Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces Strength

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

42. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Defence the establishment number for the Defence Forces by Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; the actual number of personnel serving in each branch of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36561/20]

Brendan Smith

Question:

47. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Defence the number of new recruits that have enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force to date in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36623/20]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

48. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the steps in hand to address the issue of the strength of the Defence Forces with particular reference to the attainment of optimal strength; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36574/20]

Barry Cowen

Question:

71. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Defence when he expects the numbers in the Defence Forces to reach the approved threshold of 9,500; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36621/20]

My question is to ask the Minister the establishment number of the Defence Forces, broken down by Army, Naval Service and the Air Corps, and to compare that with the actual number serving. It is important we find that out, and then that the Minister might explain to us why that is the way it is.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 47, 48 and 71 together.

The establishment of the Permanent Defence Force, as set out in the White Paper for defence, is 9,500 personnel, comprising 7,520 Army personnel, 886 Air Corps personnel and 1,094 Naval Service personnel. The military authorities have advised that at 30 September 2020, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force was 8,529 personnel, comprising 6,878 Army personnel, 752 Air Corps personnel and 899 Naval Service personnel. The Government remains committed to restoring the strength of the Permanent Defence Force as soon as possible. However, this will take time.

The Public Service Pay Commission report undertook a detailed analysis of recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces. Implementation of the high-level plan, Strengthening Our Defence Forces - Phase One, is a key part of the response to address recruitment and retention issues. The immediate pay increases were delivered, and further pay measures will be considered as part of the next pay negotiations. A range of non-pay measures are also being progressed.

I have acknowledged that there are ongoing difficulties in the Defence Force and these have been well documented. The Naval Service is a case in point and a new seagoing service commitment scheme for Naval Service personnel and an extension of a tax credit for seagoing Naval Service personnel are examples of targeted measures I have introduced aimed at retaining experienced Naval Service personnel. This follows the reintroduction of a successful service commitment scheme for flying officers in the Air Corps. As I have said, other measures will be considered as part of the next pay negotiations.

There have been 449 inductions to date this year, including 316 general service recruits, 67 cadets, 20 Air Corps apprentices, five direct entry specialists, three recommissioned officers and 38 re-enlisted personnel. Covid 19 has impacted on the numbers inducted this year. Other initiatives such as recommissioning of former Air Corps pilots have also assisted in boosting much needed specialists, and I understand that further specialist officers will be recommissioned soon. The re-enlistment of former enlisted personnel is another initiative that is to be welcomed. While the numbers being inducted are lower than initially anticipated, all will play an important role in restoring capacity.

The programme for Government provides that a commission on the Defence Forces will be tasked with examining a range of issues. This will provide an opportunity to chart the future direction for the Defence Forces. There is also a commitment to establish a pay review body for the Defence Forces when the commission has completed its work. Working closely with the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff, and a range of key stakeholders, I am confident that the current challenges facing the Defence Forces can be overcome.

I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív that the important starting point is to know where we are, to be honest about that and to put in place targeted initiatives to respond comprehensively to a Defence Forces that is effectively 1,000 people below where it should be in terms of strength. I am determined to make a positive impact on those numbers during my time as Minister.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. Perhaps he could outline for me when this divergence started taking place between the establishment strength of the Defence Forces and the position we find ourselves in today whereby we are 10% down in each service. What steps were taken once it became apparent that there was a difficulty retaining and recruiting people to the Defence Forces? What steps were taken once that divergence became apparent? It seems to me that this is a long-standing problem and that everything is always in the future rather than actually dealing with the issue and getting results.

Like Deputy Ó Cuív, I thank the Minister for his reply. A greater emphasis needs to put on retention. We talk about recruitment and retention, but my understanding is, and I am more familiar with the Army than with the other two branches, namely, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, that after five years, many good, young people with great skills and expertise leave. I understand that in the past there existed a pre-discharge leave of 90 days whereby a person who decided to leave after five years had the option of re-enlisting if he or she changed his or her mind within the 90 days. At times people took that option and enlisted again so that this particular human resource was not lost to the Army.

I understand from speaking to people in the Army that too many people are discharged for minor medical ailments, ailments for which people would not be discharged from other physically demanding jobs in the public service. Maybe it is time we visited that particular issue as well. Also, in the past when a person completed five years, there was an incentive offered to the person to stay another four years, be it a monetary award or some particular leave arrangement. Those particular measures worked in the past. They need to be revisited to ensure we get our numbers back to the promised strength of 9,500.

I acknowledge the Minister's response and the efforts that are being made. Every effort needs to continue to be made to strengthen the numbers. I echo the sentiments of other Deputies in regard to the need also for flexibility to do everything we possibly can do to retain people, to recruit new members and to create the most positive possible environment for that to happen. I know the Minister is very much committed to that. It is a difficult time in the context of Covid but this is something that is crucially important. I am encouraged by the efforts to date and I encourage further progress.

The history of this is that when the private sector grows rapidly, it often puts pressure on certain elements of public sector employment, particularly in areas where the training and the quality of the personnel are as high as they are in the Defence Forces. The truth is that a lot of people in the Defence Forces were head-hunted by the private sector. For example, in Cork, many members of the Naval Service were effectively targeted as highly skilled and motivated engineers for the pharmaceutical sector and were offered big pay packets to leave. When we saw rapid employment growth over the past seven or eight years, that had an impact on retention within the Defence Forces generally.

We need to learn from that and we need to ensure that we introduce targeted incentives where appropriate to try to address it. The Air Corps is a good example of that. When pilots were in short supply in the private sector, a number of pilots left our Air Corps. When the aviation sector has got into trouble, we have seen some of them return through re-enlistment programmes and so on. We have also introduced financial incentives around retention for key skill sets. Pilots are a good example in the Air Corps. We are putting in place a similar type of scheme for the Naval Service. It is clearly a problem persuading people to go to sea in terms of lifestyle choice versus other options that are available to people. We need to incentivise people financially to go to sea, which is exactly what this new seagoing retention scheme is all about.

I hear what people are saying. I give some reassurance that this is not just about plans for the future. We are spending extra money now to improve our retention numbers and to increase recruitment. We are also setting up a commission in the next few weeks which will again look at all these things, including looking at international best practice. When Deputies see the membership of the commission they will see that we are taking these matters very seriously.

One of the attractions previously of serving in the Garda or the Army was that when a person went out on pension, he or she could get a new job and have the pension. My understanding is that that was changed in the past ten years to a situation where, if a person who leaves with a pension takes up public service employment and does the same full amount of work as his or her colleagues, equal pay for equal work does not apply because there is an abatement of the pension. However, if that person moves into the private sector, he or she can keep the pension and get the private sector wages but the skills are lost to the public sector. Has any assessment been done on that issue to find out the extent to which it has reduced the incentive and the attractiveness of serving in the Defence Forces until the Defence Forces pension age and then being able to move on and take up employment in the public or private sector without penalty?

As the Minister is aware, there has been a diminished Defence Forces footprint in the Border region and in the northern half of the country in particular in the past six or seven years. That has been an impediment to retaining personnel who were attached to barracks in Dún Uí Néill or other areas in the northern half of the country. Is the Minister assured that there are adequate personnel in the northern half of the country, given the unique policing and security demands in that area?

I welcome the commitment the Minister has given to act on the programme for Government commitment to establish a commission on the future of the Defence Forces. I suggest that he should ensure he has personnel on that commission who have served in the Border region and who are conscious of the great work the Defence Forces did in very difficult days for our country when terrorists were a threat to the State and those personnel stood up and defended the State. We need that expertise and knowledge to be brought to the commission on the future of the Permanent Defence Force.

Like the Deputy, I recognise the role the Defence Forces have played at very difficult moments in our history when tension in Border counties was much more significant than it is today. It is important to state that the operational structures of the Defence Forces are predominantly a military matter for the Chief of Staff. As I stated in response to the previous question, Deputies will see that the make-up of the commission is a good mix of national and international military expertise, civilian expertise and academia. It will be clear that certainly there is the capacity on that commission to look at all of these issues, including Border issues.

On the issue of pensions policy, I get asked about pensions policy quite a lot in the context of some of the Defence Forces representative bodies. The Association of Retired Commissioned Officers, ARCO, in particular raises the matter, and understandably so for their members. It is important to state that the Minister for Defence does not control pensions policy. That is very much the domain of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The truth is that it is the overall package that people look at, although I think that when people in their late teens or early 20s join the Defence Forces, most of them are not thinking about their pension at that point but rather are thinking about conditions of work, pay, allowances, whether they will be able to serve abroad, and the structures within the Defence Forces to allow them to move up the ladder over time and so on. I hope many of the young people who have joined the Defence Forces in recent years will look forward to a very ambitious report coming from the commission in 12 months.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Bernard Durkan

Question:

43. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which concerns in respect of pay and conditions affecting the Defence Forces have been resolved or are in the course of being resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36575/20]

Thomas Gould

Question:

67. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Defence the number of new recruits who have enlisted in the Permanent Defence Forces to date in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36585/20]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

445. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which the issue of pay and conditions within the Defence Forces is being addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37064/20]

I am deputising for Deputy Durkan. The discussion on the previous questions has brought us on nicely to this question. I ask the Minister to update the House with regard to issues concerning pay and conditions among Defence Forces personnel.

It is a tall order to deputise for Deputy Durkan.

Question Time would not be the same without a question from Deputy Durkan. I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 67 and 445 together. I am not sure who tabled the last of those questions.

Similar to the situation in other sectors of 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. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. A 2% increase on annualised salaries was implemented from 1 October. The restoration of the 5% cut in allowances imposed under the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation was restored from 1 October this year. The pay scales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum have been restored to the levels in place prior to the introduction of the FEMPI legislation.

In addition to the general round of pay increases awarded to public servants, members of the Permanent Defence Force have benefited from the implementation of increases in Defence Forces allowances as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission. A high-level implementation plan, entitled Strengthening our Defence Forces – Phase One, is being progressed. The increase to the military service allowance and the restoration of certain other allowances specific to the Defence Forces, as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission, have been delivered. A service commitment scheme for flying officers has also been restored. A number of projects in the plan to enhance recruitment and retention are being delivered, while other projects relating to Defence Forces pay will feed into negotiations for the next pay agreement.

I recently announced the introduction of a new seagoing service commitment scheme which is aimed at retaining highly trained and experienced personnel and incentivising seagoing duties. A seagoing naval personnel tax credit of €1,270 was applied this year for members of the Naval Service who served 80 days or more at sea on board a naval vessel. This tax credit has been extended for a further year and is being increased to €1,500 for next year.

The Government is committed to addressing pay and conditions in the Defence Forces and this is reflected in the programme for Government. The programme for Government provides for the establishment of a commission on the Defence Forces, as we discussed earlier. Upon completion of the work of the commission, a permanent pay review body will be established. The answer to the Deputy's question is that we recognise the problem and there are many different things happening in parallel to try to address it.

For the record of the House, Deputy Durkan tabled Question No. 445 as well, not that there was ever any doubt about that. I welcome the response of the Minister. It is critically important that everything that can be done for Defence Forces personnel will be done in future negotiations and delivered on. I voice my support for and appreciation of the work of the Defence Forces. I think I speak for all Members when I state that they deserve all of the support they can get. I thank the Minister for the update he provided in that regard.

A relatively smaller matter in the context of what we are talking about was recently brought to my attention. It relates to entitlements under the PRSI code. I know that is not strictly under the remit of the Minister but perhaps it is something that would be looked at to ensure there are no negative or unintended consequences in terms of the entitlements of Defence Forces personnel under the PRSI code. My understanding is that certain privileges that are available to some individuals under PRSI are not available to some Defence Forces personnel. Perhaps that is something the Minister could look at in the context of the broader question.

If the Deputy sends me the details in that regard, I will liaise with the Department of Finance and see if we can get a decent answer on the matter. If we are missing something, we will certainly try to address it.

On the issue of allowances and tax, we managed quietly to get an agreement that Defence Forces personnel who were due to go on a rotation overseas and would have to quarantine for 14 days beforehand will get overseas allowances tax free while quarantining in Ireland before going on rotation. We are working all the time with representative bodies to try to ensure we are giving the Defence Forces the priority they need from the Government. We will continue to do that. I for one am very excited at the opportunities that it is hoped will come from the report of the commission in 12 months.

Certainly, my instruction to the chair of that commission will be to be ambitious, open minded and to ensure we have a modern response to modern security challenges and that we equip the Defence Forces to be able to respond to them. In the meantime, however, we have work to do to ensure that representative bodies are heard through the pay discussion process that is currently ongoing, and that we follow through on the potential for the new Naval Service scheme and get it up and running as soon as we can, in consultation with the other representative bodies.

Departmental Funding

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

44. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if additional funding will be made available to support an organisation (details supplied) in view of the fact local training centres are struggling financially with the lack of revenue-raising events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36599/20]

My question relates to the Irish Red Cross and its funding. In fairness to the Minister and the Department, they fund the Irish Red Cross to the tune of almost €1 million per annum. However, the local branches of the Irish Red Cross depend heavily on fees they get from attending events, concerts, race meetings and so forth. An extra cash injection is needed to keep these branches afloat in the current circumstances. Can that funding be provided?

I am aware the Irish Red Cross has been particularly active in west Cork, especially in response to flooding incidents and supporting businesses in the aftermath. The Irish Red Cross is an independent charitable body with full power to manage and administer its affairs. It has approximately 3,200 members based in 86 branches spread throughout the country. My Department makes an annual grant payment to the Irish Red Cross, towards the administrative running cost of its headquarters.  In 2020, this grant amounted to €965,000, which includes Ireland’s contribution of €130,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.  The grant has been increased by 11% since 2017, following consideration of a business case made by the Irish Red Cross at that time.

A number of other Departments and bodies provide funding to the Irish Red Cross in respect of various programmes provided or administered by them, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Protection, which has responsibility for rural and community development, and the Department of Transport, as well as the HSE and various county councils. Full details can be found in the 2019 annual report of the Irish Red Cross.

On the specific issue raised by the Deputy, I am acutely aware of the difficulties that have faced many charities in 2020 due to Covid-19.  It has been particularly challenging for charities similar to the Irish Red Cross whose branches throughout the country generate most of their income from community activities, such as attendance at sporting events, concerts, road races and so forth.  Unfortunately, Covid-19 has prevented many of these community events from taking place in 2020. The extent to which such events will be possible in the near future will depend on the evolution of the virus over the coming months.

To assist the Irish Red Cross in these difficult times, my Department supported an application for financial assistance from the Department of Social Protection's €35 million Covid-19 stability fund for the community and voluntary sector earlier this year. The Irish Red Cross was allocated the maximum of €200,000 from this fund. I am aware that an additional €10 million in stability scheme funding was allocated to that Department in budget 2021. This will provide further assistance to community and voluntary groups providing critical front-line services to the most vulnerable in our communities.  I understand the process for distributing the additional allocation will be finalised shortly. I have asked my officials to bring the challenges being faced by some local branches of the Irish Red Cross to the attention of that Department to ensure they get prioritised.

The Minister mentioned the stability fund and the fact the Irish Red Cross received €200,000 from it, but, unfortunately, it is not enough to keep the branches afloat. The Minister hit the nail on the head in terms of the challenges faced by the branches. The best I can do is offer him the example of the Clonakilty branch of the Irish Red Cross. It is an incredible branch and covers all of west Cork, a huge area. As the Minister mentioned, it deals with events, race meetings, summer shows, concerts and festivals. None of these has happened this year, so its income stream has been cut off completely. That has left it in a very precarious position. The Clonakilty branch had established a state-of-the-art facility in Clonakilty, but it has had to leave the premises. It had two ambulances and now the ambulances have nowhere to go. There is nowhere to conduct its training or to store the ambulances. It is in a very severe predicament. I am requesting a further injection of funding from the Minister's Department. As regards the situation in Clonakilty, where the branch does not have a premises anymore, could the Minister intervene and see if it could somehow secure a premises or land on which to build a premises?

Regarding the securing of land locally, I am not familiar with the individual case, but I suggest that a conversation with Cork County Council might be helpful.

An extra €10 million was allocated in the budget for this community stability fund, if one can call it that. The fund provided €200,000 to the Irish Red Cross so far this year, so I would be hopeful that the organisation may be able to secure more money through the allocation of that sum. I do not know if the Deputy has raised that with the relevant Minister, but following this question I will try to ensure that the concerns of the Irish Red Cross are part of the consideration when allocating that extra €10 million. That is probably the most likely source of funding in the short term for the Irish Red Cross. I accept that it has been put under significant financial pressure this year, as have many community organisations for the reasons we outlined.

I thank the Minister. I assume he will liaise with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, on that.

That would be fantastic. I have had correspondence with the local branch. Despite the fact the funding goes to the Irish Red Cross nationally, that funding does not always drip down to the branch level. The case that was made to me was whether there was any way the funding mechanism could be amended in such a way that the annual allocation of almost €1 million in funding from the Department could go directly to the branches. Is that something that could be considered? I am hearing that the funding is not necessarily dripping down to local branch level.

If I were to decide where almost €1 million goes on the basis of branches in individual parts of the country, I have no doubt that I would try to prioritise parts of Cork, but that would not be appropriate. We provide a funding package to the Irish Red Cross. Some of that funds its affiliation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is €130,000 each year. The rest of it goes on running the activities of the Irish Red Cross here. We must work on the basis of dealing with a central body that then makes the decision on where money is most needed. I am sure the Deputy knows how the Irish Red Cross functions. How it spends the money we provide for it must be a matter for the Irish Red Cross. If we went into the space of providing funding for specific parts of the country or specific branches on the basis of the assessment of a Minister or Deputy, it would probably be a dangerous space to move into.

Search and Rescue Service Provision

John Brady

Question:

45. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence if concerns about the future viability of the Air Corps if it is completely excluded from search and rescue services will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36690/20]

I wish to follow up on a question my colleague raised earlier in Priority Questions relating to search and rescue. The technical specifications for the new contract have yet to be finalised, but, according to some sources familiar with the internal discussions, serious consideration is being given to allowing the winning bidder to base its fixed-wing aircraft in the UK as a cost-saving measure. Currently, the Air Corps provides the top cover in many search and rescue missions. My specific question is whether that will happen and whether the Air Corps will be cut out, with that provision being included in the contract which could potentially end up with a UK bidder.

I just do not get what the obsession with the UK is here, as if we cannot have a bidder from the UK. The current search and rescue contract is primarily with a UK company and it has done an extraordinary job. Yes, it is very expensive for the State, but we have saved many lives as a result of it.

This is primarily the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

The steering committee to get this right also involves significant input from the Department of Defence and the Air Corps itself. I have no sight of likely bidders or proposals, so I just do not know where that is coming from. All I would say is that we have a number of years to prepare for a new search and rescue contract. It involves a very substantial amount of public money. I would like the Air Corps and the Defence Forces to be as involved as possible in the shaping of the new contract, but I want to make sure that what is committed to can be delivered and then that we can plan for training and investment around that. It may be the case that when we look at this in detail the options may be quite limited. The most important issue here is that we provide a very comprehensive search and rescue service around the coastline.

I can remember on the previous occasion this issue was being discussed in 2010 and 2011 that I asked very similar questions to the ones Deputy Brady is now asking. I asked why we could not invest hundreds of millions of euro in the Air Corps to build capacity and to provide search and rescue capacity instead of outsourcing the job to somebody else. I got very comprehensive answers as to why that could not be done. As I already stated on the record, I am very interested in trying to do as much as we can through the Air Corps in terms of contributing to search and rescue capacity around the coastline. I also recognise that there is a process in place with much expertise and experience planning for when the current contract runs out.

It has been reported that some six private contract companies are expected to bid for the contract, and two of them are UK-based entities. It has also been reported that one of them is also contracted to do clandestine work for the UK's Ministry of Defence. Earlier, the Minister referred to a specific concern about intelligence and the retention of same. These are my concerns but, more important, they are the concerns of Irish officers in terms of the intelligence implications. The Minister brushed it away and essentially said it was baseless, that there are no concerns about the intelligence implications. What measures are in place to ensure there is no concern in that regard? Are specific measures included in the tender for the contract to address any potential concern around intelligence?

First, it has not been finalised yet. I assure Deputy Brady that any assessment of companies tendering to provide this service will be very robust. The process will be independent. The State will go through an appropriate process. I think the Deputy indicated earlier that we will be committing hundreds of millions of euro in this regard. Over the lifetime of the next contract the State will spend well over half a billion euro on search and rescue contracts. The process that will need to be followed will need to be very robust and I assure the Deputy that no element of this contract will compromise the intelligence of the State. That is something, which for obvious reasons, is not going to be facilitated in the provision of a service like this.

In the context of the contract, concerns have been expressed about the viability of the Air Corps not just by politicians but by Air Corps officers. We have established that the technical detail of the contract is still being worked out. In a previous response to a question the Minister said that when he was on these benches he asked questions about a lack of investment in the Air Corps and he said he got reasonable explanations as to why that should not or could not happen. He might share some of them now because I have not heard any reasonable explanation as to why the money should not be ploughed directly into the Air Corps to make it viable and so that it can continue to provide a first-class service. The Minister might touch on some of the reasons that changed the view he had when he was on these benches and where he is now as the Minister with the responsibility and ability to provide the money to the Air Corps.

First, we are ploughing money into the Air Corps. The Air Corps operates a fleet of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft which provide military support to the Army and Naval Service, together with support for non-military air services such as Garda air support, air ambulance, fisheries protection and, at times, ministerial air travel.

Priorities for the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, are considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence. In line with these agreed priorities, work is well advanced on updating the Air Corps' fleet of aircraft. The replacement of the Cessna fleet, as provided for in the White Paper, with three larger aircraft which are equipped for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance, ISTAR, has been completed and these aircraft, which cost just over €43 million, are now operational. In addition, in March this year, a fourth PC-12 NG aircraft was purchased to provide very immediate additional fixed-wing capacity to meet the unique situation arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the CASA 235s with larger more capable aircraft that would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo-carrying tasks.

I thank the Minister.

A contract for the supply of two C-295 maritime patrol aircraft was entered into with Airbus Defence and Space in December 2019.

We are over time.

When are they arriving?

That is a contract that is worth approximately €221 million. The aircraft should be delivered in 2023. It takes time. The idea that we are not ploughing money into the Air Corps and that its future is in any way threatened just does not stack up. We are doing the opposite: we are building capacity.

Defence Forces

Patrick Costello

Question:

46. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Defence if the commission on the future of the Defence Forces will examine the impact of climate change on the role of the Defence Forces to provide aid to the civilian power in particular the ability to provide rapid response to the increased frequency and severity of adverse weather events and increased frequency and severity of flooding events that climate change will bring. [36578/20]

Catherine Connolly

Question:

50. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence when the independent commission on the Defence Forces, pursuant to the programme for Government, will be established; the membership and expertise of the commission; the terms of reference of the commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36694/20]

Dara Calleary

Question:

73. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence the status of the commission on defence. [36632/20]

Sorca Clarke

Question:

78. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence the efforts he will make regarding the composition of any board convened on the future of the Defence Forces to ensure membership, governance and accountability are of the highest standards. [36727/20]

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

83. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Defence the progress made regarding the establishment of a commission on the future of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36734/20]

A key role of the Defence Forces is to provide aid to the civilian power. We see that frequently in cases of severe flooding and in response to adverse weather events that the Defence Forces are often very quick to put themselves in harm's way to protect the rest of us. With climate change already increasing flooding and likely to further increase it and adverse weather events, will it form part of the terms of reference for the commission on the future of the Defence Forces? Will the Defence Forces' ability to face these challenges be part of the commission's terms of reference?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46, 50, 73, 78 and 83 together.

As outlined already in my earlier response on the commission, the position is that establishment of an independent commission on the Defence Forces is an important commitment made in the programme for Government. The programme for Government states that the commission will be tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review, which will include the following matters: arrangements for the effective defence of the State at land, air and sea; structures for governance, joint command, and control structures; the brigade structure; pay and allowances and composition of the Defence Forces; recruitment, retention and career progression; and the contribution of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, including its legislation and Defence Forces regulations governing it, and whether specialists from the RDF should be able to serve overseas.

The programme for Government also provides that the commission is be established before the end of the year, with a mandate to report within 12 months, and as I indicated earlier, I am working with officials in my Department in order to ensure we are well ahead of the timeline.

My immediate priority concerns the commission's terms of reference. In accordance with a commitment made in the programme for Government, I have consulted widely on the terms of reference and analysis of all of the various submissions received is still ongoing.

In this regard, I expect to finalise draft terms of reference for the commission shortly and to bring proposals to Government for approval in the coming weeks.

Regarding membership of the commission, the programme for Government states that the commission will contain a wide variety of expertise such as management, human resources, academia, law and public service, as well as members with external military experience from countries similar in size to Ireland and also from states which, like Ireland, are non-aligned militarily. While consideration of these criteria is under way and various names are in discussion, no decisions have yet been made on membership of the commission. Ultimately, this and the commission's terms of reference will both be matters for decision by Government shortly.

The impact of climate change will of course be of relevance to the work of the commission. In this regard one of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces by Government, in the White Paper on defence, is to contribute to national resilience through the provision of aid to the civil authority supports to lead agencies in response to major emergencies and in the maintenance of essential services. The White Paper also provides that, under the framework for major emergency management, the Defence Forces have a support role to the lead agency in major national and local emergencies. In a major emergency, such as a severe weather event, all the available resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces are made available to the national co-ordination group for the purpose of providing assistance. Unfortunately, that is becoming a more frequent experience now.

Regarding future investment, the White Paper update, which was approved by Government last December, recognises that demands on future capability will need to take account of climate change objectives. The update notes that the effects of climate change are continuing to lead to changes in weather patterns and an increased probability that severe weather events such as flooding could become more commonplace in Ireland.

Climate change and issues arising from it for the Defence Forces are already clearly signposted in existing key Government policy documents on defence. I will ensure that the commission gives due regard in its deliberations to the impacts of climate change for the Defence Forces.

There are essentially two issues. First, are we planning properly for the missions our Defence Forces are likely to face? Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of flooding and adverse weather events. In 2017 in Inishowen the Defence Forces came in to erect a temporary bridge to reconnect communities when a road collapsed. We will not get the structure of the Defence Forces right if we do not factor in the missions they are likely to face.

Second, are we giving the Defence Forces what they need to complete those missions? We have had many discussions here on meeting our overseas mission requirements and our naval operations. Do we have enough Bailey bridges to be able to provide that flooding support? Do we have enough logistic support bridges? Do we have enough personnel to be able to erect them? If we only have a handful of Bailey bridges and they are needed in three or four parts of the country at the same time, we just will not have them. The questions the commission is looking to answer fundamentally depend on the missions we envisage. We should certainly be considering support to the civilian power in the face of runaway climate change.

The Minister hopes to finalise the composition of the commission by the end of the month. We need this to be effective and the Defence Forces need it to be effective. For it to be effective, it needs to have a genuinely independent chair and a multidisciplinary board made up of people who have skills, but also people who have access to skills to make this exercise the best it could possibly be. We need that knowledge and expertise to deliver the change for the Defence Forces.

In addition, it needs to set very clear and achievable goals for the delivery of recommendations and realistic timelines for their implementation. Another key aspect is that the commission must take a more holistic view and undertake its work in an open, transparent and constructive manner and not one that is railroaded into very limited views of what are the Defence Forces.

The commission will follow through on the commitments we have made in the programme for Government. I believe the people we are approaching to be on the commission are first class. I am very confident they will be able to do a very good job, but we need to get them approved by Government first and so on. That process is under way.

I take Deputy Costello's point that we need to plan properly for a response to adaptation as well as mitigation when it comes to climate change. Part of the adaptation challenge is to put the emergency-response capacity in place to protect people and protect ecosystems and resources from more extreme weather patterns, which are already taking place. We are not talking about the future anymore; we are also talking about the present. We have seen the involvement of the Defence Forces in a much more structured and efficient way in recent years. Local authorities are now much more willing to reach out and seek assistance from the Defence Forces at a much earlier stage when they are put under pressure. That will be part of the commission's work, but it has many other elements of work.

Questions Nos. 47 and 48 answered with Question No. 42.

Naval Service

Brendan Howlin

Question:

49. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Defence the number of Naval Service personnel eligible for the new loyalty bonus, that is, sea-going service commitment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36188/20]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

57. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Defence if he has considered increasing the patrol duty allowance for sailors in line with other sea-going allowances paid to public servants as part of all efforts to retain sailors in the Naval Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36189/20]

Duncan Smith

Question:

424. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Defence the number of Naval Service personnel eligible for the new loyalty bonus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36203/20]

I know from previous experience of working with the Minister that he has a particular regard for the Naval Service and has been very supportive in the past. Even in the worst of times we were able to provide significant resources for new vessels for the Naval Service. In that context, I am sure he shares my dismay that some of the vessels that are provided to the Naval Service were required to be tied up because of lack of trained personnel available to sail on them. In that context, I know a number of initiatives have been taken to try to improve pay and conditions. I asked a specific question on the number of Naval Service personnel eligible for the new loyalty bonus, but perhaps in his answer the Minister might give a comprehensive indication of how he intends to ensure that awful situation where vessels are tied up for want of personnel never happens.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49, 57 and 424 together. From my previous time in the Department of Defence when the Deputy held the purse strings, I was not alone in caring about the Naval Service as he was extremely supportive at the time. I recognise that. Coming from a coastal county, he understands why that is so important as do I. I am frustrated and concerned that we do not have the capacity to put ships to sea or as many as we should be putting to sea because we do not have enough personnel to crew them. We will fix that. The first step in that has been designing a scheme which is really about retention within the Defence Forces and the Naval Service to get a commitment over the coming years for people in the Naval Service to stay in the Naval Service and be willing to go to sea. We are willing to pay them to do that - €5,000 for each of those two years, €10,000 in total for a commitment to go to sea for two of the next four years, which is how the rotation works.

We have tried to include as many Naval Service personnel who will be on ships as possible in that scheme. We needed to set some parameters for qualification. Therefore, people who are in their first three years in the Naval Service, many of whom will be still in some form of training, are not eligible, but everybody else is. If we have six ships with approximately 50 per ship, that is 300 people. I would expect that 200 or more will be eligible for the scheme, but the make-up of the crews and how long they have been in the Naval Service will depend on the cycle. We are working to try to get as many people into the scheme as we possibly can.