human rights and the rule of law.

That is exactly what members of the ARW are doing with MINUSMA in Mali. MINUSMA is the United Nations' response and provides support for the Malian Government in reasserting its authority in northern Mali. As I stated, MINUSMA was established in 2013 and has made a real difference on the ground in Mali. I had the opportunity earlier this year to sit down with the force commander to discuss the mission and Ireland's participation in it.

We should not be offering up our troops for deployment in counter-terrorism operations under the guise of conflict management. There was a coup in the country. It is a high risk mission which has involved over 200 fatalities to date. As it is considered to be one of the United Nations' most dangerous missions, we need to talk about it in the House. Large-scale deployments such as this, with a full combat role, should not be allowed to become the norm. It is a form of conflict management by the United Nations. We should be leading the opposition to it, rather than supporting it. I also have concerns about the intelligence roles played by the troops. Intelligence is gathered with others, but we have no control over how it is used. Again, this might have negative consequences.

As a malaria zone, the mission in Mali poses a significant risk to Irish troops. Will the Minister of State confirm whether soldiers serving there are taking Lariam? I do not need to remind him about the motion passed by the Dáil on the issue. Are our troops in Mali taking Lariam?

Deciding what anti-malaria medication is prescribed for personnel is a matter for military medical staff. In the past six decades Ireland has participated in Chapter VI and Chapter VII missions and played a vital role in promoting peace, stability and the protection of civilians. I have confidence in every member of the ARW who has deployed to Mali. I have seen them in action and met them individually. I know their capabilities. I would not be comfortable in sending them to Mali if I did not have the confidence that I have in them.

The Minister of State does not even know if they are taking Lariam.

That is a matter for the medical team within the Defence Forces. The ARW is well trained and equipped. Anything it has asked of the Government has been responded to. I know that it will do an outstanding job on this mission.

Defence Forces Properties

Martin Heydon

Question:

8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to upgrade and improve the built infrastructure across Defence Forces installations, in particular, those on the Curragh camp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38548/19]

Jack Chambers

Question:

14. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the initiatives he is taking to improve accommodation for members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38424/19]

While we work to improve the pay and allowances of members of the Defence Forces, it is also vital that we invest in the built infrastructure across Defence Forces installations and constantly strive to improve the facilities in which Defence Forces personnel work, learn and, in some cases, live. Will the Minister of State outline how much money has been allocated towards the maintenance and upgrading of buildings in Defence Forces military installations this year and his plans for investment in the coming years?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 14 together.

In order to ensure the Defence Forces have the capability to deliver in all of the roles assigned by the Government, I am committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. The Defence Forces built infrastructure programme is compiled on a priority needs basis by my Department in conjunction with the military authorities. This year some €28 million was allocated towards the maintenance and development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. This represents an increase of over €10 million compared to the figure allocated in 2018. I can confirm for the Deputy that it is intended that the budget allocation will be matched in the coming years to ensure the level of building activity will be in line with Defence Forces requirements.

The White Paper on defence has identified the need to develop a rolling five-year capital plan to provide for future Defence Forces built infrastructure requirements, taking account of the capability priority needs of the Defence Forces. The plan is expected to be finalised shortly. The list of works identified as part of the project will be prioritised for delivery based on military needs and updated annually to form the basis for the selection of capital projects under the programme into the future.

I will set out some of the key ongoing projects under way in improving Defence Forces accommodation and living standards across military installations. The refurbishment of the apprentice hostel accommodation block at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel is well advanced. It will provide classrooms, an auditorium, recreational facilities and improved living accommodation for 75 personnel. The project will be completed shortly at a cost of €3 million. The refurbishment of the dining hall in Custume Barracks in Athlone started in 2018. The scope of the works includes the refurbishment and upgrade of the existing dining hall and cook house. The upgrade and refurbishment of the building currently in place will provide a modern dining facility and ensure the long-term viability of the complex at the barracks. The works will be completed by year end at a cost of €3.6 million. The upgrading and refurbishment of Plunkett Block 7 at the Curragh Camp, Defence Forces Training Centre involve the refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. The works will commence shortly. Upgrading and refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 80 personnel in blocks 1 and 2 in Cathal Brugha Barracks will also commence before year end.

I am confident that the increased level of building construction will continue in 2020 and onwards. Next year I expect construction to commence of new gymnasia in Kilkenny and Limerick at a cost in the region of €5 million. I should also mention two significant projects that have recently been approved to proceed. The refurbishment and upgrading of the accommodation block at the naval base at Haulbowline will deliver additional living capacity on top of the existing provision of 210 beds spaces provided at the naval base. It is intended that work will commence on block 8 on site in 2020. Another project involves the upgrade of the former USAC complex in Galway. This building has been designed to accommodate 120 persons living in single rooms. The rooms are fitted out to a basic standard and ablution facilities are provided communally. The building is nearly 50 years old and does not meet current standards with respect to building construction methodology, fire prevention measures and energy efficiency. While both projects are at an early stage of design development, it is expected that construction works will commence in late 2020.

Taken together, the projects which are all being prioritised represent a combined value of €30 million in planned capital investment. This level of investment illustrates the importance I attach to ensuring the quality of the Defence Forces built infrastructure meets the expectations of serving personnel.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I welcome the investment in Defence Forces accommodation, particularly the upgrade and refurbishment of Plunkett Block 7 at the Curragh, Defence Forces Training Centre which is in my constituency of Kildare South. It is an ageing military camp that was originally developed by the British. The need for investment in a large-scale development is significant. There is also a need for redevelopment and ongoing maintenance to ensure members will not be expected to work in substandard accommodation at any stage. It is critical that the level of investment referred to by the Minister of State be maintained and increased in the future. Other areas at which I would like the Minister of State to look include investment at the Curragh but not from his budget. The Department of Education and Skills holds the key. The Minister for Education and Skills outlined the potential to redevelop the post-primary school at the Curragh. I want the site to be located at the Curragh because it is the right place for it to be located. It is a great school with a fantastic community spirit. I have written to the Minister of State about a site that would be suitable for it. I ask him to encourage his officials in the Department of Defence to deal directly with officials in the Department of Education and Skills to tease out the potential concerns of military management and the potential for synergies. There is a great opportunity in that regard. This is a key investment of over €10 million that would provide a significant boost at the Curragh.

The Deputy understands there are a number of old and ageing buildings at the Curragh and that it would take a considerable investment to refurbish some of them. Slowly but surely, we are refurbishing some of the older blocks and building some new ones.

The Deputy has mentioned a new school to me on several occasions and led a delegation to my Department some time ago seeking a site. While that can be considered, serious consideration must be given to the military and its needs in the Curragh Camp, the property that is available and the views of the Department of Defence. I am willing to assist the Deputy and his community in accommodating a new school but we have to take account of the concerns and considerations of the military and the Department of Defence and their plans for the future of the Curragh site.

I went to Cork and met some of the new and young recruits. As many as 70 are sleeping on ships at the naval base. Even on their days off, they are living in poor conditions. The fact that they are being left there because of the accommodation difficulties is truly shocking. I visited Newbridge with my colleague, Deputy O'Loughlin, and Ms Sara Walsh of the Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces organisation. The previous Deputy mentioned the shocking conditions in the Curragh Camp. When one speaks to PDFORRA and the families affected, one hears of more announcements but a lack of delivery where accommodation difficulties are concerned. We have seen pictures released on social media showing the really poor conditions in which people must live. One of the triggers causing people to leave referenced in the Public Service Pay Commission's report is that the threshold of accommodation, certainty and security is not what it was many decades ago. We need more than just announcements of capital investment. We need to hear a plan of delivery that will address the accommodation difficulties and the important education issues for the families of those affected.

I am very surprised to hear that new recruits are sleeping on ships but I will check that out. The Deputy spoke specifically about the Curragh Camp. Over the period from 2016 to 2018, some €17 million was spent on various capital projects and the ongoing maintenance of buildings and facilities at the Defence Forces training centre. Most notably, this included the refurbishment of blocks B and D in Pearse Barracks, as well as the provision of newly constructed ammunition storage facilities. As Deputy Heydon will agree, there was a huge lack of investment in the Curragh Camp for many years. Even though there was an absolutely buoyant economy when Deputy Jack Chambers' party was in government, significant investment was not made in the Curragh Camp. We are now paying for that. Between 2016 and 2018, some €17 million has been invested there.

I note the upgrade to blocks 8 and 9 at the Haulbowline facilities and the construction of a new block in Collins Barracks, which is costing €4.3 million. As I stated in my original reply, approval to commence a design solution for the new accommodation blocks at Haulbowline is at an advanced stage.

I thank the Minister of State. In regard to the post-primary school for the Curragh area, I absolutely accept it must work for the Defence Forces and senior management. I have spoken to the Curragh Camp's general officer commanding about it. I believe both can work in harmony. Another key project that would see huge investment and development at the Curragh is the peace and leadership institute referred to in the White Paper. It is a key development. It would highlight and develop all the Defence Forces' key capabilities concerning peacekeeping around the world. It could be a key centre and bring a huge benefit to the Curragh community, the greater Newbridge community and Kildare because of the activity and visitors it would bring to the area. This is a key investment in the Curragh area with which we need to proceed.

I have consistently been in contact with the Minister of State in regard to the Curragh Plains. We need to get his officials together with those of Kildare County Council. This has dragged on for too long. I have written to the Minister of State on this previously. I ask that he and I arrange a meeting together to examine how we can advance those plans. Kildare County Council is very open to a partnership approach. We need to see this happen.

Personnel working at Haulbowline have traditionally sought houses in Cobh and Carrigaline because of their proximity to Haulbowline. However the cost of rent has risen considerably, as the Minister of State is aware. Moreover, PDFORRA has said it is sceptical of the Minister of State's announcement. People would like to see a timeline of construction and delivery to accompany the Minister of State's announcements of new accommodation proposals. Similarly with the Curragh Camp, we hear a lot about the overall capital sums which the Minister of State and the Department are setting out to spend. Where is the delivery around education and the broader accommodation remit? We still do not know exactly what the Minister of State is planning and what he is going to do to address the Victorian conditions there. When is the delivery planned? Every few months the Minister seems to announce the same plans over and over, without any follow-through. We cannot see our Defence Forces personnel left in these Victorian conditions, which act as a trigger in causing personnel to leave year after year. We need to know when the construction projects the Minister of State has listed will be completed.

I am not really interested in announcements. I want to get to work on the ground. That is why between 2016 and 2018, €17 million has been spent on various projects within the Defence Forces training college in the Curragh. Regarding the Naval Service accommodation, I note that approval to commence design solutions for the refurbishment and upgrade of the accommodation block and the naval base at Haulbowline was issued on 10 July 2019. The procurement process for the appointment of a design team to develop this project is ongoing. This project will deliver additional living capacity, on top of the 210 bed spaces already provided at the naval base. It is intended that works on-site at block 8 will be commenced in 2020. However, as this is a listed building, planning consent is likely to have a significant impact on costs and delivery. There is no doubt that renovating old Victorian buildings costs twice as much money. Is it value for money? I often ask that question myself. Renovating a very old building does not provide the same quality as a new build.

I have penned a tentative date for a meeting between myself, Deputy Heydon and Kildare County Council into my diary. I acknowledge this is of huge concern to the Deputy, who has raised it with me on numerous occasions. The Department of Defence has responded to a lot of the Deputy's requests. We have dedicated people working on the Curragh Plains. This is a great amenity for the people of Newbridge and the greater Kildare area. I will come back to the Deputy with a specific date for that meeting.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Bobby Aylward

Question:

9. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps being taken to ensure improved pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces; the steps being taken to ensure appropriate supports are available to both current and former members of the Defence Forces that may be experiencing financial difficulties; if he is satisfied that recruitment methods are sufficient; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38550/19]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

16. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has met the Taoiseach to discuss the Public Sector Pay Commission report on the Defence Forces published on 4 July 2019. [29750/19]

I would like to ask the Minister of State and perhaps more importantly, the Taoiseach, who has overall responsibility, what steps are being taken to ensure better pay and working conditions for the members of the Defence Forces; what steps are being taken to ensure that appropriate supports are available to current and former members who may be experiencing financial difficulties; if he is satisfied that current recruitment measures are sufficient; and if he will make a statement on this matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 16 together.

Similar to other sectors in the public service, the pay of Permanent Defence Force personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising national finances during the financial crisis, as Deputy Aylward will be very much aware. Improvements in the economy have provided an opportunity for the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, which imposed pay cuts across the public service during the financial crisis. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The increases due to date under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase on annualised salaries from 1 September 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants earning less than €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

Pay rates for newly qualified members of the Defence Forces are competitive compared to other areas in the public service and private sector. For instance, a newly qualified three star private can expect to earn €28,205 gross per annum. A newly qualified school leaver-entry officer can expect to earn €36,154 gross per annum, inclusive of the military service allowance. After initial training, a graduate-entry officer can expect to earn €41,193 gross per annum, inclusive of the military service allowance, after initial training. These are just starting pay rates. There are additional opportunities to increase pay through annual increments and promotional opportunities. Basic pay and the military service allowance are just elements of the overall remuneration package available for members of the PDF. A range of duties attract additional allowances while certain positions in the Defence Forces also attract technical pay. The overseas peace support allowance is paid tax free to members of the Permanent Defence Force participating in overseas military operations on the direction of the Government.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Defence Forces are experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties particularly in some areas of specialism.  This is reflective of the economic growth experienced under the current Government and the associated buoyant labour market. We are not unique in this regard. It is being experienced internationally by armed forces.  At my direction, the Department of Defence brought the particular difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. Arising from the first report of the commission in 2017 and the subsequent public service stability agreement, the Government tasked the commission with undertaking a comprehensive examination and analysis of recruitment and retention in the Defence Force.  

There are regular meetings between the Taoiseach, and other Ministers and I have discussed a range of Defence matters with the Taoiseach and Government colleagues.  The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by Government on 4 July 2019. The report contains a broad range of recommendations that will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF, as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. These include a 10% increase in the military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of their acceptance by the PDF representative associations. 

 The Government has prepared a detailed plan for the implementation of the recommendations in the report of the commission. The measures are aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment, retention and conditions of service.  The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the PDF within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations and the completion of a review of technical pay arrangements, concerning grades 2 to 6. The plan sets out timelines with the objectives to deliver on the commission’s recommendations. This work is, under my direction, being prioritised by civil and military management.

Anyone listening to the Minster of State would think everything was hunky-dory in the Defence Forces and that it is an attractive job for people leaving college. The reality, however, is different. We all know there is a dearth of recruits; it is impossible to get them. Ships are tied up, as has been stated. The Minister of State well knows that what he has set out is spiel and untrue. Since the recession, almost ten years ago, the Government has fallen behind in looking after the Defence Forces. The Taoiseach and the Minister of State are responsible. It is time to wake up now and smell the reality. The Government is hiding behind the pay commission report. People in the Defence Forces are being left behind. They have not got fair play and they do not have a union to represent them.

I come from Kilkenny where there is a military barracks. Some of the personnel there are receiving the family income supplement, FIS. Why is that the case if the two minutes of rhetoric the Minster of State just read out is true? I ask him to be honest and own up to what is happening. The members of the Defence Forces are not being properly paid and new recruits are not being attracted. Some 57% of members of the Permanent Defence Force have stated they will leave in the next two years. For more than 80% of those personnel, pay is the primary consideration in reaching the decision to leave.

The Deputy was a Member prior to 2011 when the economy was crushed into the ground. It is an awful pity that he was not as active then as he is now.

I was not the Minister of State with responsibility for defence.

He was a member of the party that was in government at the time.

People were not being treated then as they are now.

When I came into this post, a three-star private was on €21,000. Today, he or she is on €28,205 and can earn up to €38,950. A corporal earns €38,185 and can earn up to €39,921. A sergeant is on €40,877 and can earn up to €43,336. A company sergeant is on €47,309 and can earn up to €50,369 while a sergeant-major is on €51,972 and can up to €55,455. There are ongoing increases under the public service stability agreement and RACO accepted the independent pay commission recommendations yesterday. I hope PDFORRA will do the same.

The Minster of State is repeating what he said. I will also repeat myself then. The reality is that we have to ask why ships are tied up and not at sea. Why are we not able to fulfil our obligations? Why are we so far away from our target of 9,500 people in the Defence Forces? The Minster of State spoke about what happened when Fianna Fáil was in government. He is falling back on that. The turnover in Defence Forces staff at that time was 10%. That is now up to 85%. People have been interviewed and stated that they are going to leave within the next couple of years. That is the reality and that is what he should be talking about, instead of giving us rhetoric about what happened back in 2008. That is the continual refrain.

It is his job to oversee the recruitment of people. I asked him previously about the provision of accommodation. There was always a tradition in towns with military barracks, such as Kilkenny, that people got housing. Could that type of provision be considered again? It might attract some recruits, especially those with families, into the Permanent Defence Force, given the housing crisis. The Minster of State can give us all the rhetoric he wants and list all of the things he did. The reality, however, comes back to the fact that there are ships tied up because of a lack of recruits to staff them.

I ask the Deputy to consider the implementation plan in the context of the pay commission. Accommodation is one of the projects included. We are, however, competing with a strong economy and an economy that recovered under the Fine Gael-led Government from 2011. We now have almost full employment. Unemployment stood at almost 15% when the Deputy's party was last in government. We cannot compare like with like. We are now competing against a strong jobs market. There are great opportunities in the private sector for many people. When I was appointed to this position in 2016, a three-star private was on €21,000. Under my leadership of the Department that private is now €28,205, which is an increase of €7,000. There will also be further increases under the public service stability agreement. The Deputy should take a careful look and consider the scale of those increases.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Seán Crowe

Question:

10. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason the Defence Forces increased spending on the anti-malaria drug, Lariam, by 50% in 2018, despite the fact that more than 85 soldiers are taking legal action against the Defence Forces over the devastating mental health side effects they claim they have suffered as a result of taking Lariam while serving abroad; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a motion was passed in Dáil Éireann on 28 June 2017 calling for an end to the use of Lariam by the Defence Forces; the steps he is taking to end the use of Lariam by the Defence Forces. [38460/19]

The increase in expenditure on Lariam in 2018 and 2019 is explained by a cost-per-tablet increase of €1.75, and is not related to any change in the manner or frequency of its use. While the headline percentage price increase appears high, this translates into a modest increase in total expenditure on Lariam in 2018 of €1,399 over the 2017 figure. Prior to 2017, Lariam was purchased by the Defence Forces under a four-year framework agreement between the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA, and the HSE. As the product is no longer covered by the terms of the IPHA-HSE framework agreement, however, there has been a resulting knock-on effect on cost. This accounts for the increased spend on Lariam in 2018 and to date in 2019. 

As I have outlined to the House on many occasions, the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. In the Defence Forces, these are matters for highly qualified medical officers, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the organisation. The Deputy will be aware that ongoing litigation regarding this matter is being handled by the State Claims Agency, SCA. It has advised that it has received 225 claims alleging personal injury as a result of the consumption of Lariam by current and former members of the Defence Forces. 

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

He will appreciate, therefore, that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further. I assure the House that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me, my Department and the Defence Forces.

The Minister of State has explained the increase in cost. I am concerned, however, that the Defence Forces still use Lariam. That is what baffles me. Other countries have stopped prescribing this drug and have apologised to the members of their respective defence forces for prescribing it to them in the first place. Why is Ireland not following suit? There are concerns regarding Lariam. I have spoken to personnel who have taken the drug. I have also spoken to people who have taken the drug and experienced no side effects, but that is no reason its use should fail to be stopped. My concern is that clear evidence is building up that this drug has caused problems for some personnel. Lariam should not be used if there is any possibility that it is going to have the adverse effects that it has had on many members of the Defence Forces. Those have included suicidal tendencies and breakdowns.

The Minister of State says he is acting on the 2013 recommendation of the working group on the issue but I have never seen those reports so I cannot make a call on them. Will the Minister of State agree to release those reports at some stage so we can understand why he is adopting the position he is?

I will not be releasing those reports because they were prepared for litigation. The Defence Forces continue to use three antimalarial drugs. These are Lariam, Malarone and Doxycycline. The selection by a medical officer of the most appropriate drug for use is complex and dependent on a number of factors. All of these antimalarial drugs have contraindications and side-effects. Significant precautions are taken by the Defence Forces' medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of members of the Defence Forces to take any of the antimalarial medication. It is the policy of the Defence Forces to screen personnel individually for fitness for service overseas and medical suitability. Fundamentally, the choice of malarial chemoprophylaxis for use in the Defence Forces is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. In the Defence Forces these are decisions for highly qualified medical officers, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.