Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Defence Forces

John Brady

Question:

7. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the measures currently in place to assist in preparing serving members of the Defence Forces for re-entry into civilian life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34831/21]

The obvious priority for the Defence Forces is to create the conditions that make members want to continue serving for as long as possible. However, the reality is that large numbers are leaving, many of them ahead of schedule and many others due to retirement. What plans or measures are in place to assist people leaving the Defence Forces in preparing for civilian life?

I thank the Deputy. Our preference is, of course, to keep people in the Defence Forces for as long as possible. As a serving member approaches retirement, either on age grounds or voluntarily, a range of supports is made available to him or her by the Defence Forces. Transition to civilian life courses are conducted by personnel support service teams throughout the year aimed at personnel who are retiring on age grounds or simply considering a change of career. This course was formerly called the pre-retirement training course but the name was changed in acknowledgement that personnel are not always retiring when they leave the military.

Transition to civilian life courses are of two to three days' duration and are conducted across the organisation. All serving members are encouraged to undertake a course at least once during their career and within three years of leaving the Defence Forces. As part of the course, personnel receive advice and guidance on all aspects of retirement. This includes education on what to expect after leaving the Defence Forces, covering change, relationships, financial matters, health and time management. Personnel also receive information about how others have dealt successfully with these life changes. The purpose of the course is to enable personnel to anticipate changes in their lives and ease the transition to civilian life.

In addition, personnel may avail of assistance from the personnel support service and occupational health services, as required. Advice and guidance are available on a confidential one-to-one basis from personnel support service teams on all issues related to leaving the Defence Forces, including pensions and finance, health, psychosocial issues and preparation for career change. My Department has also arranged the provision of a confidential counselling, referral and support service dealing with a wide range of personal and work-related issues, which can be availed of by serving members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and Civil Defence members.

I thank the Minister. I expect he will acknowledge that due to limitations on the contracts of members of the Defence Forces and given that the majority probably joined in their late teens, many will be exiting the forces in their 30s or 40s, at a time in their lives when they have young families and huge financial commitments. The Minister's response, unfortunately, seems to suggest something of a handwashing exercise, with the bare minimum being done to assist members out the gate. This does not give regard to the huge amount of experience built up members of the Defence Forces and the fact they still have a great deal to offer the State and the economy. I would like to hear about the vocational training and education advice given to personnel. I would also like to know how many members partake in the transition to civilian life courses to which the Minister referred.

Further initiatives arising from the 2015 White Paper on Defence will be developed. I was very much involved in ensuring the White Paper was quite ambitious in this area. Initiatives include the implementation of systems, procedures and scheduled training to ensure preparedness for the transition to civilian life after military service, the development of a career platform or portal for exiting personnel to give them a direct bridge to employers and assist them in making the transition to a career in civilian life, and the creation of a career portfolio for interested exiting members of the Permanent Defence Force, listing their military qualifications alongside the level of the qualification on the national framework of qualifications, NFQ, where relevant. We have been looking at how we can match the significant skill set of personnel leaving the Defence Forces - that skill set being the reason so many people in the forces get headhunted by the private sector - to potential new employment and, in that way, help to make the transition as smooth as possible.

I am not sure whether the Minister has the statistics to hand as to how many members participate in the transition to civilian life courses. That provision is critical but what the Minister has outlined does not go far enough when we consider the supports that, rightly, have been built around employees in other sectors, such as the Bord na Móna workers. We need to look at something like that for members of the Defence Forces, who still have a huge amount to give to the State. My preference, which I am sure is shared by everyone, is to ensure we create the conditions to keep people in the Defence Forces for as long as possible. That must be the primary objective but there will be reasons members want to leave. There are people hitting retirement at 50 years of age and even younger who still have a great deal to offer.

The first priority is to ensure people get a rewarding return from their career in the Defence Forces. That means constant development of skill sets. It means certainty of income. It means adventure, which is what many people join the Defence Forces for. It means serving their country with pride. Of course, if people want to leave the Defence Forces having served there for a period of time we want to ensure we can help them in the transition back to civilian life. Some of them are tempted out of the Defence Forces because of offers they are given and that is a reflection of how highly thought of our Defence Forces are, as far as training, standards, discipline, work rate, fitness, skill set and so on are concerned. I assure the Deputy it is a priority to ensure that when people make the decision to leave or when they are required to retire but may still want to work in other sectors, they are given all the support needed to do that.

Defence Forces

Cathal Berry

Question:

8. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Defence if paragraph 12 of Concilliation Council Report No. 451 in respect of medical officer promotions will be implemented as agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34708/21]

I wish to focus my question on paragraph 12 of CCR 451. This is a formal agreement between the Department of Defence and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, from 2013, which provides for the advancement of medical officers from captain to commandant after three years' service. I understand there has recently been some resistance to implementing this provision and would be grateful if the Minister could outline his position.

I thank the Deputy. This is quite a precise question. I assume the Deputy is referring to paragraph 12 of Conditions Governing the Appointment of Medical Officers in the Defence Forces Medical Corps 2013 which is attached to CCR 451. These terms and conditions, specific to the 2013 medical officers recruitment campaign, were agreed with the representative association. They provided that on the recommendation of the Chief of Staff, a medical officer in the Defence Forces who is granted a commission without limitation as to time may be promoted from captain to commandant on completion of three years' service and fulfilling the required criteria as laid down for such a promotion. Exceptionally, these 2013 terms and conditions, which were developed at a time of severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining medical officers in the Defence Forces, removed the requirement of completing nine years’ service in accordance with paragraph 8(3)(a) of Defence Forces regulation, DFR, A15. The subsequent 2017 to 2018 medical officers terms and conditions reinstated the requirement to complete nine years' service before any medical officer commissioned on foot of that competition may be promoted from captain to commandant.

It is important to note that the representative association was fully consulted at all stages of the development of the 2017 to 2018 terms and conditions and provided extensive and constructive comments on a whole range of areas within these 2017 to 2018 terms and conditions prior to their finalisation. At no time did the representative association, during those consultations, object to the reinstatement of the nine year requirement in accordance with DFR A15. Accordingly, the provision set out in paragraph 12 of the 2013 terms and conditions was only applicable to those medical officers commissioned on foot of that specific 2013 competition. The exceptional condition was necessary to address recruitment and retention difficulties that pertained at that time. These difficulties no longer applied at the time the subsequent 2017 to 2018 terms and conditions were being developed and agreed with the representative association.

I thank the Minister for outlining his position. It is a useful starting point at least. This administrative matter is actually below the Minister's pay grade. I would like to think it could have been solved at a lower level. I only bring it to his attention because it is a matter of the utmost importance. For instance, a quarter of Defence Forces medical officers are actually on the cusp of leaving the organisation as a result of the non-implementation of this provision. That would have huge consequences on our ability to maintain our overseas contingents, as I am sure the Minister can appreciate. For doctors in the HSE it is very straightforward to progress from intern to senior house officer to registrar and beyond. I know because I was a doctor in the HSE. I see no reason the same cannot apply to doctors in the Defence Forces. It is a really important retention tool. As such, I would be very grateful if the Minister could take a personal interest in this issue and hopefully bring it towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The starting position that must be understood is there was an exception to the normal terms and conditions in 2013 in an effort to deal with the recruitment and retention issues at that time, which were clearly an issue. There was not deemed to be the same difficulty or pressure point in 2017 and 2018 when the terms and conditions were essentially returned to normal. During that process, there was an ongoing consultation and discussion with the representative body. That is my understanding. I accept I have not been involved in the detailed discussions here but this is the briefing I have from my Department. It is not unusual for the terms and conditions around recruitment campaigns and so on to be tailored, essentially, in order to respond to the pressures that are there. Thus if there is a need to look at this again in terms of retaining medical staff in the Defence Forces then of course we will have to do that.

I thank the Minister for the commitment that he might at least review this or perhaps look at it and see if there is any latitude or flexibility that can be applied. My understanding - and it is just that - is that the CCR was open-ended and not specific to 2013 but again I will take the Minister's views on board from that perspective. That is all I have to say. I wished to highlight that this issue is really important. I am not joking in saying a quarter of medical officers are really considering their positions in the organisation as a result. If clarity could be brought to it or at least a bit more latitude provided in the interpretation of paragraph 12 it would certainly make a massive difference. I would be very grateful for any assistance the Minister could provide in that regard.

We will take a look at it now that the Deputy has raised it. As I said before, terms and conditions for any Defence Forces competitions are always individually developed and consulted on. Terms and conditions for such competitions, including for medical officers, can have materially different terms and conditions to what was previously provided for, depending on the recruitment and retention situation that applies at that point in time or any other changes we must respond to. If the Deputy is telling me there is a serious problem developing with keeping medical officers in the Defence Forces then we will have to respond to that as we have had to do with the Naval Service and as we have had to do successfully with the Air Corps. There are specialists that are absolutely essential parts of the functioning of the Defence Forces in terms of contribution, skill set and structure and we must ensure those essential skill sets are there as part of the overall complement. Medical officers are absolutely in that category.

Defence Forces

John Brady

Question:

9. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the status of agreements or discussions that have taken place in relation to post-1994 contracts in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34830/21]

This morning at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence we heard from RACO that the Defence Forces have reached a point where the decline in them is becoming irreversible. One of the many issues affecting members of the Defence Forces and staff retention there is the issue of the 1994 contract. I therefore ask the Minister to give an update on agreements, discussions or negotiations related to the post-1994 contracts.

I did not get a chance to hear that meeting this morning but I will certainly look at the transcripts. I assure the Deputy that from my perspective the challenges we face with recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces are certainly not irreversible. We must apply ourselves to resolve this issue. The overall number in the Defence Forces is 1,000 people short of where we should be. We are setting about resolving that problem. I hope we will have the assistance of the representative bodies in doing that because collectively we all care about the future of the Defence Forces and without the full complement we are limited in the choices we can make.

I advised the Deputy previously in reply to his parliamentary question of 13 May 2021, of the various reviews of the 1994 Defence Forces service contracts, which have taken place since then and the discussions and subsequent agreements with PDFORRA, the representative association for enlisted personnel.

Due to time constraints, I could not read out in full the comprehensive reply to the question raised by the Deputy. I am pleased to have the opportunity to advise Deputy Brady of the current position in relation to the review of service contracts for personnel enlisted to the Defence Forces after 1 January 1994.

A review examining barriers to extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force, as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission and provided for in the high-level implementation plan, Strengthening Our Defence Forces, is currently under way. The review is being conducted by a joint civil-military project team. The review encompasses consideration of the service limits and mandatory retirement ages for privates, corporals and sergeants, as well as senior non-commissioned officers, NCOs. The review will take into consideration the recommendations from an adjudication in 2015, arising from a claim made by PDFORRA through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

It was agreed at that time that privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay group 3 or higher may stay in service to the age of 50, subject to meeting certain specified criteria. In addition, the adjudicator recommended a further review of contracts of service for line corporals and privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay group 1 and 2 recruited to the Defence Forces after 1 January 1994. The adjudicator recommended that such personnel be allowed to continue to serve beyond 21 years for a period up to the expiry of the next two promotion panels, subject to them meeting the required criteria and not exceeding the age of 50 years during this period.

I will read the rest of the answer when I come in again because the Deputy would be interested in it.

The Defence Forces have a strength of approximately 8,500, which is a full 1,000 below the established full strength. It is estimated that approximately 10% of personnel exit the Defence Forces annually. This significant turnover rate, combined with the current recruitment rate, will mean the Defence Forces will not be able to attain the minimum recognised strength of 9,500 fully trained personnel.

Over the weekend it was reported that the Minister is considering retaining up to 700 military staff due for retirement. I note the establishment of the review, which is being undertaken. Will the Minister give some timeframes on when the review body is due to give a final report? Has there been an interim report that has led to the comments attributed to the Minister that he is considering retaining up to 700 military personnel due to retire at the end of 2022?

The answer is that there is an ongoing review so we will not determine an outcome until it is concluded. In 2019, agreement was reached with PDFORRA that all privates and corporals recruited post 1994 would be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022. I know that is the timeline many people are concerned about now. Alternatively, they could continue until they reach the age of 50, provided these personnel meet relevant criteria, including medical grades and fitness tests during the interim period. This agreement was subsequently extended to include sergeants recruited to the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 1994 who can also continue in service to the same date, subject to their meeting agreed criteria in the interim period.

This agreement with PDFORRA provides for such personnel to continue in service beyond the timeframe suggested in the adjudication to allow for this review to be completed. The rank of line privates, which had not been specifically recommended for review in the adjudication, is also encompassed with this measure. These measures are in place to allow the review to take place in the extended timeframe and any revised proposals arising from these deliberations will of course be discussed with PDFORRA on completion of the review, which is ongoing.

It would be useful and helpful for the Minister to give a timeframe on when he anticipates the review will be carried out just to give clarity to the representative bodies and the members of the Defence Forces who have that date hanging over them. Morale in the Defence Forces is at an all-time low, unfortunately, and the matter must be addressed. Giving clarity around the review would certainly be helpful.

I have stated that we live in a changed world, particularly when it comes to fitness levels and nutrition, etc. All of this has changed. The rationale given to changing the contract in 1994 has been altered and I am sure that will feed into the review process being undertaken. The difficulties in the contracts for the Defence Forces cannot be overstated and there is a grave lack of experience. The number of NCOs and officers with lengthy experience is at an all-time low and this is having a negative impact on morale. I would appreciate it if the Minister could give us some clarity on this.

From now on I will start to challenge some of these generalisations, such as the bald statement that morale in the Defence Forces is at an all-time low. We have challenges in the Defence Forces and we also have fantastic people. Morale is not at an all-time low. I spent nearly 24 hours on a naval vessel travelling from Dublin to Cork on patrol the other day and morale was really positive and strong. Let us not talk ourselves down. We have genuine and real problems relating to recruitment and retention and we must get up numbers again. We must continue to increase investment in the defence budget for equipment and supports and we must deal with some pay and conditions matters. We are doing so. We must focus on ensuring that people who commit a career to the Defence Forces and their country understand that the Government and the Department of Defence are working with them to ensure ongoing issues in the Defence Forces are addressed. That is what we are doing.

With this matter we will work in partnership with PDFORRA, which has raised very real issues that we have responded to over the past number of years. Once we conclude the current review, we will be able to give clarity as soon as possible to the impacted people.

Defence Forces

Carol Nolan

Question:

10. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the recent findings of a survey conducted by an organisation (details supplied) which has found that highly trained personnel from the Defence Forces continue to leave the armed services due to poor pay and conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34628/21]

I ask the Minister if he is aware of the findings of a survey carried out by RACO indicating serious issues around pay and conditions and showing that highly trained personnel continue to leave the Defence Forces. We know this has been an ongoing matter and it has come up here a number of times from parties and Deputies across the House. It is a serious matter. It has also been highlighted that highly qualified people, including one in three officers, have stated they would not recommend the Defence Forces as a career for young people. It is very concerning.

We can look at many people joining the Defence Forces whose parents were previously in the service, so there are also many people absolutely recommending a career there. We need to focus on ensuring balance in the discussion.

The survey to which the Deputy refers highlighted that pay in the private sector is one of a number of reasons some personnel leave the Defence Forces. There are, however, many reasons individuals may leave the Defence Forces, ranging from individual personal circumstances, other career opportunities, having fulfilled their contract or retirement on age grounds. A career in the Defence Forces offers personnel significant opportunities, including education and training opportunities.

Pay has been highlighted as an issue but there has been significant progress in recent years. The Defence Forces received pay increases in line with the public service stability agreement, the most recent of which was a 2% increase on annualised salaries from 1 October 2020. The restoration of the 5% cut in allowances imposed under the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, was also restored from 1 October 2020.

In addition to the general round of pay increases awarded to public servants, members of the Permanent Defence Force have also benefited from the implementation of increases in Defence Forces allowances as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission. These included a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration of a 10% cut applied to a number of Defence Forces allowances under the Haddington Road pay agreement, the restoration of premium rates for weekend security duty allowances and the restoration of a service commitment scheme for pilots.

The introduction of a new seagoing service commitment scheme for Naval Service personnel came into effect from 1 January 2021 and is aimed at retaining highly trained and experienced personnel and incentivising seagoing duties.

A seagoing naval personnel tax credit of €1,270 was applied in the 2020 tax year for members of the Naval Service who served 80 days or more at sea on board a naval vessel in 2019. This tax credit has been extended for a further year and is increased to €1,500 for the 2021 tax year.

The point I make is that, yes, we have pay and allowance issues, but we are trying to improve income and allowances across the Defence Forces all the time. I have just given many examples of that.

Clearly there is a need for significant improvement. The findings of the survey carried out by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, show us this. The Minister has called out some of these issues. It is concerning that Defence Forces numbers are now at 8,500, which is an all-time low. As reported by Sean O'Riordan, the RACO survey found that almost two thirds of respondents said they left the Defence Forces for better pay in the private sector. Does this not suggest the need for improvement, and quickly, to recruit people in and keep them there?

More than half of those who responded experienced a better work-life balance as a result of leaving to work in the private sector. It also reported that opinions on career management and organisational leadership were generally negative. Again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed if we are to ensure the numbers in the Defence Forces are increased and retained.

From the article by Mr. O'Riordan, I understand the latest survey by RACO mirrors findings in a 2017 survey that highlighted poor pay, lack of expertise caused by an exodus of highly trained personnel, exhaustion as a result of double and treble-jobbing to fill the gaps, and inadequate barrack accommodation. These are serious issues and are causing a lot of problems. They cause the sector to be quite dysfunctional.

There are issues, but if people are leaving the Defence Forces because they are targeted by a private sector that wants to offer them more money, then this is a choice people will make. We cannot chase the private sector in pay levels all the time. There are many, highly qualified and talented people in the Defence Forces who get job offers to leave the Defence Forces because of the skill sets they have. We must respect those decisions. People also leave other parts of the public sector in the same way. We face turnover. The challenge we face currently in the Defence Forces is that our starting point is significantly below where it should be and we have not been recruiting at the same pace as the turnover of people leaving. We are, of course, looking at that.

The recent pay agreement results in pay increases and looks at a number of other positive issues for the Defence Forces. We have an independent commission on the Defence Forces and on its future which will report before the end of the year. It has been asked to look at pay structures and allowances. We committed in the programme for Government to set up a specific pay body for the Defence Forces to recognise the uniqueness of service in the Defence Forces. We are doing a lot in this space to address the genuine problems that are there.

There are personnel who have served in the Defence Forces and enjoyed their time there, but many of the personnel felt they had no choice but to leave to work in the private sector where they could earn a decent living to support their families. This is the crux of the situation. The general secretary of RACO, Commandant Conor King, has pointed out that 2020 was the year the Defence Forces recruitment and retention crisis should have been resolved. The conditions were perfect: coming into the new year with a healthy economy and a bespoke high-level implementation plan, aptly titled Strengthening our Defence Forces, endorsed by the Government, that was going to implement real change in the Defence Forces organisation and make the Defence Forces once again an employer of choice. Then Covid struck. Now, however, we need firm commitments. We need to maintain whatever momentum is there to have this matter addressed once and for all so that Deputies from all parties and none do not have to keep raising the issue and so the families of Defence Forces members are not subjected to hardship and trying to pay bills and mortgages on poor pay. That is the reality here.

I accept there is a recruitment and retention issue in the Defence Forces. We are doing a lot to address this. We have had some successes, especially in the Air Corps in bringing pilots back in. That was not just a Covid dividend; it was also because of a scheme we put in place to do that. We are setting about addressing recruitment and retention issues in the Naval Service and in the Army too. We are inviting back and bringing back people who have left the Defence Forces who want to return, at officer level and non-officer level. There is a lot happening. The Defence Forces representative organisations know that because we have spoken to them about it. This is not going to happen overnight. We need to be realistic that recruitment does take some time.

The ask of RACO with regard to pay was to set up a separate pay body, which is exactly what we are doing. Every Member in the House should know that the way in which public sector pay negotiations happen is a collective negotiation for everybody. There has not been the capacity to single out one organisation and look at it separately for pay, which is what everybody seems to suggest every time we talk about this issue in the House. Let us be realistic and let us be ambitious at the same time, to look at structures that can address the retention issues in the Defence Forces, which I believe is what we are trying to do.

Cybersecurity Policy

Sorca Clarke

Question:

11. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence the level of preparedness in Ireland to deal with the cybersecurity space in future conflict zones, domestically and internationally, given that increased connectivity means cybersecurity will be a key front in any future conflict zones. [34846/21]

What is the level of preparedness in the State to deal with the cybersecurity space in future conflict zones, be they domestically and internationally, given that increased connectivity means cybersecurity will be a key front in any future conflict zones?

This is a very important question. My colleague the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, retains overall responsibility for cybersecurity at a national level but, of course, the response to cyber threats is a whole-of-government challenge with important inputs in the security domain from An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

As we have seen with the cyberattack on the HSE, cybersecurity is an issue about which we all need to be very concerned. For national security reasons, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the nature of the HSE cyberattack at this time, but it does illustrate how vital it is we take cybersecurity very seriously.

Ireland ranks among the leading EU member states in terms of the uptake and use of digital technologies. These technologies play a central role in supporting our economic and social life. Ireland's geographic position, our open economy and our EU membership mean we now host a large amount of data and economic activity. Covid-19 also means people are relying on technology more than ever to stay connected. The development of the information and communications technology that supports all this activity introduces a new set of complex and evolving risks. Infrastructure of any kind attached to the Internet is vulnerable to threats from anywhere on in the world.

Disruption to our digital assets and critical infrastructure brings significant economic costs and undermines trust and confidence in them. Threats emanate from individuals and from nation states and can have national security implications. It is vital we work closely with our partners in the European Union on cybersecurity issues, and I welcome the proposal made last week by the European Commission to build a new joint cyber unit to tackle the rising number of serious cyber incidents impacting public services, businesses and the lives of citizens across the EU. The proposed joint cyber unit represents an opportunity to bring together cybersecurity communities, including civilian, law enforcement, diplomatic and cyber defence communities. The Government will be examining this proposal in depth since, while Ireland welcomes it, it represents a potentially very substantial requirement for additional resourcing, both in terms of financial resources and skill sets, on behalf of member states.

I thank the Minister.

An ever-increasing amount of activity is being conducted online. Certainly, conflicts and threats will also continue to grow in this arena. As Minister for Defence of a contributing country to UN peacekeeping and peace enforcing missions, is the Minister confident that training and resources are available in our Defence Forces to adapt to this new reality? I draw the attention, or perhaps the memory, of the Minister to the committee meeting we had on the Estimates. I put it to the Minister that the amount being budgeted for technology was not reflective of modern defence forces. Given that we have one of the lowest, if not the lowest, GDP spend on defence in the EU, how does the Minister see the additional costs of this European fund and our growing need being financed?

While the primary role of the Defence Forces with regard to cybersecurity relates to the defence and security of their own networks and systems, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces are committed to participating under the leadership of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications on the delivery of measures to improve the cybersecurity of the State. This is being done in line with the programme for Government commitment to implement the national cybersecurity strategy, recognising the potential and important role of the Defence Forces. This is why officials in the Department and members of the Defence Forces work so closely with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and other Departments and agencies to support measures to deal with these challenges. I want to highlight that at present, a member of the Defence Forces is seconded to the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn in Estonia.

The issues the Deputy raised at the committee and that she has raised again today are very much central to the consideration of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces. I have spoken to the chair about this and I expect the commission to come back with some very clear recommendations on cybersecurity because we know this is an evolving, developing and increasing threat all the time and we have to have a response capacity and infrastructure to deal with it.

I am not sure I have complete confidence in waiting for the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces to report on something like this before taking more concrete steps. This is a really serious issue. If there has ever been anything of a conflict zone with clearly defined borders it is gone. It has been confined to history, as is conflict between two opposing sides. We now have zones where there are multiple players, whether street gangs or organised gangs controlling food and water distribution in areas of conflict through cyber networks. This is something of which we need to be very mindful because as their capabilities increase we seem to be playing catch up all the time and this is just not good enough. I take what the Minister said earlier about national security. If we could skirt around this issue the Minister will take my question. Given the recent attack on the HSE, will the Minister and his Government partners commit to a full cyber risk assessment of all State infrastructure assets?

There are certain things to which I cannot commit as Minister for Defence. What I can commit to is the role of the Defence Forces in the context of making a contribution to a whole-of-government response to cyber threats as they emerge. We are planning for this and we are investing accordingly. We have asked the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces to look at the role the Defence Forces need to play to secure their own systems against cyberattacks as well as making a contribution to the national effort.

Today, I spoke at a UN Security Council meeting on cybersecurity and its impact on some of the issues the Deputy recognises, in terms of other parts of the world that are extremely vulnerable to cybersecurity threats that undermine the political stability and functioning of weak states, and how the UN can and should be responding to them as a collective. It is a massive challenge. We have to work on our own systems and protecting them and putting in place firewalls and barriers to ensure our systems are as protected as they can be. This is a challenge for every country in the world and the more we can collaborate internationally on this, the better results we will get.