Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces

Thomas Pringle

Question:

12. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Defence if a full report will be provided on the Defence Forces' involvement in missions in Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34614/21]

I have read the 2020 Department of Defence reports to the Dáil on service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations. Irish troops have taken part in two missions in Mali, namely, MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, and the European Union training mission, EUTM Mali. Both reports are very brief and I would like to have a fuller more detailed report from the Minister. Perhaps the Minister will consider having a debate on it in future.

Irish Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed in two separate missions in Mali. The Government has approved the continued provision of up to 20 members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the EU mission to train the Malian armed forces in Mali, known as EUTM Mali, or the EU training mission, up to 22 March 2022. In addition, the Government has approved the continued provision of up to 14 Defence Forces personnel, drawn primarily from the Army Ranger Wing, to participate in MINUSMA, the United Nations-led operation in Mali, up until 30 September 2022.

With regard to EUTM Mali, Ireland has participated in this training mission since its launch in 2013. I visited it when I was previously Minister for Defence. Defence Forces personnel are primarily deployed at Koulikoro and Bamako, and also deploy as part of combined mobile advisory training teams across Mali. These mobile teams travel to the various regions for defined periods of time to provide additional training to Malian soldiers through specialised courses and tactical training. The roll-out of decentralised training is a key component of enhancing the utility of the Malian armed forces.

Defence Forces personnel first deployed to MINUSMA in September 2019 as part of a joint deployment with German armed forces. Irish personnel continue to be deployed with the German armed forces at Camp Castor in Gao and at MINUSMA headquarters in Bamako, where they carry out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate. The Army Ranger Wing team carries out surveillance and intelligence gathering operations as part of its remit. Irish personnel in Gao are embedded with the larger German intelligence surveillance reconnaissance company and benefit from the security and force protection effort that is in place to protect the full company. The security situation is continually monitored by the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis.

That is the summary that was more or less given in the document submitted to the Oireachtas Library on the operation. I have several questions on this. What relationship do the Irish troops have with the French forces operating in Mali at present? They have been involved in a couple of very controversial incidents, including one where more than 20 civilians were killed at a wedding which was bombed by French forces. Is it not the case that Irish troops went there to train Malian troops to free up French soldiers so they could go out and kill civilians? The conflict in Mali is part of a wider conflict that takes place in a number of countries. Do we know whether Irish troops go across borders into other countries neighbouring Mali in pursuit of their remit? Will the Minister comment on this?

I want to put on the record of the House that defence force personnel from EU countries in Mali are there to try to bring stability to save lives. The French are central to these efforts. I want to read into the record from a statement on what happened in recent days and the risks they all face so that we can show a bit of respect to peacekeepers in a part of the world that would be falling apart, in my view, if it were not for the intervention of EU troops, including French troops.

At 6.25 a.m. on Friday morning last, a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was used to attack the overnight position of a company of mainly German soldiers serving as part of the MINUSMA mission. The purpose of the mission carried out by the German personnel was to provide an accurate assessment of the potential routes and locations that MINUSMA convoys could use if primary main supply routes became blocked. The attack took place 120 km from their main base in Gao, which is where the Irish are. There were 15 casualties in total, including 14 German and one Belgian.

Three of them were seriously injured and 13 of the wounded were evacuated to Germany on Saturday last. A number of Defence Forces personnel had participated in the operation since Wednesday, 23 June, and had occupied an overnight position some 25 km from the location of the attack on the main body of the company. As with other similar situations, part of this operation would entail the Irish personnel temporarily operating independently from the main body.

Whether it is Irish, German, French or any other EU peacekeepers, we are in a dangerous and difficult place to operate and we were lucky that nobody was killed last Friday. We should show a little bit more respect than what the Deputy has shown in his comments on French troops.

Is the Minister saying that nobody should question why they were there and we should just accept it? Are the French troops part of the MINUSMA mission?

Mali is a former French colony. The French are there to pursue their colonial interests. There have been attacks. The attack the Minister mentioned is worrying. That is why I am asking the question. I do not believe that Irish troops should be putting themselves in that position on behalf of French colonial interests. That is what is happening.

What about the French troops that attacked a wedding in Mali and killed more than 20 civilians? What about the French troops who shot a civilian in the desert and then buried him there? What impact do those actions have on the reaction of the local population? That is the issue. Perhaps the Minister could follow up by stating whether Irish troops operate outside of Mali in the wider region. I would like to know whether that happens.

The time allotted for this question has been exceeded by the Deputy's last contribution.

They do not operate outside of Mali. I want to put that on the record.

Naval Service

Patrick Costello

Question:

13. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Defence the operational usage of the LÉ Orla and LÉ Eithne since they were docked in 2019. [34691/21]

Cormac Devlin

Question:

14. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the readiness of the Naval Service fleet and the plans for its future development. [34695/21]

I thank the Minister for his time. I want to raise the issue of the Irish Naval Service. It has a very proud track record, not only in serving Ireland but within the EU and in Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. As Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2017, I had the pleasure of awarding the freedom of entry to the LÉ Eithne in Dún Laoghaire. Colleagues have raised the issue of contracts, which is important. Improved conditions are required. I welcome the fact that a recruitment campaign is under way. The Naval Service was berthed on the quays the other day. The Minister might articulate for the House when we will see a return to full capacity in the Naval Service.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Naval Service is the State's principal seagoing agency and is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. The main day-to-day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fisheries protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the EU. The service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary. I am advised that the fleet is managed to ensure maximum availability to meet operational requirements. On any given patrol day, the Naval Service can carry out a number of tasks on behalf of other State agencies such as the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, An Garda Síochána and the Customs Service of the Revenue Commissioners.

The Naval Service has nine ships. The LÉ Orla and LÉ Eithne are currently in operational reserve, but can be called upon for surge operations in times of national emergency, as was the case when the LÉ Eithne was deployed to Cork city from 20 March to 24 June last year in support of Operation Fortitude and the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The LÉ Eithne acted as a forward logistics base and training platform in support of the HSE. Of the remaining seven ships, one is in the process of a midlife refit, which is expected to last 18 to 24 months. Six operational ships remain available.

Regarding the future development of the fleet, the replacement of the flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi-role vessel, MRV, is the immediate project currently under way. The MRV project is an important development project and indicative of the commitment to ongoing investment in and development of defence capabilities. It is intended to hold a public tender competition in due course to cover the supply of the MRV, subject to availability of funding within the overall defence capital funding envelope. Projects for other vessel replacements will be considered over the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence in the context of overall capability development and funding along with the overall equipment development plan process.

In addition, the independent commission on the Defence Forces established last December will, as part of its work, examine issues relating to the Defence Forces' capabilities, structures and staffing. I expect that issues raised here today in regard to the Naval Service will feature as part of the commission's report, which will be available to me before the end of the year. I assure the Deputy that we are not waiting for the commission's report on investment and recruitment campaigns within the Naval Service. We have a serious issue to address and we are setting about doing that.

I welcome that and note the comments of the Minister on recruitment. As I said, I have witnessed that myself. The Defence Forces have a wonderful social media presence and have communicated their message about the recruitment campaign, apprenticeships and all sorts of other activities over the years successfully.

I note the comments of the Minister on the flagship LÉ Eithne. As he is probably aware, it is twinned with Dún Laoghaire Harbour, something that we are very proud of. I ask that if funding is to be released for a replacement for LÉ Eithne, consideration be given to continue to twin a ship with Dún Laoghaire. It is an important connection, given the size of the harbour and its strategic importance.

I also note what the Minister said about the two reserve ships. Effectively, there are eight ships, and one is currently under midlife repair. I ask the Minister to provide a note on the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla.

We have two ships in reserve and one ship in a midlife refit, which takes a period of time. There are essentially six ships operational in our fleet at the moment. The two ships in reserve can be deployed if there is an emergency. Due to the fact that there are challenges in respect of the numbers in the Naval Service, we are focused on operating six ships safely with full crews. I am not willing to compromise on safety standards by under-crewing ships to try to get more ships out.

The two ships in reserve are ships that are close to 40 years old at this stage. We are now considering how we can get our fleet back up to eight or nine and how we can replace some of the ships that need to be retired from the fleet. That has to happen in parallel with getting the numbers back up again.

From my perspective, the main issue is the twinning of the ships. I note the great service of the LÉ Eithne , along with other ships, and the personnel that have crewed all of the various ships over the years. I ask that consideration be given to twinning between Dún Laoghaire and the replacement for the LÉ Eithne whenever that happens in the short term.

As I said, I acknowledge the work that is under way. I support the Minister's call for fully manned ships. Post the recruitment campaign and the encouragement of other personnel to come back to the Naval Service and the wider Defence Forces, that is important. I look forward to further updates from the Minister.

The Deputy will be pleased to hear that I was in Dún Laoghaire using the facilities of the harbour a few days ago when the Naval Service picked me up in a rig and took me to the LÉ George Bernard Shaw where we spent nearly 24 hours on patrol down the east coast and along the south coast.

It was a good opportunity to spend some time with our naval personnel and to speak to them about the challenges and issues for them in the Defence Forces in terms of their career choices and so on. It was time well spent. I also witnessed their training procedures on deck and the skill levels that our Naval Service has reached.

The Deputy would like the replacement of the LÉ Eithne to be twinned with Dún Laoghaire. I cannot commit to that now on the floor of the Dáil, but we will bear it in mind when those decisions are made. The Deputy might be able to refer to this conversation if it is successful.

I will. Do not worry.

Defence Forces

Cathal Berry

Question:

15. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Defence the status of the nursing review in the Defence Forces; when it commenced; when it is likely to conclude; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34707/21]

I wish to focus this question on the Army Nursing Service, specifically the review that I understand may have been ongoing for a short while. Will the Minister indicate when the review commenced and is likely to finish, and will he make a statement on the matter?

To be fair to him, the Deputy always asks searching questions. For obvious reasons, this is a sector that he understands well.

The civil-military joint standing committee on medical service delivery is tasked with advancing the development of a sustainable, integrated medical service to meet the needs of the Defence Forces. As part of its work, it has committed to reviewing each key medical capability separately. The objective of each review is to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the most appropriate means of delivering each service to the Defence Forces. These reviews are conducted on an ongoing basis as the workload of the committee allows.

On this basis, a review of the Army Nursing Service was commenced in March 2020. A subgroup of the main committee has been established and is currently progressing its work with a view to the review being finalised by the end of 2021. It should be noted that the work of the joint standing committee was impacted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The objective of the review is to document and evaluate the current and historical service provided by the Army Nursing Service, examine the recommendations of previous reviews, provide an overview of relevant legislation governing the Army Nursing Service, nursing in Ireland and, where possible, international best practice in military nursing, consider the potential future role of the Army Nursing Service and nurses in the context of the operational capability of the Medical Corps and Defence Forces, and to present options regarding the most appropriate means of delivering nursing services to the Defence Forces, including a consideration of both internal and outsourced service provision.

The Army Nursing Service forms part of a wide range of medical services that are provided to members of the Permanent Defence Force. These include an annual medical examination, sick parades, attendance at GP surgeries outside of sick parade and out-of-hours GP services, prescription services, laboratory services, physiotherapy, radiology, mental health services provided by an in-house psychiatrist and two in-house psychologists, inpatient and outpatient public hospital charges and routine dental treatment.

This is an important service. In fact, it is an essential service that is provided to our Permanent Defence Force. The review should conclude by the end of the year.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Commissioned officers and members of the Army Nursing Service can avail of private consultant appointments and diagnostic tests as well as private or semi-private hospital treatment dependent on rank, including private maternity care for female officers. Of course, in the event of emergency situations arising in the course of Defence Forces activities, all personnel regardless of rank receive the appropriate medical care expeditiously. Furthermore, the programme for Government contains a commitment to extend this range of benefits to the enlisted ranks in the Defence Forces and a working group has been established to make proposals on this matter. Its work is ongoing.

The ongoing reviews of the range of medical services provided to the Defence Forces are an important tool in ensuring the provision of quality care to our personnel. I assure the Deputy that this is a priority for my Department and me.

I thank the Minister for that useful and helpful response.

What can I say about the Army Nursing Service? It is a fantastic component of the Defence Forces, but I assume the Minister agrees that it is in decline. In its heyday a number of decades ago, there were approximately 100 nurses. Now, there are only three or four. That is a major pity because, over the past 15 months during the pandemic, nurses would have been useful both within the Defence Forces and in dealing with the public, including from a nursing homeless perspective.

The majority of the nurses employed by the Defence Forces are agency nurses, which are expensive. In one barracks, an agency nurse has been re-employed on a 24-hour basis every day since 2012, which is a suboptimal situation from her perspective as well as the organisation's perspective.

I would be grateful if the Minister could expedite the nursing review. Let us get decisions made and nurses back into the Defence Forces where they belong.

I will follow the progress of this review closely. The Army Nursing Service is essential to our Defence Forces and needs to be available to all serving personnel. We have made a commitment in the programme for Government that the medical facilities available to officers in the Defence Forces should be available to all serving personnel. That commitment will take some time to implement, but I am determined to do that.

I am happy to make the commitment that the review will conclude before the end of the year. We will see if we can complete it at an earlier point. I take on board what the Deputy has said.

The Minister will agree that the nursing component of the Defence Forces is very important, given its scope of practice and the particular skill set and mindset that nurses bring to proceedings, particularly from an overseas point of view. It would be unusual among the EU 27 for a military not to have an army nursing service. Thankfully, we have not had a casualty overseas in 16 or 17 years, but we are on borrowed time. If we recruit nurses, we should be able to deploy them overseas like any normal military does. That is important, as we must de-risk our overseas operations. We must prevent our next casualty from becoming our next fatality. Having a functioning, well-resourced and well-staffed Army Nursing Service is crucial in that regard.

I assure the House that, in terms of our overseas deployments, we always ensure that there are appropriate medical supports, medical facilities and nursing staff available to our serving personnel. This normally means that we embed our serving personnel with others. In Mali, we are embedded with the Germans. When I visited the EU training mission, it had a German medical facility that was responsible for looking after the medical requirements of the Irish serving personnel. That said, medical expertise and medical staff, including nursing staff, are an important component of a rounded and functioning defence forces. I hope that is what we can deliver following the review.

Military Honours

Catherine Connolly

Question:

16. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence further to Question No. 16 of 13 May 2021, if the final report of the independent review group established to examine the events at Jadotville in September 1961 has been completed and received by his Department; if the final report will be published; if so, the timeline for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34636/21]

John Brady

Question:

51. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the progress to date made by the independent review group set up to investigate and make recommendations on the Battle of Jadotville; when it will be in a position to publish its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34619/21]

Baineann mo cheist le Jadotville. Tá sé ardaithe arís agus arís eile agam agus ag Teachtaí Dála eile. I am raising the issue of Jadotville once again. My question relates specifically to the final report of the independent group that was set up to examine the events at Jadotville, which will have occurred 60 years ago this September. Does the Minister have the report? Will it be published? If he does not have it, when will he?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 51 together.

In short, I do not have the report yet, but I have been speaking to the Chief of Staff about my wanting to have it soon. I suspect that I will have it soon and I look forward to being able to discuss it in some detail then.

The issue of awarding Military Medals for Gallantry and Distinguished Service Medals to personnel who served in Jadotville in September 1961 has been considered on a number of occasions over the years and a number of actions have been taken to give due recognition to the courage and bravery of all the members of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, who were stationed in Jadotville in 1961. Notwithstanding the actions that have been undertaken to date, I have asked the Chief of Staff to consider whether it is possible, as an exceptional measure, to have a retrospective examination of the events at Jadotville in the context of the awarding of medals and the possible implications for the integrity of the award of medals system. In response, the Chief of Staff proposed the establishment of an independent group of external experts to consider the entire case and the available evidence, including new evidence, if any.

The independent review group was established by the Chief of Staff in December. In line with its terms of reference, it will examine, report and make recommendations in respect of the Battle of Jadotville from 13 to 17 September 1961 and will report its findings to the Chief of Staff as the convening authority.

The independent review group has been actively engaged in the consultation and research process and was originally due to conclude by 31 March. However, given the sheer volume of meetings and the comprehensive nature of the research process, an interim report was submitted and an extension to the timeframe for reporting to the Chief of Staff was requested.

I agreed to an extension and I am expecting the final report, along with recommendations from the Chief of Staff, shortly.

I have outlined to this House and the Seanad it is important the awarding of military medals such as those for gallantry and a distinguished service medal is a military process and not a political one. It is also important we do not draw conclusions as to the outcome of the independent review process, which is now at an advanced stage, and is close to completion. At this juncture, it would be premature to state if the interim report or the final report, once submitted, will be published or released. I will await the outcome of the work of the independent review group and the recommendation of the Chief of Staff, in due course.

When the final report has been received and any findings have been given full consideration, a decision on the release of the interim and final reports will be made, taking into account any legal or other considerations arising. However, my intention - if I can at all - is to release the report in order that we can have full statements on it.

I thank the Minister for his work. I appreciate he has set up the review and I appreciate it is independent. However, I am a little concerned. The report was due at the end of March and then it was the middle of June. Did the Minister get a request for a further extension? We have passed the middle of June.

I a little worried by the wording with regard to the integrity of the medal. The awarding of medals has to have integrity, but there is something much more fundamental in question here with regard to integrity and that is how a group of young men who were so courageous were treated as Jadotville Jacks. I hate the expression, but that is what they were subjected to when they came back. There is much more at stake when we talk about integrity.

When will the report be released? Soon or shortly is not good enough. The Minister must have been asked specifically for an extension and it must have been indicated when the report will be complete. Had the Minister received a draft report?

No is the straight answer. However, I have asked that I receive the report shortly. I hope I will receive it within days. One of the things I am determined to do is to make sure we have the opportunity to have statements on this report and its recommendations before we break up for the summer, which means we need to get on with it. I have responded positively to requests for more time - which I think was the right thing to do - because my understanding is this is quite a significant report in terms of the number of pages and amount of detail in it. In fact, I know it is.

I have not received or seen it, but I have indicated to the Chief of Staff that I want this report within days and he has indicated he will try to ensure that is done. I do not want to rush this at the last minute. I want it to be concluded and completed properly and I have considerable confidence the skill set of the people on the panel who have done this work represents a broad perspective, in trying to address some of the issues Deputy Connolly has raised in terms of correcting history, as well as addressing the medals process within the Defence Forces.

I am sharing time with Deputy Brady.

My apologies. Whichever way they want to go.

I thought the Cathaoirleach had forgotten about me. Similar to Deputy Connolly, I have been following this up and had tabled the previous question as well. It is deeply frustrating, given the different times which have been given - 31 March and then mid-June. I understand a short extension has been given, but it is about rectifying the wrongs done by the heroes. I do not use that term lightly, but these men were heroes and it is about rectifying the wrongs, injustice and wrong history which has been written, for far too long, about them.

Has the Chief of Staff, Mark Mellett, received the final copy? Has he got the final recommendations - I know the Minister is waiting on recommendations coming from him - or is he waiting for the review body to conclude its work? Do we have a final report which the Minister is waiting to be handed over?

There is significant hope the right thing will be done and the 60th anniversary in September will be used as a date and occasion to, I hope, award these medals. Can the Minister outline any plans which may be in place?

We should not presuppose the outcome of the report. This report was not completed weeks ago and is sitting on someone's desk. I spoke to the Chief of Staff about this a few days ago. The report is in the final stages of being completed. Of course, it then needs to be printed up and so on and the Chief of Staff needs some time to be able to consider it. However, I am looking to have the report and the response of the Chief of Staff to that report as soon as possible, as I said, within days. I hope that can be facilitated.

From what I understand, the people who have been involved in this process and report have put an enormous amount of time and work into it. When they took on the job, perhaps nobody realised the number of submissions they would receive and the workload involved in that. Let us allow this process to conclude appropriately and not rush it, but at the same time, I would like to have the report and an opportunity to consider it, before we break up for the summer.

I welcome the Minister's precise answer and the fact he has said he would like to have it discussed. I hope he will ensure it will be discussed before the term closes. That just leaves us two weeks. I also acknowledge there was a tremendous amount of work involved, but there was also a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, from the families of those who were there, the son of the officer in charge and the community school in Portmarnock and Malahide and in Moneenageisha community school in County Galway.

I said on the last occasion I spoke, on 13 May, one of the few stories which has given me hope and the will to push on in the Dáil is what I have seen from the way the men acted in Jadotville, the schools following that and the push on the ground. It is the right decision to have it fully discussed in the Dáil. It should be published to restore integrity. Whatever about integrity in the awarding of medals, which is also important, there is a much more basic integrity involved.

I agree with that. We did have a full debate on this issue in the Seanad and I did give a commitment once the report was concluded, we would have statements in the Seanad on that and I would like to follow through on that commitment. Let us see if we can schedule a debate here also.

In many ways, Jadotville is a reminder of the service overseas of Irish Defence Forces personnel over many many years. Believe me, the more you learn about and talk to people who are involved in peacekeeping, the more you realise there are many heroes in the Irish Defence Forces, who have been involved in managing extraordinary risk abroad. I met John O'Mahony and the Barrett family, who had to endure extraordinary loss in 1980, in the last few days.

Serving overseas as peacekeepers sometimes involves extraordinary sacrifice and I hope the recognition due to families and the men who were involved in Jadotville will be recognised in the report we will get within the next few days.

I appreciate the Minister does not want the issuing or awarding of medals to be a political thing but, unfortunately, it was politics which interfered in this over the past 60 years and has delayed - and I hope only delayed - the awarding of medals and rectifying of history. I appreciate we have a narrow window of two weeks.

I heard the Minister say that he hoped to have it before the House. Hopefully, time will be provided in both Houses of the Oireachtas to facilitate that debate. It would be helpful, although I know the Minister cannot commit to it here, if the full report could be issued in advance of that. I hope that will be the case and it can be facilitated. We have two weeks, and it would be good to have it. The most important date, however, is September. I hope everyone is working towards that and that the right thing will be done.

I certainly hope the right thing will be done, as the Deputy said. I have put some faith in the Chief of Staff to undertake an appropriate review of these issues and, hopefully, we will find out the result of that process in the next few days and certainly in the next couple of weeks. The Deputy is correct that September is a significant anniversary. It coincides with our presidency of the UN Security Council in New York. During the month of our presidency, one of the events we will focus on is peacekeeping and peacekeeping mandates, so there is obvious synergy there in terms of the role of Irish Defence Forces personnel through the example of Jadotville in the context of the 60th anniversary. We will try to plan an event that is appropriate for the recognition of those events and the 60th anniversary in September.

Defence Forces

Cormac Devlin

Question:

17. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the level of day-to-day spending in the Defence Forces annualised as a percentage of GDP in each of the years 2016 to 2020; and the estimate for 2021. [34696/21]

Will the Minister report on the level of day-to-day spending in the Defence Forces annualised as a percentage of GDP in each of the years from 2016 to 2020, including an estimate for the current year?

It sounds as if I have an ally in trying to increase defence spending. I will remember that at budget time.

Each year, the defence budget is determined within the overarching budgetary framework and approved by Dáil Eireann, having regard to the level of resources available and defence policy requirements. Capital funding allocations are also framed by the multi-annual national development plan. Expenditure on the Defence Forces is managed through the defence Vote 36, with all operational outputs delivered from a single set of forces encompassing the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. Defence Vote 36 provides funding for the pay and allowances of members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and departmental staff, ongoing Defence Forces operational and standing costs, the acquisition of military equipment along with the development of the Defence Forces built infrastructure. It also provides funding for Civil Defence and the Irish Red Cross Society. Separately, Vote 35 provides for military pensions.

Overall gross defence Vote 36 expenditure of €781 million in 2020 was some €110 million or 16% greater than the 2016 figure of €671 million. Capital expenditure on equipment and infrastructure has increased by €58 million over the same period. The allocation of €810 million provided for the defence Vote 36 in 2021 represents an increase of €29 million, or 4%, on the corresponding allocation provided in 2020 and an increase of €139 million or 21% on 2016 expenditure.

Percentage of GDP comparisons of defence expenditure include military pensions expenditure when calculating such percentages. Between 2016 and 2020, while the defence expenditure in Vote 35 and Vote 36 increased from €905 million to €1,032 million, the defence expenditure in Vote 35 and Vote 36 as a percentage of GDP decreased marginally from 0.33% to 0.28%. This was against the backdrop of a very significant increase of some €96 billion or 35% in Ireland’s GDP figure between 2016 and 2020.

I thank the Minister for those figures and I welcome the various increases the Minister referred to from 2016 to the present. Given the pandemic, there will undoubtedly be further increases.

I wish to focus on the cyberattack. Obviously, great work is done by the Defence Forces across the board, but given the recent impact of the attack on our health service and the Minister's comments earlier about the European element and co-operation, which is interesting and we will focus on that in the next week or so in our questions, is the Minister aware of the Norwegian Cyber Defence Force, which was established in 2012? I understand it has a complement of approximately 1,500 personnel. In view of Ireland's key pillar of fintech, pharmaceutical and other important industries, it is important that the country and Government would focus on funding and having a resilient anti-cyberattack strategy. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

This brings me back to an earlier question relating to cybersecurity and the considerations of the Commission on the Defence Forces for the future in terms of the cybersecurity elements of the threats we face in the security domain. It is important to point out that the budget the Government spends on cybersecurity is not just confined to the defence budget. It also goes to the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. In fact, the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications has the primary responsibility for cybersecurity in the State. He is the sponsoring Minister for the National Cyber Security Centre. That does not mean the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces do not contribute to that. We do. There is an important skills set in the Defence Forces with regard to cybersecurity capacity. That is why somebody from the Defence Forces is seconded to the European centre of excellence for cybersecurity in Tallinn. We work closely with other EU member states, but I expect we will see increased spending in future budgets on cybersecurity for the reasons the Deputy outlined.

Absolutely, and I welcome the Minister's comments in that regard. I know it is not just the Minister's portfolio. I raised this issue last week with the Tánaiste and the need to ensure there is funding and, indeed, a review of all the various strategies from the Government and industry. It is important that we have a robust system and that we invest in it, given the unfortunate and decimating experience in the last few weeks. That said, it would be important to have a structural and technological change as well as a mindset from the Government to ensure we can thwart, as much as possible, any future cyberattacks. I welcome the Minister's comments about the potential co-operation at European level. That makes absolute sense. As the Minister said about our peacekeepers, if we can use resources adequately and smartly, it will be a benefit not only to Ireland but across Europe.

Cybersecurity is going to be one of the key challenges for the State in the context of a post-Covid recovery and how we protect data and our telecommunications systems and infrastructure as more people work from home and more people require and rely on high-speed broadband connectivity, both internationally and in the State. We will have to ensure that these systems and protected and safe. In my view, Ireland will continue to be a magnet for foreign direct investment, as a gateway into the European Union, and will continue to host enormous volumes of global data in data centres. We have our own systems for healthcare, education, foreign affairs, defence and so forth that need to be protected from cyberattacks and the type of malware attack we saw in our health system, but we must protect a private sector investment here as well. We will see more consideration of, and more investment in, cybersecurity responses, given the issues that have been outlined.

Defence Forces

Cathal Berry

Question:

18. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Defence his plans to reintroduce the specialised instructors' allowance for Defence Forces officers in view of the Public Sector Pay Commission’s report, the ever-increasing intensity of Defence Forces induction training, the associated long hours and onerous responsibility taken on by Defence Forces officers and the previous Doyle report recommendations which were accepted by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34705/21]

I wish to focus on the high-level implementation plan which is two years old next weekend and specifically on the specialised instructors allowance for commissioned officers. This allowance was payable up to 2012, when it was discontinued as a result of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cutbacks. The high-level implementation plan left open the possibility of reinstating this allowance and I would be grateful to hear the Minister's thoughts on the current position with that and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Deputy will be aware that with the agreement of the representative association, the specialised instructors allowance was bought out for officers under the defence sector collective agreement of the Public Service Agreement 2013-2016, also known as the Haddington Road agreement. When the allowance was abolished, 54 affected officers were fully compensated for their loss. While the May 2019 report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force made a recommendation regarding allowances in the Defence Forces, it did not make any recommendation on the re-establishment of allowances abolished under the Haddington Road agreement. The commission instead recommended that Defence Forces allowances, which were retained under Haddington Road agreement but reduced above and beyond any reductions made under the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, have their reductions restored. Given that the specialised instructors allowance was abolished rather than reduced, it was not encompassed by any recommendation of the commission, which did not make any recommendations regarding reinstatement of allowances.

In 2017, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, submitted a claim to the conciliation and arbitration council of the conciliation and arbitration scheme, seeking the reinstatement of the specialised instructors allowance for officers. As the claim was a cost increasing measure under the terms of the pay agreement of the day, the Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the claim could not be considered at that juncture. The representative association has since reinstated this claim and the matter is currently being processed through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. As discussions regarding the scheme are confidential between the parties concerned, I am somewhat constrained on commenting further.

I thank the Minister again for that very useful update. Nobody knows better than the Minister the amount of induction training going on now in the Defence Forces at the recruit, apprentice, direct entry and cadet levels. The commissioned officers involved in those training institutions are working flat out. They are working day and night, night and day and on weekends. Unlike other professions, they get no overtime whatsoever. This specialised instructors allowance is an opportunity to give those officers some financial recognition. It is a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but it would make a big difference for the individual officers concerned. Therefore, if the Minister could exercise any flexibility, latitude or discretion in that regard, it would be greatly appreciated. Staff retention is an issue in respect of commissioned officers in the Defence Forces, so if the Minister is looking for a tool to push back against all those premature exits, he should look no further than the specialised instructors allowance.

I hear what the Deputy is saying. This is an issue under consideration and we will continue to talk to RACO about it. As the Deputy knows, the new agreement provides two means whereby any party to the new pay agreement can pursue matters such as this one, namely, through sectoral bargaining or a submission to an independent body established under the new pay agreement. It is possible by those means to assess issues arising for consideration in this regard, including the context for pay and productivity measures within the Haddington Road agreement. However, this is a confidential process and I am somewhat limited regarding what I can say. I certainly take on board, though, the sentiment of the Deputy's question.

I appreciate that response from the Minister. I am conscious of the clock, but my final point is that the specialised instructors allowance was introduced as a result of the work of an independent commission, the Doyle commission, and subsequent reports in the late 2000s. It was brought in for the good reason of addressing issues of burn-out and exhaustion in the training institutions of the Defence Forces. If it was good enough in the late 2000s, then it is good enough now. Given there is a staff retention crisis now, a specialised instructors allowance is even more important than ever. I reiterate that if the Minister, or the Secretaries General of the Departments of Defence or Public Expenditure and Reform, can do anything, that would be hugely appreciated and would have a disproportionately positive effect on the ground in respect of staff retention.

The point is taken. I have already put it on record that the May 2019 report and the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention for the Permanent Defence Force made a recommendation regarding Defence Forces allowances, but it did not make any recommendation on the re-establishment of this specific allowance. Having said that, time moves on and I do not want to rule anything out. I do not, however, want to commit to something here on the floor of the Dáil when a confidential process is under way.

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