I will answer Deputy Berry's questions first. I agree with his comment on the importance of the Naval Service. I live next door to a Naval Service base; Deputy Stanton lives pretty close to it. In normal times, I cycle down to the Naval Service base most weekends and sometimes run along there as well. I know it very well and I know many people working there. As Minister, I am more than conscious of the need to rebuild momentum in recruitment and investment in the Naval Service. We have invested very heavily in capital investment in the Naval Service in upgrading our fleets and so on, and we will do much more.
We are also committed to investing significantly on Haulbowline Island. Today, the Government made a decision to transfer the ownership of Haulbowline Island from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. When I was in that Department, I essentially took ownership of half the island in an effort to take responsibility for what was called the east tip, which is now a maritime park. At the time, it was essentially a slag heap in the middle of Cork Harbour. We will continue to invest in that island in improving the work atmosphere there. We will invest in accommodation facilities as well, in what is called block eight. We will invest in new capital equipment, including ships, in the years ahead.
The Naval Service has a strong future. I understand the frustrations but I also push back strongly on some of the commentary on the Naval Service, stating that it is on a downward trajectory and there is no hope for the future because it is not prioritised and so on. None of that is true. It is being prioritised. We have, like many countries in the world, a real challenge at the moment in recruitment and retention within the Defence Forces. Many countries have that. Since the Defence Forces are much smaller than those in many other countries, when we have significant numbers of talented people with specific skill sets in the Naval Service headhunted by the private sector because they are really good, we have a problem. We have to respond to that. We are doing so with tax credits and the service at sea scheme, which will, hopefully, be worth more than €10,000 over two years for people who are eligible for it.
We speak to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform all the time about the terms and conditions of that scheme, but it is not straightforward. Last summer, we wanted a simple and significant increase to the patrol duty allowance. It was not possible to achieve that because it would have been seen as a pretty straightforward pay increase. We could not do that in the context of public sector pay negotiations. Let us be honest about that. We had to design a scheme that did not undermine public sector pay policy and, at the same time, recognise the unique service in the Naval Service and the commitment that is necessary to go to sea.
Therefore, we designed the scheme that does not apply to everybody but applies to many people going to sea. If it applied to everybody, it would be considered by many outside the Defence Forces as a simple pay increase.
Let us consider what we are doing on pay across the Defence Forces. There is a 10% increase in the military service allowance to a restoration of pre-Haddington Road agreement levels and of certain allowances specific to the Defence Forces, including security duty allowance and patrol duty allowance. The patrol duty allowance for 120 days per year is worth more than €7,000 per year. There is also the tax credit of €1,500. On top of that there is up to €5,000 per year for seagoing.
There are many financial benefits to being in the Defence Forces as well as job security, a real sense of adventure and working for the State. Clearly, we need to do more because the overall package is not strong enough to retain people. Many people are joining the Defence Forces and we have a pretty tough system of qualification and training to get in because the standards are high, as they should be in the Defence Forces. I assure the Deputy that we will keep working on getting that balance right to get the numbers up to where they need to be. Of course, we also need to get the equipment.
Deputy Stanton had three questions. There are ongoing conversations on the qualification criteria to try to get more people in. Regarding tax credits, working within the Naval Service is different from a broader seafarers' tax credit, but I take the point. This was a tax credit that was agreed and increased by the Minister for Finance in advance of last year's budget. We will see if we can maintain that progression when it comes to the next budget.
The programme for Government makes a commitment to having an independent review body. Not everybody in the Defence Forces supports this by the way. PDFORRA does not support that approach and instead it wants to be affiliated to ICTU for the purposes of pay negotiations. Whatever path we take here, we need to ensure it works for the Defence Forces so that people feel they are valued and paid appropriately. The programme for Government has committed to setting up a pay review body quickly after the commission on the future of the Defence Forces makes recommendations. Of course, as part of its terms of reference, it is also allowed to make recommendations on pay structures. The issue of pay and pay structures within the Defence Forces will continue to be prioritised by Government either through the commission and its work or the subsequent pay review body. I have not entirely ruled out the PDFORRA request to build a connection with ICTU. We will look at that. I believe there are problems with it, but I do not have a closed mind to any of these issues. I have a political responsibility for everybody in the Defence Forces and we will keep an open mind on all these discussions.
Deputy Lawless asked about the undersea cables. I will read out a note I have because several members, including Deputy Stanton, have asked about it. The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications is currently undertaking an information gathering and consultation process with relevant stakeholders to inform policy development and decision-making in the area of international connectivity for telecommunications. As part of this process, a public consultation was undertaken late last year. The public consultation document highlights that international connectivity for telecommunications relies on submarine cables using fibre optic technology.
Ireland is connected to North America and to the UK by a number of submarine cables. There are currently no submarine cable routes from Ireland directly to continental Europe without traversing the UK, which is seen as an area for potential development. The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications outlined that resilience is built into the system to mitigate any damage to submarine cables. A high capacity and multiple routes provide resilience in the event of a route failure. Where damage has occurred to a cable, in the past the operators have shared a cable while repairs were under way. The current review of international connectivity for telecommunications will further inform this area.
The Defence Forces are aware of active sub-sea fibre optic cables landing on the island of Ireland. While these may present strategic locations for marine counterterrorism, the locations and security of these telecommunications resources do not rest with the Defence Forces.
Deputy Lawless asked about energy security. As with the challenges of Brexit from a fisheries perspective and from the perspective of maritime management in general, which is becoming much more complex now with Brexit, I believe that energy security offshore will become an increasingly important issue. We will facilitate the spending, primarily by the private sector, of billions of euro on building offshore energy apparatus, both fixed and floating, in the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea and along the west coast. Those will be State assets that will need to be protected and I believe the Naval Service will play an increasingly important role in that regard in the future. I am trying to have diplomatic solutions rather than military ones when it comes to Rockall. I continue to work on that with colleagues in Scotland.
Deputy Clarke asked about cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a Defence Forces responsibility, but ours is not the only Department. No single Department looks after cybersecurity. The lead Department is the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, which is responsible for Ireland's cybersecurity centre. The formal Defence Forces personnel are very much part of that centre. Defence Forces personnel are on secondment to Europe's cybersecurity centre in Tallinn, Estonia. We need to ensure that the Defence Forces protect defence infrastructure from a cybersecurity threat that is very real. The Defence Forces will continue to contribute to the overall debate.
As Minister for Defence, I chair the joint task force that measures threats to Ireland and puts together the response capacity to those threats. Cybersecurity is in the top two or three priorities. The Department is very much part of the cybersecurity strategy in Ireland, but, of course, other Departments are also involved, including the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Environment, Climate and Communications; the Taoiseach; and Justice.
Does MARSUR III require Ireland to align our foreign and security policy? No, it does not. We have decided to work in tandem with many other countries because it is in Ireland's interest to do so, but it is also in their interests to take a European approach to maritime security. Just as we do with the Garda when it shares information and builds networks through Interpol or other networks, the EU is stronger than the sum of its parts by agreeing to work together in different areas that are strategic and benefit everybody. It does not undermine our neutrality or our independence of thought from a foreign policy perspective.
If there is one thing I know about the maritime domain, it is that it does not respect borders. If somebody wants to bring drugs into Ireland, when they are travelling through other countries' waters it is the sharing of information that allows the Naval Service to be as effective as it is, for example, in intercepting drug trafficking. The Naval Service is very effective at that but, without intelligence and the sharing of information, it is like finding a needle in a haystack. That is the practical reality.
As for whether we are becoming over reliant on the European Defence Agency, I do not think so, but we use it to the maximum effect we can. That is what we should be doing. We should be sweating this opportunity as much as we can to get as much out of it as we can to improve our own capabilities and capacity by sharing. If one takes the example of cybersecurity, the reason we are linked to the European cybersecurity centre is not because we want to become overly reliant on it, it is because we want to learn from it. There is a reason Estonia is where that is, and that is because Estonia was essentially under attack in terms of a massive cybersecurity attack and it has learned the lessons from that. We need to make sure that we are never in that position in the future by also applying those lessons here.
Finally, on the satellite communications, a research project that I mentioned earlier is another EDA project that we are involved in, but any new project that we buy into and are part of has got to go through this kind of process where I need to put it to the Dáil and the Government to get approval for it. There is nothing hidden here. On the satellite side, telecommunications and satellite technology is something that Ireland really needs to be part of given where we are geographically in the world and the opportunities that are there from that for us, in particular, to use satellite telecommunications.