Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces

Brendan Howlin

Question:

78. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future development of the Curragh military camp; the capital funding allocated for this purpose in each of the coming five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56533/21]

We are all aware of the historic importance and significant of the Curragh military camp, presumably none more so than the Acting Chairman, Deputy Berry. I want to ask the Minister to set out his plans for the development of this important national facility, including the capital allocations and the specifics of what he proposes to do.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to do this because an impression is sometimes given that we are doing nothing on the Curragh Camp and nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to outline to the House the scale of investment activity being targeted at improving the Defence Forces built infrastructure as set out in the five-year plan published in January 2020. The programme provides a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe. The allocation of €37 million for maintaining and improving the building stock in 2021 was the highest allocation since 2008. This level of provision will be increased in 2022 to accelerate the already successful delivery of the programme.

The future development of the Defence Forces training centre is prioritised in the infrastructure plan. In recent years, we have seen the completion of: a new high security ammunition depot; modernised accommodation in Pearse and Plunkett Barracks; and a recently completed new electronic target range. These improvements in the training centre were all recently completed at a combined cost of more than €17.5 million. Notwithstanding the impact of Covid and Brexit on building projects throughout the country, I am pleased to advise the Deputy that progress on implementing the five-year plan continues apace and I anticipate the commencement on-site of the following projects in the Curragh Camp in 2022: a new cadet school, contract to be awarded shortly; a new barrack services engineering store; a new purpose-built communication and information services facility; and provision of a new Army ranger wing headquarters. These projects represent a further investment of in excess of €16.5 million in the Curragh Camp alone for next year.

In addition, work in 2022 will also focus on developing a new military college auditorium, a new bonded warehouse building, and an upgrade of the new medical school. I am aware of the criticisms that have been made on the quality of the building stock in the training centre. However, based on what I have just outlined, I am sure the Deputy will acknowledge that this represents a significant investment, even though there is much more to do.

I thank the Minister for his reply as he needs to set out exactly what he is intending to do. If I understand the reply correctly, the Government expects to spend €16.5 million on the Curragh Camp in 2022. I know that in the other House the Minister previously described the Curragh Camp as the flagship of our military establishment and while many people will agree with him on that, there are issues. There are 43 derelict buildings in the Curragh Camp. What is his plan for those? If a camp has 43 derelict buildings, that does not give the impression of a flagship camp. There are still accommodation problems for enlisted personnel. In a previous question that my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, asked of the Minister, he replied that it was a matter for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The Minister and his officials had not met the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage or his officials on accommodation issues for enlisted personnel at that time. Have his officials met the officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage since then? What are his plans to ensure that adequate accommodation is provided for all enlisted personnel in the Curragh Camp?

I visited the Curragh Camp again last week for the commissioning of 29 officers into the Reserve Defence Forces, which was a super event. It is true that when driving around the camp there is too much dereliction. I have said that to our officials and we need to address that over time. The Deputy is a former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and he knows that projects like this cannot be completed overnight. We need to have a medium-term plan for the Curragh Camp, which upgrades the facility and rightly gives the impression when driving through that it is effectively the flagship training facility for the Defence Forces. That is what we will do over time. Next year, we will spend €16.5 million and we have spent €17.5 million in recent years. We are carrying out multiple projects to deal with the quality of infrastructure in the Curragh Camp and to deal with some of the buildings that are unused.

I welcome the Minister's assurances on this but he will accept that the public image when visiting a camp is important and the fact that there are 43 derelict buildings is not acceptable. That should be prioritised. The important new developments he outlined to the House are significant and important ,but the basics are more important. This includes providing adequate showering facilities for all personnel. The old adage of relating to a fur coat and no underwear comes to mind. We need to ensure we provide adequate housing and showering facilities for our enlisted personnel. I would like the Minister to state that this would be prioritised in the development plan going forward.

I also want to ask him about the promised secondary school on the site. Apparently there are still legal difficulties with the transfer of title of same.

Is the Department in negotiations with the Department of Education in that regard and when will that be resolved?

Has Deputy Clarke a supplementary question?

Does the Minister want to answer Deputy Howlin first?

I will have to come back to the Deputy on the school. There is a plan to develop a school in the Curragh and that is a matter primarily for the Department of Education.

The issue of land transfer is not.

I will certainly come back to the Deputy on where it is.

With regard to accommodation, I visited the modernised, upgraded facilities at the Curragh and the new ones are excellent. We will continue to invest in upgrading and improving accommodation for everybody at the Curragh. Of course, we have to continue to do that. If there is substandard accommodation, we have to make sure that is part of the phased capital expenditure that we have. However, with expenditure of €17.5 million in the past couple of years and €16.5 million next year, if we keep up that level in the Curragh each year, we can make dramatic change there to upgrade and modernise buildings. That is ultimately what we are trying to do.

In terms of long-term housing considerations, we have moved away from a large number of people having their housing needs delivered through the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. That policy was changed many years ago - long before I came along.

There are issues regarding overholders whom, of course, we need to work with to make sure that housing needs are met but, at the same time, everybody is treated fairly. I understand that there have been conversations with Kildare County Council on that. I can check the status of that for Deputy Howlin, if he wants.

Deputy Clarke has a supplementary question.

While I acknowledge the investment in capital infrastructure, and it is long overdue and desperately needed, there is one concern that I want to flag with the Minister. It specifically relates to a new development at the Curragh Camp - Pearse Mess. I am looking at these plans as I speak. I am bewildered, after all the conversations that have taken place about the need to increase female participation in the Defence Forces, why there is such a disproportionately low number of facilities, not only bathroom facilities but changing facilities, in this mess. I do not profess or hold any claim to be an engineer but I struggle to understand how a female is meant to get to these places without having to physically leave the building and come around the other side. Not only that, and this is what is really disappointing, based on these plans, there is no capability to extend those facilities without cutting off access to the male section of that unit.

I do not have the plans in front of me. With respect, I cannot respond to that. However, I will happily look at them. What I can say for sure is that there is a concerted effort to try to attract more women into the Defence Forces. We have a lot of work to do in that regard because women currently are far too small a percentage of our overall Defence Forces. That needs to be factored into any investment plans that we have. This has to be a welcoming place for women to work in a respected way. If there are issues that the Deputy has concerns about, I will certainly look into them. I do not have engineering designs in front of me and it is difficult for me to comment.

It is acknowledged that the current level of 6% of female participation needs to be worked on. Any moves to encourage females into participation, regardless of what campaign that may be, has to be reflected in the built infrastructure where we will ask these people to work and to spend a significant portion of their time. That simply is not evident here.

I have no issue with passing these plans over to the Minister, but they are publicly available. This is not secret information. The plans are out on www.etenders.gov.ie.

This is not good enough. This cannot be allowed to happen again. If it is possible to change these plans I would strongly recommend that that is given due consideration but this should never be seen again on any plans for the Defence Forces.

Does the Minister wish to respond or is he happy enough?

I cannot respond on plans that I have not seen. If there are issues there, we will try and address them.

Defence Forces

John Brady

Question:

79. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the extent and detail of military co-operation with Israel, including the purchase of military equipment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56498/21]

Given the Minister's stated position that he feels it is okay for Israel to plunder Palestinian natural resources, what is the Irish involvement with the Israel military given that it is now part of a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court? Will he outline our involvement with the Israeli military? What kind of trade is being done in purchasing or exporting goods?

It would be helpful, in terms of the accuracy of debate in this House, if the Deputy did not make comments like he has just made, quoting me as saying it is okay for Israel to plunder Palestinian territories.

The Minister essentially did.

If the Deputy Brady wants to be taken seriously on this issue, we need to have accurate and civil debate. There is nobody in the European Union who is more vocal than I am in government in relation to concerns about the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel activities there.

Okay, but it is okay to plunder Palestinian natural resources.

The Deputy does not want to listen.

We will see where the Irish position is then with regard involvement with the Israeli military.

Just the Minister, please.

The Deputy does not want to listen because he wants to get a sound bite. That is the truth. He is using this issue for domestic political reasons rather than-----

That is a very cheap political charge.

The Minister without interruption. He is on his feet.

What about the Deputy's charge?

I am sorry to burst the Minister's self-acclaimed-----

The Minister without interruption.

-----declaration that he is the voice of Palestine in Europe. Actions speak louder than words.

Deputy Brady, you will have an opportunity to respond in a minute. The Minister only, please.

The Minister might outline a response.

That is something the Deputy could not possibly allow - that maybe I would be a strong voice for the aspirations of Palestinian people to have their own state. Perhaps Sinn Féin is not comfortable with others having a strong voice in that space.

The different is we would take action.

What action has the Deputy taken?

We would take action. If I was in Deputy Coveney's position as Minister, I would take action.

The Minister to respond, please. There is an over and back defined - two minutes, one minute and one minute.

The Deputy would isolate Ireland and make our voice far less influential than it currently is.

I would stand up for human rights, not turn a blind eye.

Ireland has no operational military co-operation with Israel. The Defence Forces have no regular contact with the Israel Defence Forces, and Ireland does not buy any military equipment directly from the Israeli Government.

The primary focus for the procurement of defence equipment by the Department of Defence is to maintain the capability of the Defence Forces to fulfil the roles as assigned by Government. This includes undertaking overseas peace support operations, and in this regard to afford the greatest possible force protection to Irish troops while on all missions.

The principle of competitive tendering for government contracts is used by the Department of Defence for the acquisition of defence equipment for the Defence Forces. Central to those procedures is the requirement to allow fair competition between suppliers through the submission of tenders. This follows advertising of the tender competition on www.etenders.gov.ie and on the Official Journal of the European Union, where appropriate. This in line with the EU procurement directives.

According to a previous figure we were given, €14.7 million worth of military equipment was imported from Israel and Israeli arms companies. That included equipment for the Army such as spy equipment, artillery control systems, sophisticated weaponry such as that used by forces to fire around corners, Kevlar helmets and drone for spying.

It would not be lost on the Minister that, in 2013, Ireland signed up with a number of other countries at the UN to the Arms Trade Treaty. That treaty prohibits the State from authorising arms exports where it has knowledge that the weapons will be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions or other war crimes.

Israel is actively being investigated for war crimes. This House has declared - and the Minister has declared - that they have breached international law by annexing Palestinian land. Will he now agree to impose an arms embargo on Israel to stop any military purchase from Israel of equipment that has been essentially tested on Palestinian people in the occupied territories?

Tender competitions are open to any company or country in accordance with the terms of all UN, OSCE and EU arms embargoes or restrictions. In this regard there are no such restrictions or embargoes in place on Israeli companies. The matter of barring Israeli companies from entering tender competitions for the provision of military goods would be akin to Ireland unilaterally placing an embargo on such goods from Israel. The Government does not support that approach. Such actions, in our view, would be ineffective and counterproductive.

I am advised that my Department has not purchased any weapons from Israel. However, other defensive equipment has been acquired from Israeli companies by way of competitive tendering, primarily unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the Defence Forces and ground surveillance radar equipment. Infantry combat helmets and an artillery fire control and command system have also been purchased from Israeli companies.

The manner in which the Department of Defence procures both goods and services remains consistent with international best practice and is in line with EU and UN decisions on trade embargoes.

International best practice and blah, blah, blah, blah is what we hear. What we hear is the Minister contradicting himself in the grandiose statements he makes condemning the actions of Israel. Israel is moving to expel Palestinians from villages to carry out live military operations and live firing actions. These are villages that have been funded by Irish Aid. The equipment we are purchasing from Israel has been battle tested in illegally occupied territories. The Minister might think that is okay but I do not. The right thing to do is to stop military trade with Israel. If we are serious about being the strongest voice for the Palestinian people internationally or at European level, the right thing to do would be to stand up against what is a brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people. To compound the Minister's failure, he thinks that it is okay to purchase that military equipment that is being used to occupy and oppress the Palestinian people brutally and the Minister thinks it is okay to use Irish taxpayers' money to purchase any military equipment from Israel. I certainly do not.

As I said, the manner in which the Department of Defence procures both goods and services remains consistent with international best practice and is in line with EU and UN decisions on trade embargoes.

The one thing the Deputy and I share is the outcome we would like to see which is an end to settlement expansion, demolitions, forced evictions and a peace process that works for both sides. That is what I, on behalf of Ireland, consistently work towards. That is why I have visited Israel and Palestine five times as Minister for Foreign Affairs and why I continue to try to build relationships that I believe can be influential in terms of decision making. The Deputy's approach is around boycotts and isolation. He wants me to expel the Israeli ambassador.

The Government is in breach of the arms trade treaty that it signed up to in 2013.

The Minister without interruption please.

The Deputy does not want to hear a different perspective.

I want the Government to take action.

The Deputy does not want to hear a different perspective, that is the problem. He wants to operate on the basis of isolating Ireland. He wants us to expel the Israeli ambassador and not to talk to the Israeli Government at all.

I want the Government to take action. That is what I want you to do.

I believe that would be completely counterproductive in terms of what we are actually trying to achieve here which is a peace process.

As no one is here to ask Question No. 80 we will move on.

Question No. 80 replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

81. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the fourth independent monitoring group for the Defence Forces which should have been initiated in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56371/21]

Colm Burke

Question:

84. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Defence the way his Department intends to address the serious issues that have emerged through a documentary (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56294/21]

Holly Cairns

Question:

90. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Defence the status of the independent review into allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the Defence Forces. [56514/21]

Catherine Connolly

Question:

92. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence the status of the independent review to examine the effectiveness of the policies, systems and procedures currently in place for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Defence Forces; the terms of reference for the review; the person or body that will be carrying out the review; the timeline for the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56531/21]

Gino Kenny

Question:

98. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Defence the details of his engagement with a group (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56574/21]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

127. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Defence if an update will be provided on the work being done to address the issues that emerged in a documentary (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56188/21]

Will the Minister update the House on the report on the fourth independent monitoring group for the Defence Forces? It should have been initiated in 2019. I do not know if it has been overtaken by the independent review. I hope not.

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 81, 84, 90, 92, 98 and 107 together. Deputies will be aware that there have been three reports from the independent monitoring group, IMG, since the publication in 2002 of the report of the external advisory committee on the Defence Forces, The Challenge of the Workplace.

Following extensive discussions over several months between the Secretary General and the former Chief of Staff on next steps for the IMG process and what that would encompass, it was considered that a back-to-basics external review of policies, systems and procedures for dealing with matters relating to dignity, equality, discrimination, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment was required. On that basis the IMG process is to be set aside.

As the Deputies will also be aware, I met recently with participants from the Women of Honour group and with a number of serving female members of the Defence Forces where I had the opportunity to listen carefully to their experiences in what were very informative, frank and emotional meetings. In addition, there has been a number engagements between senior civil and military management and relevant stakeholders including with both the participants from the Women of Honour group and a group of serving female members of the Defence Forces.

On foot of those meetings, I have decided to proceed with an independent review without delay to examine the effectiveness of systems, policies and procedures to deal with workplace issues relating to bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the Defence Forces. The draft terms for this review have been shared with a range of stakeholders including the representative associations, serving members and the Women of Honour group. I look forward to receiving their observations which will inform the final terms of the review, which I intend to finalise in the coming weeks. I wish to underline that this review will be undertaken by external and entirely independent and unbiased experts in this field. In this regard, potential members are also under consideration.

Deputies will also be aware that I have recently announced interim measures for both former and serving members of the Defence Forces, both male and female, who have been affected by unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

An agreement has been reached with Raiseaconcern, an organisation working with private sector and public bodies on issues relating to workplace wrongdoing, on the appointment of an external confidential contact person who will be available to assist both serving and former members of the Defence Forces who have been affected by these issues. This service provides a safe space to support the reporting of alleged wrongdoing.

In addition, I have announced that my Department and the Defence Forces are engaging with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in terms of assistance for both serving and former personnel who have suffered sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape in the workplace.

Finally, I wish to reiterate my commitment and that of the Secretary General and Chief of Staff, to ensure that every member of the Defence Forces, male and female, can carry out their duties in a safe and respectful workplace based on dignity, equality and zero-tolerance for any kind of unacceptable behaviour.

There are supplementary questions from Deputies Colm Burke, Catherine Connolly and Gino Kenny.

The Minister spoke of the review he announced on 28 September. Has a timeframe been set for it? It is always a concern when a review is announced. Everyone welcomes the review, but when will the review be completed? Has the Department set a timeframe for its completion and the delivery of a report?

I very much welcome what the Minister said about the establishment of an independent review but I am concerned that it seems to have superseded and overtaken the independent monitoring group. That is reflected by the fact that the Minister has linked my question with the other questions on the independent review which is obviously required. However, there is concern among the Defence Force representatives that it seems to be the case that the independent monitoring group has been set aside. The Minister's answer said that it has been set aside on the basis of the establishment of the independent review. Does that mean that the independent monitoring group is going to be disbanded?

If it is, what work is going to be undertaken by the independent review and when does the Minister envisage that group will be allowed to continue and complete this work? He will be aware the representative associations make the point that in an environment where inadequate manning levels and operational levels lead to a lack of mentoring supervision and governance, it is essential the employee representatives are included and employee voices heard. Will that voice be heard in the review the Minister is proposing?

The timeframe for the review to take place will be agreed as part of the terms of reference. My understanding is we are looking at a review that will probably take about six months. This will produce a report with recommendations which we will obviously want to act on fully within the Defence Forces, supported by the Department and the Government more generally. I am sure there will be an opportunity to focus on those recommendations when that report is done.

The independent monitoring group, IMG, process has a value. When I was last Minister for Defence, we worked a lot on the IMG process to improve systems in the Defence Forces around reporting. There have been a whole series of changes within the Defence Forces linked to the IMG and the series of reports and reviews done through it. Unfortunately, the testimonies we have heard from people show the IMG process has not made the fundamental change in culture in the Defence Forces that is needed. While new reporting systems and LGBTQ support groups and support lines and counselling services within the Defence Forces have been put in place, and that is a good thing, there is a still an issue for some serving in the Defence Forces with feeling isolated and cases of bullying and sexual harassment.

We need a very comprehensive response to that in terms of creating an atmosphere that is safe and effective to ensure people commit to the Defence Forces in the future in the numbers we need. We have taken the view we now want to focus on an outside, independent review process. Of course, when we get the recommendations from that report we will act on those, but we also want to involve different stakeholder groups, including the Women of Honour, to ensure both the make-up of that independent review group and the terms of reference are acceptable to everybody and that they have full trust in that process.

We move now to Deputy Connolly.

Before we start, are we allowed back in for our second minute or are we losing that?

It is just one minute I think. All we can afford at the moment is 60 seconds and then 60 seconds for the Minister.

The procedure is that you do not lose your time when a question is grouped, you just lose the 30 seconds.

Okay, that is fair enough, Deputy. We will go for 60 seconds over and back with the Minister twice and then on to Deputy Gino Kenny.

I thank the Acting Chairman. Turning to the Minister, we have all been following up on this because it is so important. The catalyst was the RTÉ radio documentary "Women of Honour" and what it exposed, namely, sexism, bullying, sexual assault and rape in the Defence Forces. In a sense I am glad the questions are grouped but I also have a concern as there is no connection, unless the Minister is going to make one, to the previous independent reports, even though they seem to have been internal. Will they be included? Will they be published? Will they be included in the terms of reference? Have the terms of reference been agreed yet? If not when will they be agreed? On the contact person, I welcome that progress. Has that person taken up the job? Has the Minister had any reports from that independent contact person so far? What about the terms of reference covering disclosures to the Minister and previous Ministers on what was going on?

There are many questions there. The independent contact person is in place. The importance of that person is to provide a service that is professionally delivered but also confidential so people can feel they are speaking in confidence to somebody who can take on board their concerns. That person will make a report to me as Minister but will not identify people by name. That is the way it should be so that I am aware if there are issues arising in the Defence Forces, or for people who have left the Defence Forces, because that confidential contact person is available for former members as well. We have monitored and continue to monitor the adequacy of that service.

On the terms of reference, there are draft terms of reference which have been shared with key stakeholders. The terms of reference have not been finalised yet because we want to get feedback from people before we do that. We want this to be an inclusive process to ensure the terms of reference are something people can trust and believe in and which they are happy with. Likewise, we want to ensure we get the make-up of the review group right in terms of there being an international contribution to that and a chairperson who will have the credibility and trust to be able to do a very sensitive piece of work.

I thank the Minister. I know it is difficult in this set-up, especially in this new set-up, but this goes back decades and it is ongoing. The Minister has acknowledged there has been no fundamental change in culture, notwithstanding the reports he has got to date. Thus, we are in serious trouble here with the Defence Forces. When will the terms of reference be finalised and the independent board set up? As for this repetition of "independent and unbiased", it goes without saying we must have an independent professional board to examine it. The more important questions are when it will be set up and when it will be completed. On the ongoing contact from the contact person, is that formalised in the sense the issues that will feed into the ongoing independent review have been set out? Returning to the question of disclosures, or non-disclosures - something done in a more informal way, how aware have the Minister and his predecessors been of these issues? I have two seconds left. Will the reports to date be published and will the report of this review board be published?

I apologise to the Deputy. The reason "independent and unbiased" is a term used to describe the new review body is we want this to be an external review as opposed to an internal one within the military system or within the Defence Forces, which is what often takes place if there is a problem. The Chief of Staff sets up an internal review within the Defence Forces. That is the way the Defence Forces works with respect to many of the issues it must assess and review. This is different. We want an external group of people to put in place a very robust and in-depth assessment of the Defence Forces and the systems within it to ensure people are protected in their workplace. That is, I believe, what the Women of Honour and many currently working in the Defence Forces want as well. We have tried to listen to them and put in place a review they can trust and believe in.

We will finalise the terms of reference once we have had feedback from all the relevant stakeholders. That will happen in the next few weeks. We certainly hope to have this done this side of Christmas so the review body can be up and running from January. That is the rough timeline we are on.

Most of my questions have been answered at this stage but I welcome the Minister's statement and his attendance at the PDFORRA conference in October. Some of the claims in the radio documentary "Women of Honour" were deeply unsettling. There existed a culture of misogyny, bullying, discrimination and harassment. That culture went on for decades and targeted both women and men. People who want to go into the Defence Forces will be fearful about doing so in future if this culture still exists.

The independent review has to identify categorically what the culture was, what went wrong and resolve it so there is not this culture of behaviour that is unacceptable in any workplace.

I will conclude by stating that everyone in this House recognises the need for an independent review into the very serious allegations contained in the "Women of Honour" programme. I commend the Minister on the work he has done on that. I do not need an answer to the point I will make and that I ask the Minister to reflect on, which is that that process does not necessarily mean we should shelve the work of the fourth independent monitoring group. The Minister said the previous independent monitoring groups did very good work. The second did good work and the third, which reported in 2014, concluded that "the challenge remain[ed], to continue to improve human resource management and institutional culture including dealing with human issues of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination". I ask the Minister to consider that this makes a very strong case for the continuation and conclusion of a fourth independent monitoring group to continue the good work it has done in the past, rather than setting it aside on the basis of his highly commendable proposal to establish an independent review group into the allegations made in the radio programme.

The last time we spoke about "Women of Honour" in the Chamber, I asked the Minister if he had sought legal advice regarding those who had already made settlement agreements with the Defence Forces and signed non-disclosure agreements, or where non-disclosure agreements were part of the settlement made. At that time, he answered that he had not. I again ask if he has got legal advice regarding those non-disclosure agreements that were part of settlements made with the Defence Forces where the person who made a settlement seeks to be involved in any review process? I do not believe this review or any subsequent actions should be closed to any person who wants to be involved in it because of a non-disclosure agreement. I am in no way saying that people should be forced to participate, but the non-disclosure agreement should not be a barrier where there is a wish, want and desire to participate in the review.

It is very important the review group will have access to all testimonies of people's experiences in the Defence Forces, in the past and currently, as part of its work. If there are non-disclosure legal agreements, we have to figure out how to do that in a way that will allow people to tell their stories but, at the same time, be legally sound. I do not have legal advice to hand regarding that issue, but perhaps I can come back to the Deputy with it.

On the IMG process, I would not say we should or should not put a new IMG process in place in the future. There are two very substantial pieces of work-----

I am afraid the Minister's time is up.

-----one from the commission in addition to the review we are now putting in place. We can act on both of those. If that means an IMG-----

We need to go Question No. 82, which has been grouped with Nos. 93, 102, 110 and 126.

Defence Forces

Neale Richmond

Question:

82. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the efforts to ensure the target of reaching 9,500 members of the Defence Forces is achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56189/21]

Colm Burke

Question:

93. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Defence the way his Department intends to ensure the target strength of 9,500 members of the Defence Forces is achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56293/21]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

102. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Defence the details of the plans that are under way to ensure the target strength of 9,500 members of the Defence Forces is achieved in the coming years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56291/21]

Dara Calleary

Question:

110. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence when he expects the number in the Defence Forces to reach 9,500; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56478/21]

Barry Cowen

Question:

126. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Defence Forces in each of the services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56484/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 93, 102, 110 and 126 together.

On 31 October 2021, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, was 8,572 whole-time equivalent personnel comprising 6,946 Army, 878 Naval Service and 748 Air Corps members. While the Government remains committed to returning to and maintaining the agreed strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, a number of factors, some of which are hard to predict, will impact on the timeframe in which this can be achieved.

I have acknowledged the ongoing staffing challenges in the Defence Forces, and a range of actions are designed to tackle this. Continuing recruitment has resulted in a total of 577 personnel being inducted as of 15 November. The scope of direct entry competitions was expanded in 2021 from ten competitions, to include a new Air Corps aircraft technician competition. Additionally, direct entry terms and conditions continue to be revised to improve intakes. The re-entry campaign for former members of the PDF continues.

On retention, there has been significant progress on pay arising out of increases due from recent pay agreements, the most recent of which was a 1% increase on annualised salaries, or €500, whichever is greater, on 1 October, with further increases to follow. There are now service commitment schemes in both the Air Corps and the Naval Service and a special naval service tax credit for seagoing personnel. Furthermore, in light of the particular challenges faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission, PSPC, to undertake a comprehensive review and analysis of the underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. I am confident the pay benefits delivered by the public service pay agreements, in tandem with the implementation of the PSPC's recommendations, will improve recruitment and retention challenges currently being experienced by the PDF.

Additionally, the Commission on the Defence Forces is due to submit its report by the end of the year and I look forward to receiving it in due course. The recommendations will then be fully considered and will inform future decisions regarding the Defence Forces. My focus remains on retaining and restoring the Permanent Defence Force to its full capacity, but it will take time for some of these measures to take full effect.

Strength versus Establishment by Rank and Branch - October 2021

Overall

Army

Naval Service

Air Corps

Establishment

Current

+/-

Establishment

Current

+/-

Establishment

Current

+/-

Establishment

Current

+/-

Officers

Lieutenant General

1

1

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Major General

2

2

0

2

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Brigadier General (Commodore NS)

8

8

0

6

6

0

1

1

0

1

1

0

Colonel (Captain NS)

39

40

+1

35

35

0

2

3

+1

2

2

0

Lieutenant Colonel (Commander NS)

139

136

-3

112

107

-5

13

13

0

14

16

+2

Commandant (Lt Commander NS)

336

352

+16

255

258

+3

45

50

+5

36

44

+8

Captain (Lieutenant NS)

452

333

-119

306

233

-73

81

59

-22

65

41

-24

Lieutenant (Ensign NS)

256

387

+131

167

293

+126

41

38

-3

48

56

+8

Total Officers

1,233

1,259

+26

884

935

+51

183

164

-19

166

160

-6

Enlisted Personnel

Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer NS)

43

39

-4

29

27

-2

6

6

0

8

6

-2

Brigade Quartermaster (Senior Chief Petty Officer NS)

43

41

-2

32

31

-1

7

6

-1

4

4

0

Company Sergeant (Chief Petty Officer NS)

246

229

-17

115

109

-6

75

72

-3

56

48

-8

Company Quartermaster (Senior Petty Officer NS)

198

193

-5

169

165

-4

15

14

-1

14

14

0

Sergeant (Petty Officer NS)

1,330

1,009

-321

973

789

-184

226

128

-98

131

92

-39

Corporal (leading Seaman NS)

1,801

1,466

-335

1438

1184

-254

180

144

-36

183

138

-45

Private (Seamen NS)

4,606

4,231

-375

3880

3628

-252

402

332

-70

324

271

-53

Cadet (Classified as enlisted personnel in training)

0

105

+105

0

78

+78

0

12

+12

0

15

+15

Total Enlisted Personnel

8,267

7,313

-954

6636

6011

-625

911

714

-197

720

588

-132

Total

9,500

8,572

-928

7,520

6,946

-574

1,094

878

-216

886

748

-138

I thank the Minister for dealing with this matter. On the figures for 2020 and 2021, I am interested that we had 5,269 applications to join the Army in 2020, out of which 3,323 applicants did not complete the process. Up to the end of June this year, there were 2,752 applications, with 1,031 applicants withdrawing. There are also figures for the Naval Service. Has any analysis been done on why people have withdrawn? Has that been identified? Will it be part of the process in the review being carried out by the Department? Why not look at the people who had an interest and expressed an interest but then withdrew?

As the Minister is aware, this is not just a critical time for the Permanent Defence Force but for the Reserve Defence Force. Unfortunately, the personnel enlisted in the Reserve at present is the lowest ever, at only just in excess of 1,500 personnel. A significant recruitment campaign and additional resources are needed. The Reserve Defence Force, as I often put on the record of the House, is often underutilised and many times underappreciated. It stood with other agencies of the State during very difficult times, going back to the Second World War and the more recent era of the Troubles in the Border region, in particular.

Deputy Burke is correct. When you look at the number of people who apply to join the Defence Forces and the number who fall out of that recruitment process, you do have to ask why. Those questions are being asked and we will see recommendations on HR management and recruitment from the commission in the weeks ahead. There is an appetite to join the Defence Forces. Many people who want to join, for whatever reason, then decide that they cannot or will not. We need to try to address that.

I was very pleased to attend a commissioning ceremony for 29 new Reserve Defence Force officers in the past week. I will state very clearly to the House that I want to prioritise the future of the Reserve. That is why we have changed defence legislation to remove a barrier on RDF members serving overseas. That was done for two reasons: to give a signal that we want to expand the role of the Reserve and that we want more people to join. I certainly hope we will make significant progress over the next year or so in increasing the numbers in the Reserve because it has a very important role to play in tandem with the Permanent Defence Force.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.