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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 18 Nov 2021

Vol. 1014 No. 3

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Naval Service

John Brady


73. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the extent of the subsurface surveillance capabilities of the Naval Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56757/21]

Recently, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence paid a visit to the Naval Service base in Haulbowline. There are many issues of concern with regard to our Naval Service, primarily around personnel, the patrol duty allowance and difficulties in retaining naval personnel. Other issues have also been identified, one being the lack of ability for subsurface surveillance and how that is impeding our Naval Service. What plans are in place to increase our capacity for subsurface surveillance?

I thank the Deputy. The White Paper on Defence sets out an ambitious programme of capital investment in the Naval Service, including the mid-life refit and upgrade of the P50 class of vessels and the replacement of the flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi-role vessel, MRV. The MRV is an important element of the defence equipment development plan and is provided for in the Government's national development plan as a major capital project. It is the Government’s intention that this new vessel will provide a flexible and adaptive capacity for a wide range of maritime tasks. The Naval Service retains certain capabilities that allow for underwater search and surveying, for example, an underwater remotely operated vehicle, ROV, and a magnetometer system. As part of the ongoing development of capabilities, further capabilities that will enhance the Naval Service’s undersea situational awareness, such as multibeam echo sounder systems, are also being developed. Projects for other vessel replacements, such as the replacement of the coastal patrol vessels the LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla, 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.

I accept that our capacity for subsurface surveillance is somewhat limited but we do have some capacity, particularly with the use of the ROV. These issues will be considered as part of the work of the Commission on the Defence Forces, which will be reporting in the next few weeks on capacity within the Naval Service, Air Corps and Army. We have to prioritise within the budget envelopes and capital investment plans we have.

I agree with the Minister about needing to prioritise. The number one priority must be the retention of members of the Defence Forces, which is a major issue. We have 1,000 fewer members than where we need to be and the inability to put ships at sea must be tackled first and foremost. Members of the Naval Service are highly committed and passionate about the work they do but they are also realistic about the challenges they face and the ability to put ships at sea in the first instance. The Minister will be well aware that Ireland possesses one of the largest maritime to land ratios within Europe, with a maritime border of 1,315 km. At any point in recent times we have only been able to put one ship at sea, limiting our ability to ensure maritime security. The Minister will also be aware of the continental data cables that go past our southern coast. Due to our limitations, first in terms of personnel but also in terms of subsurface surveillance, our ability to monitor what is happening to those cables is highly limited, putting our security and the European project at risk.

I am more than aware of the recruitment and retention challenges across the Defence Forces and we are acting on those. I launched a recruitment campaign specifically targeting potential Naval Service recruits in Haulbowline in June. To date, 78 new personnel have been inducted, including 65 recruits, eight cadets, three direct entry specialists and two rejoined listed personnel. I am not saying that solves the problem because it does not. This is going to take time. One of the big tasks of the Commission on the Defence Forces is to focus on recruitment, retention and numbers across the Defence Forces. I look forward to debating its report. I expect it to be very detailed. We will hopefully dedicate significant time in this House to developing the full detail of that report, probably in January as I will likely get a finalised version in late December.

I too eagerly await the publication of the commission's report but the critical thing is the actions that will stem from it. Unfortunately, the Minister has previously failed to deliver on the White Paper, which has ultimately landed us in a situation where we are unable to put ships at sea, and unable to ensure that not just our national security but that of Europe is protected. Stephen Malphrus stated, "When the [submarine] communication [cable] networks go down, the financial sector does not grind to a halt, it snaps to a halt." Ships from other countries are coming into our waters carrying out what can only be described as concerning activities and all we can do is sit back and monitor. We are not able to see what is actually going on and that is a direct result of our inability to put ships to sea or see what is going on under the water. We have a responsibility for everything up in the air, at surface level and at subsurface level so our hands are seriously tied behind our back.

To be clear, the subsea cables that connect Ireland internationally are not at the moment the legal responsibility of the Irish Naval Service. That being said, we want to improve capacity all the time and we are investing in our fleet in order to do that. We have invested significantly in our naval fleet in the last ten years and we will continue to do so. We have to do that in a way that is planned and consistent with the capital investment programme.

The commission report will allow us to focus very strategically on the resources that are needed to improve defence capacity at sea, in the air and on land. I hope that when the time comes to look at the resourcing question the Government will have the support of Sinn Féin in terms of improving our defence resource.

Defence Forces

Cathal Berry


74. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Defence the action he has taken to address the service limits that apply to personnel who enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 1994; when he proposes to provide clarity to these persons in relation to their service contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56304/21]

The most urgent, pressing and important matter in the Defence Forces at the moment is the need to bring clarity to the situation pertaining to employment contracts for enlisted personnel who joined after 1994. It is an issue of huge concern and is causing a lot of angst, frustration and anger across the Defence Forces. I ask the Minister to bring clarity to the situation if possible.

As the Deputy is aware, military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. For this reason compulsory retirement ages for ranks in the Permanent Defence Force are considerably lower than in many other forms of employment. The age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force has been the subject of a number of reviews. A range of policies were introduced to ensure an appropriate age profile and levels of fitness including fixed-term contracts for certain ranks enlisted from 1994 onwards.

Arising from an adjudication in 2015, it was agreed that a further review of contracts of service for line corporals and privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay 1 and 2 would be conducted. It was subsequently agreed with PDFORRA that all privates and corporals recruited post-1994 would be allowed to continue in service to 31 December 2022 or until they reach the age of 50, provided these personnel meet certain criteria during the interim period including medical grades and fitness tests. This agreement was extended to include post-1994 sergeants who can also continue to serve to the same date, subject to their meeting similar criteria in the interim period. These measures are in place to provide time for the review to be completed.

A joint civil and military review of mandatory retirement ages of all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force has been conducted. The review has taken into account the report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force which included in its recommendations the need to consider options to tackle barriers to extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force.

The recommendations in the joint civil and military review require consideration from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to implications on costs and pensions. Discussions with PDFORRA will take place following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I have said previously that I want to provide clarity on this issue before the end of the year but this is not solely my nor my Department's decision. We have to work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well. Nonetheless, that is a commitment I have given and my Department will continue to work to deliver on it.

I thank the Minister for his helpful response. I appreciate his commitment to honour his previous commitment to provide clarity by 31 December, which is only a few weeks away. That commitment will be appreciated across the military community provided it is honoured, which I presume it will. The important point to remember is that this is not just about the hundreds of troops who may be mandatorily discharged next year against their will but also about the people who left yesterday and who will leave today and tomorrow because of the uncertainty of the situation. The sooner the Minister can clarify with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform the situation with regard to these people's contracts, the better.

Is the Government's commitment to maintain the level of the Defence Forces at 9,500 an aspiration? Is it the Government's stated or actual position because the numbers are hovering at around 8,500 and have not really increased in the last 18 months.

We are 1,000 people short. That is the straight answer to that question. We need to get back up to 9,500 and if the commission recommends more, we will have to consider that and we will do so, as a Government.

On the 1994 contract issue, I have spoken to quite a few personnel who are affected by this. I have given them a commitment that we will give them clarity 12 months out, well before it would take effect at the end of next year, should there be changes. I want to try to deliver on that but it is not within my gift alone. We are working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which has a job to do here in terms of the cost and pension implications. We are trying to finalise those discussions so that I can give clarity, as I said I would, before the end of the year. I want to try to give a full 12 months notice vis-à-vis any changes that may be made. I have spoken to PDFORRA about this. It knows my views and I will meet the association again next week.

That is quite a useful response and will provide some measure of reassurance to the hundreds of impacted troops and their families. On a more general note, I take the Minister's point that we want to have young soldiers. We also want to have young gardaí, firefighters and prison officers but entrants to those three professions are not subjected to the same types of contracts as military personnel. In that context, we need to overhaul the contractual employment situation for Irish troops. When people join the Irish Prison Service, the fire service or An Garda Síochána, they get to stay for life and there are incentivised early retirement schemes in place to move people along. That is the model we should be using for the Defence Forces. Rather than have very restricted and finite terms and conditions that lead to very precarious employment situations, we should move towards the Garda model for our Defence Forces.

In the next few weeks we are going to see what I hope will be a very considered and detailed report from the commission on the recruitment and retention issues more generally across the Defence Forces. We will have to take on board the commission's recommendations and try to be as effective as we can be in ensuring that a career in the Defence Forces is attractive and exciting and provides opportunities for promotion, advancement and upskilling. We also have to make sure that we have a Permanent Defence Force that is fit for purpose and can perform the very demanding roles it takes on. We must ensure that the fitness profile and human capacity is there to be able to deliver on the challenges faced by the Defence Forces. We can get that balance right. As I have said previously, people are fitter for longer now and that should be reflected in our staffing strategy across the Defence Forces. Let us get the decision made in relation to the 1994 issue and let us see the detail of the commission's work. Then we can make further decisions.

Climate Action Plan

Sorca Clarke


75. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence the way the emissions from the Defence Forces are accounted for under the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings given the increasing acknowledgement that climate and defence will be intrinsically linked in view of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [56516/21]

At a cursory glance, the impact of climate change on defence and our Defence Forces may not be obvious. How are emissions from the Defence Forces accounted for under the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings? This is important given the increasing acknowledgement that climate change and defence will be intrinsically linked, as discussed at the recent COP26 climate change conference.

I have a long written answer here which I am not going to read out now but I will furnish the Deputy with a copy. The climate action plan follows the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 which commits Ireland to a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and a reduction of 51% by 2030. These targets are a key pillar in the programme for Government. The climate action plan sets out a course of action over the coming years to progress further Ireland's response. The plan sets out ambitious decarbonisation targets for key sectors including transport, industry, the built environment, electricity and agriculture. The defence sector is not a specific sector identified in the national climate action plan.

The public sector is required to show strong leadership and commitment to drive the decarbonisation goals we have set for ourselves. The defence organisation has a positive track record in this regard. The plan also requires strong buy-in from private sector businesses, householders and others to make a concerted effort to reduce energy usage, conserve water and so on.

An important part of the climate action plan is that public bodies will lead by example. The defence sector is no exception. There are multiple examples of us leading in this space in terms of how we manage buildings and energy management in barracks. We have incorporated that into our capital investment plans in terms of efficiency, energy management and green procurement, which is essential as well.

When we are looking at replacing ships, for example, efficiency and energy management will be a big part of that, which it is. No sector is exempt from driving down emissions and that includes defence as well. That will certainly be factored into our capital investment programme. In fact, it already is.

I fully accept that a balance must be struck between reducing emissions and ensuring that we continue to equip the Defence Forces to allow them to respond effectively and efficiently to the challenges that come with climate change, be that at home, in terms of the fires we saw last night, or the excessive flooding that has happened. In terms of the climate impact, how are we equipping our forces to be able to respond in an effective and efficient manner in our overseas roles? We have seen increased desertification and an increase in sea levels and that has an impact on the movement of people, giving rise to more refugees. That is the reason I say it is a difficult area to get a grip on, in some respects, but because of the role the Defence Forces play, there must be a specific plan in this area. I accept we must reduce our emissions on the one side, but we must also increase our capability on the other side to respond to climate change globally.

It is important to put on the record that energy efficiency and decarbonisation are prioritised agendas already within the Defences Forces. The Defence Forces have been recording the energy consumption of their buildings and transport since 2007 and have reduced their energy consumption by 20% since the baseline year of 2009. The Defence Forces report their total final consumption to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's monitoring and reporting system. In 2020, the activities of the Defence Forces accounted for 46.8 million kg CO2. The Defence Forces have implemented a structured energy management system, which since 2012 has been independently certified to the international energy management standard.

The Defence Forces senior energy executive, SEE, approves the annual energy plan of action for the Defence Forces. The SEE has been examining courses of action to achieve 2030 decarbonisation targets across all energy types. The current plan of action includes energy-saving initiatives across all domains: naval, air and road transport and infrastructure. That is happening there.

In regard to adaptation and response abroad, it is no secret that we are trying to advocate on the Security Council at the moment to get a resolution agreed on climate and security to recognise that the UN needs to be more active in that area.

I suspect that this is a conversation we could have for a number of hours as opposed to a number of minutes. I wish to refer to a comment that was made by the previous Chief of Staff, retired Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. He said: "Ireland has a 'false sense of security' and the State needs to position itself to deal with the gathering problems caused by climate change." Specifically, on the Government's commitment to offshore renewable energy generation by 2030 and the proposed development of the offshore wind farms, be it around Cork Harbour or the east coast, the security and monitoring responsibility will ultimately find its way into our Naval Service. Has any work been done to identify the primary and secondary needs of the Naval Service to be able to address those future needs? The year 2030 will come around very quickly. Before we know where we are there will be another general election and then it will be 2030. As Deputy John Brady stated, when we visited Cork naval base as a committee, one of the issues raised was the ability to be able to see underneath our seas. Going back to the future development by the Government of offshore wind farms, the question is what capabilities have been identified as primary and secondary for the Naval Service?

There are military-civil conversations going on all the time between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence in terms of prioritising capital spend. There are plenty of conversational opportunities in terms of prioritising subsea surveillance systems, if that is what the Naval Service wants to do, but we need to do it together with it. In terms of anticipating what the maritime security challenges will be in 2030, that is taking place. I am very familiar with the plans for offshore wind development on the south coast and east coast, and on the west coast as well. If we have a very significant offshore wind presence by 2030, that is a good problem in terms of the need for us to respond to its security, because we will be producing very large amounts of energy offshore, which is exactly what we need to be doing from a sustainability perspective. I suspect that it certainly will be part of our capital expenditure plan and resourcing up to 2030 for the Naval Service.

Defence Forces

Danny Healy-Rae


76. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Defence if qualified members of the Defence Forces are available to help medical teams in hospitals, to operate additional ambulances or to help with care of the elderly in their homes given the additional demands that are placed on staff due to Covid-19 and other illnesses. [56753/21]

Is there any availability of qualified members of the Defence Forces to help medical teams in hospitals, to operate additional ambulances or to help with the care of the elderly in their homes in light of the extra demands that are placed on staff due to Covid and other illnesses? Hospitals in Tralee, Killarney, Kenmare, Bantry, Cahersiveen and Listowel are under immense pressure.

While the Defence Forces is not the primary response agency for non-security-related emergencies, as defined in the framework for major emergency management, it provides the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or emergency situation in its aid to civil authority role. In this regard, the full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment, commensurate with operational requirements, is made available for deployments, within current means and capabilities, as the need arises.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, a joint task force was established to co-ordinate the Defence Forces contribution to the whole-of-government Covid-19 response. It has the authority to draw together, in a joint manner, the contribution of all of the elements of the Defence Forces – Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and the Reserve. This was provided for in a Defence Forces regulation signed by and under my authority as Minister for Defence.

The priority of the Defence Forces joint task force from the beginning has been to provide support to the HSE, while retaining at all times a contingent capacity to provide aid to the civil power support. Since March 2020, Defence Forces personnel have provided significant supports in response to the Covid-19 crisis, with in excess of 112,000 personnel days assistance being deployed and more than 22,700 instances of Defence Forces vehicles being utilised, in the deployment of an extensive range of supports from the Defence Forces.

The broad range of supports that the Defence Forces have provided to the HSE, as co-ordinated by the joint task force during the Covid-19 pandemic, include the operation of the Covid-19 testing centre at the Aviva Stadium, contact tracing supports and a range of non-clinical and administrative supports in a number of residential care facilities. Defence Forces personnel have also provided assistance to the National Ambulance Service through ambulance and crew supports along with tele-triage supports. The Defence Forces will continue to provide surge support to the health services through bolstering their capacity and providing them with the additional resilience needed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The short answer to Deputy Healy-Rae's question is "Yes", but that is already happening. The Defence Forces have helped the HSE in multiple areas, giving thousands of person hours to support a wide range of healthcare activities.

It all depends on what constitutes an emergency. The consultant body of University Hospital Kerry has serious concerns and is worried about the safety of patients in hospital. It says it has lost confidence in the ability of the HSE locally, regionally and nationally to provide safe, timely and effective care of patients. Our hospital is in crisis since the second week in September, with elective surgery cancelled, high numbers of patients on trolleys in emergency departments, staff shortages and staff burnout.

We have no surgical day ward and the acute medical assessment unit is closed more often than it is open. We do not believe the management at either group level or national level recognises or acknowledges the seriousness of the current crisis. At times, we have been left without ambulance cover in our county for days because an ambulance is directed to Cork and then finishes up going to Waterford and on to Clonmel. What happens is that our county does not have adequate cover.

I appeal to the Minister. I do not know if the Government has intervened in Tralee already but, if it has, it needs to provide more assistance because our medical service is not up to scratch.

The Defence Forces are currently providing support to the HSE, as co-ordinated by the joint task force during the Covid-19 crisis, in three areas: on testing, 26 Defence Forces personnel are deployed on a daily basis to test centres throughout the country; on tracing, 20 lines are serviced by 40 personnel, with 20 in both Kilkenny and Donegal; and on tenting, 42 Defence Forces tents are deployed to both testing and vaccination centres throughout the country. This will increase from 19 November and 22 November, respectively, in regard to the following: on tenting, 40 Defence Forces personnel will be deployed on a daily basis to testing centres throughout the country, which requires a commitment of about 80 personnel; and on tracing, the 30 lines in Dublin, Kilkenny and Donegal will require a commitment of about 65 personnel.

What we are trying to do is provide resources to the HSE so it can focus its resources on hospitals, for example, in Kerry, that might be under pressure. On the idea that we could effectively staff our hospitals with Defence Forces personnel, I do not think that is realistic. We have had a number of occasions when Defence Forces personnel have been asked to help out with residential care facilities, for example, in terms of temporary staffing pressures, and the Defence Forces, as ever, have responded professionally to that kind of work. Of course, in terms of moving patients around, the Defence Forces have also been helpful in supporting the ambulance service, when asked. However, let us not forget that the Defence Forces are there to offer assistance when the HSE is under significant pressure. They are not there to run a health service.

I again thank the Minister. We have a crisis in Kerry. I hear what the Minister is saying about testing but people can die from other causes as well as the coronavirus, and elderly people are vulnerable. When I requested home help for a 91-year-old woman, they told me she may not get it for six months. People cannot get home help at weekends or on bank holidays. I am coming to the Minister in desperation. The thing has got out of hand completely. I have already raised all of these issues with the HSE and in the House with the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, but we do not seem to be getting anywhere. We have the greatest of respect for the Defence Forces and they are highly respected throughout the community, but people are losing their lives in Kerry because of the inaction of the HSE. I call on the Minister to deploy whatever manpower or womanpower he can to help out in this exceptional time.

I understand that hospital services in Kerry are under pressure, as they are in other parts of the country too. We are living through a pandemic that is extraordinarily demanding of the health service. That is why we are planning to spend €22 billion or €23 billion on healthcare next year in terms of increasing staff numbers, capital investment and resources. Of course, the Defence Forces are there in emergency situations to help the HSE when they can, but they are not going to solve the challenges in every hospital, and it is important to say that. For example, there are currently 24 medical officers or doctors in the Defence Forces out of an establishment of 26 and, of these, only 14 would in theory be able to provide the kind of support the Deputy seems to be suggesting in hospitals. The Defence Forces, of course, have to look after their own personnel needs as well. They are there to supplement and support the HSE when necessary but, ultimately, the core challenge here is for the HSE and our hospital service to respond to the extraordinary demand that is there.

Defence Forces

John Brady


77. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made towards the resolution of the situation in respect of post-1994 contracts, particularly given the impact on members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56758/21]

The 700 members of the Defence Forces on post-1994 contracts and their families need clarity in terms of the report that has been carried out but they also need the right decision to be made. The Minister has previously stated and given a commitment that he would make a decision before the year end. I note the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is also part of those discussions. Having listened to some of the Minister's commentary, there seems to be a rowback in terms of that commitment to make a decision - the right decision - before the end of the year. Can he outline the conversations that are taking place with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and can he recommit that a decision will be taken before the year end on this important issue?

First, my commitment has been clear and consistent on this and there is no rowback today. I have said to Defence Forces personnel, who I have spoken to in person in regard to some who are impacted by this, and also to PDFORRA, that I would like to make a decision on this to provide clarity for everybody before the end of the year. I am not going to go into the conversations between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and I do not think the Deputy would expect me to do so. We have made it clear that we would like certainty on this issue before the end of this year so people would be given at least 12 months’ notice before the end of next year. That is a reasonable position.

I know of and have read many contributions on social media trying to push me for a decision on this issue. I would like to make the decision as soon as we can but my Department is not the only Department involved here. There is real work for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and it is doing its job. I hope the two Departments, working together, can bring clarity on this issue in the next few weeks, as I said, before the end of the year. That is the commitment I have given to people and I want to do everything I can to follow through on that.

I thank the Minister. Again, the language there is not reassuring. The Minister would like to bring clarity. It is essential that clarity is brought to this issue before the year end for the 700 members of the Defence Forces but, more broadly than that, there is a crisis within our Defence Forces which we have mentioned many times and the Minister is acutely aware of it. We are 1,000 personnel below the levels we should be at. To force up to 700 members out of the Defence Forces next year, on top of the 600 who leave every year, would see a further reduction of up to 1,400 members and a greatly depleted force. This cohort we are talking about are primarily corporals and sergeants, who are the backbone of the Defence Forces. It does not make economic sense. In fact, it makes no sense whatsoever. They are medically and physically fit, and they need to be retained within the Defence Forces. We need to get a commitment from the Minister that he will provide clarity before the year end but also that the economically right decision is made for the future of our Defence Forces.

As I hope the Deputy knows, we have gone through a process and there was a formal review in regard to this issue. That report came to me. I am satisfied that it is a good report. It has also been shared with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has a role to play in terms of the cost implications and pension implications of the recommendations. We need to go through the process to finalise a decision for Government on this issue. I want to do that as soon as we possibly can because I know there are many people waiting, as are their families, to get clarity and certainty in terms of their future careers. As I said, I have given a commitment quite directly to those people that we would have clarity for them, I hope, before the end of the year but I am not the only person who controls this timeline.

The Deputy can ask me for absolute certainty if he wants to but I will not mislead anybody. It is my intention to have a decision on this before the end of the year and I am working with another Department that has a role to play and a job to do, and we have to respect that. I am hopeful that we can follow through on the commitment we made about providing clarity by the end of the year. That would be a good outcome.

A good outcome would be the right decision being taken, not just clarity being provided on whether there is a future in the Defence Forces for these members. The Minister said he is meeting PDFORRA next week and I welcome that continued engagement. Hopefully, he will take this opportunity to update Members on his views on PDFORRA and other representative bodies being given the right to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. He has previously said he is not totally opposed to that and that he is open to it. Can he update us on his continued and lengthy deliberations on whether he will see to that legitimate request by the representative bodies to affiliate with ICTU? There are serious issues facing our Defence Forces, including the retention crisis which primarily focuses on the pay issue. That issue can only be adequately dealt with by granting the representative bodies the right to affiliate with ICTU.

I said earlier that I am meeting PDFORRA next week but it is actually the veterans' organisations I am meeting next week. However, I will meet PDFORRA in the coming weeks. I want to clarify that.

The issue the Deputy has raised is a legitimate one. People need certainty and I have said that I would try to give them that certainty before the end of the year. I hope we will have a sensible outcome that is good for the Defence Forces and for numbers. I hope that outcome can provide clarity and make sense in terms of age profile, fitness and so on across the Defence Forces. We can do that and the report I have seen has recommendations that make sense to me but we have to conclude that process and that process involves another Department.

I have an open mind on affiliation with ICTU and I have always had an open mind on that. I also need to ensure that the other factors we need to take account of are fully addressed. As I have said to PDFORRA, it is difficult to talk through some of those issues with it while there is an ongoing court case. I have said that, but I look forward to further engaging with PDFORRA on this issue.