I welcome this opportunity to consider the 2020 Revised Estimates for the defence sector, comprising Vote 35, which concerns Army pensions, and Vote 36, which is the broader defence Vote. As this is the first meeting of this committee, I have prepared a short opening statement that will set out the overall position and update the members on some of the main developments within the defence sector over recent times.
The defence sector is made up of two Votes, namely, Vote 35 - Army Pensions and Vote 36 - Defence. The high-level goal of both Votes is to provide for the military defence of the State, contribute to national and international peace and security and fulfill all other roles assigned by Government. Accordingly, defence sector outputs are delivered under a single programme in each Vote. The combined Estimates for defence and Army pensions for 2020 provides for gross expenditure of €1.04 billion, an increase of €33 million or 3.3% over 2019. The 2020 provision comprises €781 million for Vote 36 - Defence, an increase of €23 million, and €259.2 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, an increase of €10 million.
The Army pensions Vote has a single programme, entitled Provision for Defence Forces’ Pensions Benefits. It makes provision for retired pay, pensions, allowances and gratuities payable to, or in respect of, former members of the Defence Forces and certain dependants. The 2020 Estimate provides a gross sum of over €259 million for the Army pension Vote, of which some €250 million covers expenditure on superannuation benefits for former members of the permanent Defence Forces and certain dependants. Pension benefits granted are, for the most part, statutory entitlements once certain criteria are met.
There are currently some 12,750 pensioners paid from the Army pensions Vote. During 2019, some 410 Defence Force members retired on pension and a broadly similar number is provided for in 2020. The spending review undertaken on Defence Forces pension expenditure in 2018, concluded, among other things, that the underlying trend of rising military pensioner numbers is likely to continue in the coming years. It recommended that the Army pensions Vote should be allocated resources in line with the review’s cost analysis from 2019 onwards to ensure that the full funding demands are met.
Against that background, I am pleased to inform Members that the gross allocation for Army pensions increased by €10 million to just under €259 million for 2020. This builds on a previous funding increase of €9.5 million in the 2018 Estimates and reflects the rise in Army pensioner numbers noted over recent years.
I turn to Vote 36 - Defence, which is delivered under a single programme, entitled Defence Policy and Support, Military Capabilities and Operational Outputs. The Revised Estimate for defence of €781 million for 2020 now includes a pay and allowances allocation of some €522 million. The pay allocation provides for the pay and allowances of over 10,400 public service employees, including 9,500 permanent Defence Force personnel, 550 civilian employees and 355 civil servants and it makes provision for increases due under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. It also includes provision for increases in permanent Defence Force allowances arising from the Public Service Pay Commission’s, PSPC, report on recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces and implementation of the initial measures set out in the Government’s associated implementation plan.
The non-pay allocation comprises both current and capital elements. The Revised Estimate for defence provides a non-pay current expenditure allocation of some €134 million for 2020. This allocation provides mainly for expenditure on ongoing Defence Forces standing and operational costs such as utilities, fuel, catering, maintenance, information technology and training. The capital allocation provided in the Revised Estimate is over €125 million. This significant capital envelope demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to defence. As provided for under the national development plan, an overall total of €541 million has been allocated to defence for the period 2018 to 2022 for capital programmes. This level of capital funding will allow the defence organisation to continue a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as reinforced in the defence White Paper update 2019. It will also ensure that the Defence Forces have the capabilities necessary to deliver on all the roles assigned by Government.
The launch earlier this year of the five-year equipment development plan for the Defence Forces ensures that all defence capital expenditure programmes build on the White Paper on defence in relation to equipment acquisition, modernisation and upgrade. The equipment development plan is a living document that will remain cognisant of evolving security situations, equipment priorities and timing issues and will ensure that the Defence Forces are in a position to undertake their assigned roles both at home and abroad. We have seen some of the benefits from that rolling capital programme in three new PC-12 planes and significant capital investment in a number of building projects.
Among the major priority investment programmes and projects identified for inclusion under the capital allocation in the national development plan are a mid-life upgrade of the Army Mowag armoured personnel carrier, APC, fleet; the replacement of the Air Corps Cessna aircraft; the CASA maritime patrol aircraft replacement programme; a mid-life refit of two Naval Service vessels; and an ongoing schedule of capital investment across a range of force protection, transport, communications and information technology, weapons and ammunition systems.
The defence capital allocation also provides for significant investment in Defence Forces built infrastructure projects. This will allow investment in projects that modernise and enhance the training, operational and accommodation facilities available to members of the Defence Forces in military installations and barracks across the country. Earlier this year, a five-year built infrastructure programme for the Defence Forces was published in line with the White Paper on defence. This plan provides a coherent, structured approach to ensuring that Defence Forces built infrastructure requirements are updated and modernised in line with existing and future requirements.
A significant level of capital infrastructural projects, encompassing accommodation, training and storage facilities, are at various stages of development from design through tender to construction, including an upgrade of training facilities in Sarsfield barracks, Limerick and Stephens barracks, Kilkenny and an upgrade of accommodation facilities in the Defence Forces training centre in the Curragh, the Defence Forces student accommodation complex in Galway, which is a particular concern for me, and the Naval Base in Haulbowline.
In addition, the construction of a new medical facility will enable the move from the existing St. Bricin’s site, thereby affording the Land Development Agency, LDA , an opportunity to provide social and affordable housing in this area. Modernising and upgrading military installations is a key priority for me, facilitated by the planning framework outlined in the infrastructure development plan. St. Bricin's is a really strategic site in the city. It is effectively an old military hospital and, while it is a super site, the medical facilities there are not fit for purpose for a modern defence force so we will invest in a significant new, modern military hospital, probably in Baldonnel, which has been earmarked by the Defence Forces as the most suitable site. That will allow the LDA to hopefully produce ambitious plans for the St. Bricin's site.
The 2020 allocation will allow Defence Force personnel to meet Government commitments in our overseas peace support missions and proudly represent Ireland abroad in diverse and often challenging, locations throughout the world. Irish troops continue to do extraordinary work in very difficult conditions and I thank them personally for their loyalty and commitment to their overseas roles.