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Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence debate -
Wednesday, 9 Mar 2022

Vote 36 - Defence (Revised)

I have received an apology from Deputy Clarke and I welcome Deputy Mairéad Farrell in substitution. She is very welcome to our committee. We are dealing with Revised Estimates for public services. The Dáil ordered that the Revised Estimates for public services in respect of the following Votes be referred to this committee for consideration, namely, Vote 35 on Army pensions and Vote 36 on defence. The select committee will consider the Estimates for Votes 35 and 36.

I welcome the Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, and his officials: Mr. David Geraghty, principal officer, Mr. Michael O'Boyle, principal officer, and Mr. Robert Mooney, assistant secretary. I particularly welcome the Minister to this engagement having regard to his quite taxing and busy schedule. I am very pleased, as are members, that he is joining us in person.

The proposed format of the meeting is that the committee will deal with Votes 35 and 36 under programmes A and B. At the outset of our consideration, I invite the Minister to give an overview of the Votes, outlining any pressures likely to impact on his Department's performance or expenditure relating to the Votes for the remainder of 2022. We will take the Votes in reverse order with Vote 36 followed by Vote 35. The floor will then be opened for questions from members of the committee on each programme for both Votes. I ask that members put their questions on the specific programme in order that we can progress in an orderly and efficient manner.


I do not see any difficulty. That is fine. The Deputy has no issue. I will accommodate members and I assure Deputy Farrell that she will be fully accommodated by the committee.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her in any way identifiable. I remind members and our guests to turn off mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system. I think the Minister has probably just turned on his phone after a very substantial flight mode. We do not want any interference with our sound system.

I invite him to make his opening statement.

I thank the Chair for the opportunity to do this. If there are other related, broader questions on these Estimates, I am also happy to try to deal with them because it will be an opportunity to deal with a range of matters across the defence sector.

I welcome this opportunity to engage with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to consider the 2022 Revised Estimates for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, and Vote 36 - Defence. I have a short opening statement that sets out the overall position and updates members on some recent developments within the defence sector.

As members will be aware, the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces was recently published and I express my thanks to the chair and all members of the commission for their time and effort spent producing this report. Following its publication last month, I had some very positive and constructive discussions on a wide range of matters relating to the report. The report is forthright in its assessment of the current status of the Defence Forces and highlights key issues that must be tackled, including cultural change. The report proposes significant changes for the Defence Forces and defence provision in Ireland that we as a society must carefully consider and respond to. This report, and recent events, have fostered real interest and debate about defence matters and I look forward to further exploration and discussion on these issues in the period ahead.

The defence sector is comprised of two Votes: Vote 35 - Army Pensions, which members will see from the briefing is straightforward this year, and Vote 36, which is the broader Defence Vote. 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 fulfil 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 2022 provide for gross expenditure of over €1.1 billion, an increase of over €35 million, or 3%, over 2021. The 2022 provision comprises of some €836 million for Vote 36, an increase of €27 million on 2021, and some €271 million for Vote 35 - Army Pensions, an increase of some €8 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 2022 Estimate provides a gross sum of €271 million for the Army Pensions Vote, of which some €261 million covers expenditure on superannuation benefits. Pension benefits granted are, for the most part, statutory entitlements once certain criteria are met.

During 2021, some 300 members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, retired on pension. There are currently some 12,890 pensioners paid from the Army Pensions Vote and their numbers continue to rise, year on year. Against that backdrop, I am pleased to inform the committee that the increased allocation provided in 2022 will cover both the cost of existing and new pensions, as well as the passing on of benefits from pay increases received by serving personnel.

Turning to Vote 36 - Defence, this is delivered under a single programme entitled "Defence Policy and Support, Military Capabilities and Operational Outputs". The Revised Defence Estimate of some €836 million for 2022 includes an allocation of over €545 million for the pay and allowances of members of the Permanent Defence Force, civil servants and civilian employees. It also provides for commitments arising from the Building Momentum 2021-2022 public service pay agreement. The non-pay allocation comprises both current and capital elements, and the Revised Defence Estimate provides a non-pay current expenditure allocation of over €150 million for 2022. This allocation provides mainly for expenditure on ongoing and essential Defence Forces standing and operational costs, such as utilities, fuel, catering, maintenance, information technology and training.

The principal demand drivers of defence capital funding are the ongoing renewal, upgrade and acquisition of military equipment, along with the development of military infrastructure and information and communication technologies. The White Paper on Defence, updated in 2019, highlighted the importance of capability development and the necessity for continued renewal, upgrade and acquisition of military equipment and infrastructure. To this end, the national development plan has allocated multi-annual funding of €566 million to defence out to 2025, with an allocation of €141 million provided for 2022. Many of the defence equipment projects are complex, multi-annual and have long lead-in times, so the funding certainty now provided by the national development plan is welcome as it will enable the Department and the Defence Forces to plan, prioritise and deliver on scheduled projects over the coming years.

The acquisition of military equipment is pursued through the defence equipment development plan, a plan based on White Paper objectives, which provides a consolidated, structured basis for ongoing investment in military equipment to maintain and develop necessary capabilities. Among the major defence equipment upgrade and replacement programmes set to be prioritised over the coming years are: the land forces capability development and force protection programmes, including an upgrade of the military transport fleet and next-generation radio communications and signal equipment; the ongoing Naval Service vessel renewal and replacement programme, which includes the mid-life refit of the P50 class of naval vessel and the progression of the multi-role vessel project, which is very important; and the ongoing Air Corps aircraft renewal and replacement programme, which includes the purchase of the CASA C295 maritime patrol aircraft, which is due next year. In addition to these major projects, an ongoing schedule of capital investment across a broad range of force protection, transport, communications and information technology, weapons and ammunition systems continues in 2022. This level of investment in defence equipment platforms will further boost ongoing efforts at modernising and upgrading defence equipment platforms through land, sea and air domains.

The capital allocation for defence infrastructural projects for 2022 is €35 million, the highest allocation since the economic crash in 2008. This will allow significant investment under the Defence Forces built infrastructure programme, including: the provision of a new cadet school at the Defence Forces Training College at the Curragh, County Kildare; the provision of a new military medical facility for the Defence Forces at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel; and the upgrade to accommodation facilities in various military locations throughout the country, such as Collins Barracks, Cork, McKee Barracks, Dublin, and the Naval Base, Haulbowline. This level of infrastructure investment, which has a strong regional or local dividend in terms of local enterprise and employment, seeks to ensure that all Defence Forces installations are fit for purpose, taking account of operational, security and health and safety considerations. However, it will take time and a programme of continuous investment to bring all Defence Forces facilities up to the modern standards that we desire.

The White Paper on Defence has identified that demands on future capability will need to take account of climate change objectives. In that regard, defence remains fully committed to incorporating green procurement practices into all defence organisation equipment and infrastructural procurements in line with overarching climate action plan objectives.

I would like to briefly reference some of the many outputs to be delivered by the Defence Forces from the Defence Vote throughout this year. The 2022 allocation will allow Defence Forces personnel to meet Government commitments on our overseas peace support missions and proudly represent Ireland abroad in diverse, often challenging, locations throughout the world. As of 1 March, there were 569 PDF personnel serving in nine overseas missions throughout the world. This level of overseas deployment reflects Ireland’s ongoing contribution to international peace and security and I thank our Defence Forces for their professionalism and commitment to their overseas roles. At home, the funding provision allows the Defence Forces to continue to provide essential support for An Garda Síochána, as requested, across various roles such as explosive ordnance disposal call-outs, Garda air support missions and Naval Service diving operations. It also enables the Defence Forces, as part of their aid to the civil authority role, to provide support to local authorities and the Health Service Executive in their emergency response efforts.

At this point, I believe it is opportune to highlight the collective defence response to the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years, which involved Permanent Defence Force personnel, members of the Reserve, Civil Defence volunteers and civil servants and civilian employees within my Department. I thank all of them for their resilience and support throughout what was a very difficult period for everybody.

The Defence Vote provides funding of over €5 million for Civil Defence in 2022. This funding supports Civil Defence units throughout the country by way of central training and the supply of vehicles, boats, uniforms and personal protective equipment for volunteers.

The Government also values the service of the Reserve Defence Force and on behalf of the Government, I commend the voluntary effort made by members of the Reserve Defence Force and thank them for their ongoing dedication and enthusiasm, particularly those who assisted in the national Covid-19 response. We have a lot of work to do to build the Reserve to what it should be. It is one of the key actions from the commission report on which I hope we can make some early progress. I believe that we can do that. There is an appetite for people to join the Reserve if we create the right conditions and context for those efforts. I look forward to bringing forward recommendations to the Government on that.

In addition to the Commission on the Defence Forces, I also want to advise members of the strategic review and development process currently under way within the Department. This process, which is nearing completion, includes a comprehensive independent organisation capability review of my Department. It will provide an assessment of the Department’s capabilities and capacity to deliver on objectives and will present an opportunity for my Department to take positive actions to address any gaps that may emerge from this review process. When we launched the Commission on the Defence Forces, there was a view that we were effectively applying a rigorous scrutiny to the Defence Forces but were not applying similar scrutiny to the Department. That is simply not true. Any organisation worth its salt must be open to outside assessments and benchmarks and so on. I will be willing to learn lessons from that. I certainly believe the Defence Forces are up for that, and the Department is too.

To conclude, I am very proud of the Defence Forces and all that they achieve, both nationally and internationally. However, as outlined in the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, there are many challenges facing the Defence Forces and the Department, both now and in the future, with significant levels of further engagement, collaboration, adjustment and legislative change envisaged over the coming years. I accept that the level of ambition and change outlined in the report is potentially far-reaching and, if implemented, could necessitate significant increases in defence funding. There is no secret there. There are other pressing changes, however, which are also required and which are not resource-intensive. I remain committed to leading the required change, as I believe it has the capacity to transform our Defence Forces, and the choice of a career in the Defence Forces for the many people who serve there, over the coming years.

Committee members have been provided with briefing material on both the Defence and Army Pensions Estimates and I look forward to positive engagement, as well as any questions or comments that members may have.

I thank the Minister. I also thank the officials in the Department of Defence, both those present and those engaged in the provision of information and briefing to our committee. I acknowledge the appreciation of our members for that. It is important to us. I also join with the Minister in acknowledging the role of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence in the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, involving our Defence Forces personnel, members of the Reserve Defence Force, the Civil Defence volunteers and officials and personnel in the Minister's Department.

I now call on members to put questions on Vote 36 dealing with defence policy and the matter of support for the capability of military operation military capability operational outputs. I will now give the floor to members.

Are we going to go through the Votes section by section or would the committee prefer to do the whole lot together? What does the Chairman propose?

We should divide the discussion into Vote 35 and Vote 36. I anticipate that the bulk of the observations and questions will be on Vote 36.

We have 25 different sections. We can do them individually or we can do them as one, whichever the Chairman prefers.

We can do it generally, if the Minister is comfortable with that.

Whatever the Chairman wants to do.

I am anxious to accommodate members but also the Minister. On previous occasions we dealt specifically with Vote 36 and aspects thereof that may be prioritised by members by way of questions. I do not anticipate there will be huge amount of debate on the matter of Vote 35. Again, I am in the hands of members in that regard. Perhaps if the members identified the subheadings they are speaking on, it might serve for ease of reference for the Minister. Is the Minister happy with that?

I am in your hands.

Vote 35 should be straightforward enough. Perhaps we could take Vote 36 line by line. I have quite a few queries, and I am sure other members do also. This would give the Minister a fair opportunity to come back, rather than trying to take note of every single issue that we mention. Trying to capture all of that in the Minister's response might be difficult. Maybe we could take Vote 36 line by line.

That is okay. I am very keen that all members would have an opportunity for putting their questions.

Some of the sections are very straightforward. The main questions, I assume, will be around pay, capability development, and built infrastructure and equipment. That is where the big spend is. I am happy to take the Votes in whatever way suits. If we wanted to start with subhead A1, we could then move through them. There are only 25, and some will be very straightforward.

Okay. Deputy Brady can go ahead.

I agree with that approach. I thank the Minister for his opening statement. The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces is a comprehensive report and key elements of the report need to be implemented. It will certainly go a long way to addressing many of the challenges and difficulties within the Defence Forces around pay and retention, which certainly needs to be done with immediate effect. One of the primary and key asks in that report, and of the representative bodies, is the right to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. Given the upcoming pay talks, I believe that this needs to be acted upon immediately. I preface my contribution with this request. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to it. The representative bodies have continually asked for it, and I too have sought it. It is a key recommendation within the report, as is the issue around the working time directive, which is a major issue that also needs to be addressed. I do not see anything in the Estimates here in this regard, even as an initial attempt to start trying to record the hours that the members of the Defence Forces are actually doing, without fully implementing the directive in full.

I will deal with Vote 35 first. There is not a lot that I have to say on Vote 35 other than on the post-1994 contracts. I welcome that some movement has been made around the huge difficulty this creates for members of the Defence Forces and the future they see for themselves within the Defence Forces. I am aware there are still issues that need to be resolved, for example with regard to sergeants. I note there will also be a knock-on effect for pensions. Will the Minister give an overview as to where that situation is and what agreement has been reached on that long-standing issue with the post-1994 contracts? That is my first question.

On the basis of Deputy Brady raising Vote 35, subhead A1, I propose that we dispose of that now. I will ask other members to come in on that, briefly, at this stage. Then we can go on to the more general queries. I invite Deputy Berry to speak on Vote 35 - Army Pensions.

I thank the Minister for his opening statement, and the Department officials are very welcome.

I have three observations on Vote 35. On page 3 of the Minister's opening statement, we see that 12,890 people are in receipt of Army pensions. That is a massive number. My observation is that there are 50% more people on military pensions than are actually serving in the Defence Forces. It just shows how small our Defence Forces complement has become.

The other statement the Minister made was, "and their numbers continue to rise year on year". That is an accurate statement. It shows the importance of retention and stopping that haemorrhage of people. When people hit 50 or 60 years of age, they have to retire but there are many people retiring before that age. The actuarial problem here is that not only are you paying the military pension of the people who retire but you are paying the military salary for their replacements as well. I want to place the emphasis on it being important that we try to retain people in the organisation.

My final observations is that there is €271 million for pensions. A quarter of the entire defence budget is going towards military pensions. The only thing I want to emphasise there is that retention is essential. If we can keep these highly-skilled, highly-motivated, highly-professional people in the organisation, it will save money in the long run.

Deputy Lawless will be followed by Deputy Mairéad Farrell.

I thank the Chairman and welcome the Minister and his officials to the committee.

On the pensions subhead, because I understand we are taking each subhead at a time, I flicked through the Estimates to try to find the answer to this. I am not sure where we sit in terms of the pensions. Are they defined benefit, defined contribution or both? Is there a spectrum depending the ages of exit from the service? Perhaps we are paying both. If it is either, how is it funded? Is it funded through current spending or is there a pool under investment by actuarial management with a view to each year's spend coming out?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. I am a literal substitute today. My colleague, Deputy Clarke, could not be here but really wanted to be. I am very much voicing the questions Deputy Clarke would have put to the Minister.

On Vote 35 on pensions, it is my understanding that it is the only Department where pensions are not included in shared services. My colleague has concerns that that gives an overall impression that the defence budget is higher than it is. I was wondering if the Minister could comment on that.

Something I noticed, because I am new to this, is subhead A4, payments to spouses of veterans of the War of Independence. That is interesting for those of us, like me, who are new here. I was wondering if the Minister could provide a breakdown. Do we know how many are in receipt of that?

I call Deputy Stanton.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I have questions on pensions. Could we get a breakdown of the 300 Permanent Defence Force, PDF, people who retired on pension? Of the 12,890, could the Minister comment on the issue of pension abatement? Where members of the Defence Forces who leave and take up employment in the public sector, their pension is abated. Are there any movements to reverse, change or modify that?

That appears to complete the questioning on the pensions. I call the Minister.

I do not know whether the Chairman wants me to comment on the ICTU stuff as part of Vote 35 or not. All I am saying is we are working on implementation plans and consideration of all the recommendations in the commission report. There is a recommendation that the Permanent Defence Force representative associations should be facilitated if they wish to pursue associate membership of ICTU. It is important to understand what associate membership, as opposed to affiliation, is. We are speaking to members of the commission who made their recommendation. We are also speaking to the representative organisations on how we will proceed on that and, obviously, to the Department as well. We will be bringing recommendations forward.

There is an element of time pressure on this because the new round of public sector pay talks will be probably getting under way in May. I am conscious that that is a time pressure we need to take note of on this issue, particularly given the interests of PDFORRA but also the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, in regard to the relationship they will or will not have with ICTU in the context of those discussions. As I have always said, I have an open mind on this.

By the way, we have also started an initial discussion with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as is agreed to in the programme for Government, on a separate pay body for defence and how the two issues of potential associate membership of ICTU and having a separate pay consideration body could be married together. It is not straightforward because they are two very different approaches to how you assess and manage pay, and potentially consideration around allowances as well, in the Defence Forces. There is work already very much under way on both of those issues.

In terms of the working time directive, that is more straightforward. We have committed to implementation of the working time directive. That requires legislation but it also requires a recognition that the work of the Defence Forces at times can be different from other work fields and, therefore, within the confines of the working time directive there also needs to be recognition of military service as well in certain circumstances. It is important to say that the working time directive is already a guideline in many ways in terms of the ask of many in the Defence Forces but there is more work to conclude there and to finalise legislation on. By the way, that legislation needs to come from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment as opposed to the Department of Defence, as far as I know.

On the post-1994 contracts issue, in December last agreement was secured with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for an increase in service limits for privates and corporals recruited to the Permanent Defence Force since 1 January 1994. This will allow such personnel to remain in service up to 50 years of age subject to meeting certain criteria, including medical and fitness standards. Agreement was also secured which will allow for sergeants recruited since 1 January 1994 to continue to serve beyond 50 years of age. Details on the proposal for sergeants will be finalised following further discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There will also be a discussion with PDFORRA, the representative association for enlisted personnel. These revised arrangements follow a review of barriers of extended participation in the Permanent Defence Force as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission in the report of recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force. Other recommendations in the review relating to commissioned officers, senior non-commissioned officers and personnel in certain technical appointments will be considered in the forum of an interdepartmental working group which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has established to consider mandatory retirement ages for public service groups which have fast-accrual pension arrangements, as many in the Defence Forces do.

On Deputy Berry's comments, it is important to say that we have significantly more people who are ex-Defence Forces than currently in the Defence Forces. That is not unusual in many countries because people tend - sometimes they are required - to retire earlier than those in many other careers or else they choose to retire. Not everybody chooses to spend all of their working life in the Defence Forces. The Deputy is a good example of that but many other people are too.

I take the point Deputy Berry made in terms of trying to keep people in the Defence Forces for longer, holding on to that skill set and that experience, particularly in the context of what we must try to do now in terms of responding to the challenges the commission has put forward for us. Not only do we have to get an extra 1,000 people into the Defence Forces to get us to the establishment of 9,500 that we should be at, but we must find a way, if we follow the recommendations and if I get Government agreement on that, to get an extra 2,000 people into the Defence Forces plus a significant increase in the number of people in the Reserve as well. Recruitment, training and intake need to be a substantial factor in building up the numbers in the next few years as well as retention because, of course, turnover is not good if you are having a significant net increase each year given the level of experience that will be available to the Defence Forces, often in challenging environments.

I am conscious of the net increases we will have to deliver each year. While we have not yet settled on an exact figure and how we will deliver it, if we are to get to the second level of ambition in the commission's report, that will mean we will have to deliver an additional 2,000 people in the Defence Forces, which effectively means an additional 3,000, given we are 1,000 behind where we should be. Doing that in the space of five or six years or whatever period is agreed will require very significant net increases in the number of Defence Forces personnel each year, and that will put considerable pressure on the system. Structural change, external HR management expertise and so on have been recommended to help us deliver those kinds of numbers, as well as a potentially increased civilianisation of some of the roles within the Defence Forces. There are many challenges there, but the general point the Deputy made about the importance of retention is central to how successful we will be in delivering on the recommendations and the numbers that have been set out for us.

In response to Deputy Lawless on Defence Forces pensions, it is not always the case that pensions in a certain sector are taken in an entirely separate Vote, although it is the case here because the number is so significant. The issues are relatively straightforward and it is about ensuring we have enough money each year, which I am glad we have had in recent years. There was a practice for a number of years whereby there needed to be a Revised Estimate each year to meet the Army pensions bill, but that has not been the case in recent years. The team has really got it right in terms of Estimates and recommendations to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and I expect we will be well covered this year with the additional €8 million.

Is that a defined benefit pool, a defined contribution pool or both?

It is a defined benefit pool.

Is it paid out of current funding?

Yes, it is paid out of current expenditure from a defined benefit pool, which is the case for many public sector pensions in order that there is certainty of income linked to the contributions made throughout a person's career.

Is there any intention to ring-fence funding that will be in place under investment to be paid out each year? Will it be paid out of current expenditure for the foreseeable future?

That is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of how it manages State funding and the State investments it has. We make the case each year to the central pool of financial resources available to the State for an Army pensions current expenditure Vote, and in recent years, we have been successful. I take the point that this approach is taken regularly within the private sector, but that is not how public sector pensions work given the guarantees arising from defined benefit pension schemes.

Deputy Stanton asked about abatement of retirement pensions where someone rejoins the public sector. From 1 November 2012, where public servants retire on a pension and take up a new job anywhere within the public service, their retirement pension may be reduced or suspended for as long as they remain in that job. This is called pension abatement. For practical purposes, this means a person's combined earnings from the current public service job as well as from his or her existing public service pension cannot exceed the current equivalent of his or her pensionable pay from the first job. This measure was introduced with effect from 1 November 2012 under the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012 and applies without exception to all public service pension schemes, including the new single scheme. A pensioner already in public service employment immediately before that date is not affected by the change while he or she remains in that post or position. The measure does not apply to employment with the commercial semi-State bodies.

Before the 2012 change, the abatement principle operated as a standard feature of the public service pension schemes generally, but only within individual sectors where a public service pensioner resumed working in his or her former job, such as the Defence Forces, Garda, Civil Service and so on. The 2012 Act extended the principle to all sectors without exception, thereby restoring the arrangements that had been in place until 1965. Any change of status since 1 November 2012 constitutes a new job. Those not subject to pension abatement in respect of their current job, such as because they were appointed before that date, will be subject to abatement if, after that date, they secure a new post through promotion.

My understanding is the change was brought in as part of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, although I may be wrong about that. I understand it was to be reviewed with a view to returning to what it had been prior to that but, again, I am not sure whether that is the case. There was some discussion of the issue recently, so I thought I should raise it.

There are a whole series of pension issues over which we have virtually no control. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is at the centre of pensions policy more generally and there is ongoing discussion with a view to ensuring pensions will be planned for appropriately.

I am not sure whether the issue would have an impact on the decision-making of anybody who was thinking of rejoining the Defence Forces, having retired previously and drawing down a pension. If they rejoin, their remuneration will not be significantly greater than what they get from their pension. At one stage, there was a campaign to try to get people to rejoin the Defence Forces. I am not sure where that campaign ended up, but this issue might have been a factor.

On the question regarding War of Independence veterans, as at the end of February this year, there were 16 widows of such veterans. It is a small number.

My question is quite technical and, therefore, I appreciate the Minister may not have an answer to hand. If an enlisted soldier, say, of private or corporal rank, retires after 31 years' service, he or she will get a 31-year pension, perhaps in his or her late 50s or at 60-years-old. When he or she hits 66, he or she will get the old age pension, but the 31-year pension will be pushed back down to a 21-year pension. It seems this issue is unique to the Defence Forces, although I am open to correction if that is not the case. If a garda, a prison officer or a firefighter has 31 years' service, he or she will keep the 31-year pension and it will be included with the old age pension. There appears to be an anomaly in the Defence Forces whereby service of 31 years is pushed back to 21 years when the old age pension is drawn down, but that does not happen in the rest of the public service. If the Minister does not have an answer to hand, will he inquire into it?

This issue is referred to as the loss of an additional increment by some military pensioners at the State pension age. This might be a technical answer to a technical question, but I will give it in any event. In the case of pre-April 2004 enlisted personnel, their basic 21-year Defence Forces pension is payable for life. An additional increment is payable on top of that basic pension for service of between 22 and 31 years, as the Deputy pointed out. Under the pension scheme rules, however, this increment ceases payment when the pensioner reaches the qualifying age for the social welfare contributory State pension, namely, between the ages of 66 and 68, depending on when the insured person was born. This is in accordance with the long-established principle of integrating occupational pensions with the social insurance benefits of employees who are in the full PRSI class, including non-commissioned officers, NCOs, and privates, who are fully insured for the range of social insurance benefits, such as the State pension, which are regarded as part of the person's overall pension package. The integration principle applies throughout the public and private sectors, as well as in other countries.

I will have to check as to whether it applies to the Garda, for example, but I could send my note to the Deputy. It contains a lot of backup information that I do not need to share with the committee. My understanding is that it does apply across other public sector areas as well.

It may for the post-2004 position but perhaps pre-2004 might not be on that.

I will send the Deputy a note on it.

I think that concludes the debate on the pensions issue. We will now deal with Vote 36.

I have no questions on subheads A1 or A2, that is, administration, pay, and administration, non-pay, but I have questions on pay for the Permanent Defence Force in subheads A3, A4 and A5. Could we take the three of those together?

We can, and if anybody else has questions on subheads A1 and A2, they can also be taken.

Subhead A3 relates to pay, which I have touched on. In terms of associate membership of ICTU, the Minister himself acknowledged that time is ticking away, as the public sector pay talks start in May. As a result, a decision will have to be taken very quickly to ensure that the representative bodies can do their work in advance of partaking in those discussions. I impress again on the Minister the importance and urgency of making a swift and correct decision to allow the associate membership to proceed. Unless we get this right, everything else we discuss, such as sustainability in terms of retention and the development and growth of the Defence Forces will result in us being back here year in, year out. I impress on the Minister the urgency of dealing with the issue.

The Minister mentioned legislation is needed on the working time directive. He said that is the responsibility of another Department. Could we get a sense of how that is progressing? Is there a sense of urgency in regard to it? Has the work commenced to draft the heads of a new Bill? The Minister might give an indication on progress.

Subhead A4 relates to allowances. There has been much talk about allowances and issues that need to be addressed to deal with the shortfall in income needed, as members of the Defence Forces would perceive it. I wish to touch on two areas, the first of which is the specialist instructor allowance, which is a critical one for specialists who are essential to the Defence Forces. They keep the operation on the road in terms of rolling out specialist training courses and in terms of participation in overseas missions etc. Will the Minister tell us where that is at? It is my understanding that a proposal had been arrived at within the Department, which was sent to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and, unfortunately, it has not resurfaced in terms of a decision on funding the proposal on the allowance. Could the Minister give us some indication of the exact status of the situation?

The second issue I want to raise is the sea service commitment scheme, which has been in operation for more than a year. Has an analysis been carried out on how it has been received, how successful the Department believes it is and the level of uptake? Could the Minister provide numbers on how many members of the navy have been included in the scheme?

Going back to the initial point Deputy Brady made, it might be better if we were to deal with subheads A1 to A7, inclusive, now and then to discuss subheads A8 to A13, A14 to A18 and then the rest. If Deputy Brady could complete his questions on A1 to A7, I will see if there are any questions from other Members and then I will come back to him for questions on A8 to A13. Is that okay?

Okay, I will discuss up to A7. That is fair enough.

It might be better for the Minister.

Just to finish the point on that particular scheme, issues have been raised by members of the force and the representative bodies in terms of the three years' service required to be eligible for that scheme. Some 40% of the members of the navy are excluded. The Minister might respond as to what analysis has been carried out and give specific details. There is also a concern that there was a delay in paying the €10,000 allowance. In October or November last, a small number had not received the payment. It is not clear whether everyone who is eligible has received the full entitlement.

The Minister touched on the major failure to get the best from the fantastic people in the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, who have made their services available to the State. In 2019, some 1,673 people were in the Reserve Defence Force. In 2020, there were 1,588 and in 2021, the figure was down to 1,489. Some of the issues have been articulated by the representative body for the RDF and they have been identified by the commission. The Minister touched on it himself that those recommendations must be implemented immediately. One of the major issues was the length of time it takes to bring in a new recruit when a person applies to join the RDF. In some cases, it has taken more than two years. People's lives move on, and their interests shift. That is a major failure. Could the Minister elaborate on what it entails when he says immediate action needs to be taken?

A very important decision was taken last year on legislation to allow members of the RDF to participate more fully in Defence Force operations and potentially to be deployed overseas, but there is a whole piece of work concerning workers' rights that is needed as part of that. Employer organisations need to become stakeholders in the process. There is a need for stringent workers' rights to ensure that members of the retained service who may choose to go on overseas deployment are not punished by their employer and do not lose out as a result of that. As that is something that is needed, the Minister might give us an update on whether the issue has been examined and when the legislation is scheduled to appear. That is it for now.

I will be quite brief. I note that the PDF strength is also dropping from 8,659 in 2019 to 8,468 in 2021, which would be a concern. The 2022 Estimate is lower than the 2021 outturn for allowances. Could the Minister comment on why that is the case? Is it because of the reduced numbers in the PDF? Could he provide a breakdown on the PDF strength as well between the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service?

We know that pay and allowances are an issue in the Defence Forces. Hopefully, that can be addressed in order to bolster retention. Because of their fantastic training and skill set a lot of people are being headhunted by the private sector.

On the RDF side of it, could the Minister give a breakdown between the Army Reserve and Naval Reserve pay, which is given as one figure, €1,918,000. Could he comment on the allowances? What are they for? Has any thought been given to bringing back the gratuity that was there in the past for the Army Reserve, as it was?

If somebody put in so many hours per year, he or she got a gratuity at the end of the year, which encouraged people to show up for training and so on. Again, the numbers there are dropping dramatically.

Is the Deputy talking about the Naval Service or the Army?

I think it was in both. There was a gratuity involved certainly with the Army Reserve at one stage. I do not know if it is still there or not or whether it is covered under allowances; I am not sure. As I said, the numbers are dropping. At one stage, there were approximately 15,000 people in the FCA, as it was called way back. Now, that number is down to 1,400 people and dropping. If something is not done to arrest this, that organisation will disappear.

I thank Deputy Stanton. Deputy Lawless will speak on subheads A1 to A7.

This touches on Deputy Stanton's question. In terms of a headcount of 9,500 in the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, I tabled a parliamentary question in the Chamber about this recently, although I do not think it was reached in the end, in terms of how the Estimates see the 9,500 playing forward. Is it 10,000 or 10,500? Where does the figure of 9,500 land when the Estimates are factored in in terms of our total headcount in the PDF?

I will make a couple of points. On page 5, it states that 19% of the Defence Forces served overseas in 2020, which is a staggering number. I want to emphasise that. When one fifth of an organisation is spending six months overseas, it has massive implications for family separation and all the social issues that go with that. It emphasises why we need to have more substitutes on the bench, basically, and a larger organisation to maintain our overseas commitments.

Also on page 5 is a list of memorandums of understanding and service level agreements with various organisations in the country. I understand there is a memorandum of understanding between the Irish Defence Forces and the UK armed forces. Would it be possible to get a copy of that? I believe it is only a small document. I genuinely have not actually seen it myself. Perhaps it could be circulated to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence if possible.

On page 8, and I agree with Deputy Stanton, it is concerning that the number of PDF troops in the Air Corp, navy and Army are dropping. I will juxtapose that with the increasing numbers of civil servants. Again, we have nothing against civil servants. Everybody understands that a Government Department needs civil servants. Many employees in the Department of Defence are actually my constituents. It is a red flag, however, when the numbers of front-line workers in any organisation are reducing and the numbers of managers are increasing. We have seen that in the Health Service Executive as well. It emphasises the importance of retention and proper recruitment in getting as many front-line troops in as possible. I will also emphasise the Reserve Defence Force, as Deputy Stanton did. We really need to get those numbers up as soon as possible.

I have a question regarding the context and impact indicators on page 6. Will the Minister clarify his specific plans to increase overall female participation? How are current recruitment practices designed to attract more women? It is my understanding that a report was due to be completed by December 2021 regarding combating pregnancy-related and other discrimination. Has that been completed? Is there an update with regard to that?

I thank the Deputies. I will go back to the Minister for a response. I ask him to perhaps refrain from replying to Deputy Brady on the Naval Service question, which we will come back to in the next round.

Okay. In response to the question on the possibility of associate membership with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to be honest with Deputy Brady, I am very limited in terms of what I can do and say to PDFORRA while there is still a legal case against me.

In fairness, PDFORRA has outlined what it is willing to do in relation to that.

The Deputy might let me answer the question. It has not withdrawn its case as of yet anyway. I have spoken to it directly about that. I have a very good relationship with PDFORRA. If we are going to progress this issue, however, I am not going to do it under threat of legal action. I think that is well understood. There needs to be some good faith here. I can understand the reason the legal action came about and I respect that. However, we are now in the space of having a very short period before the public sector pay rounds start. If we are going to make progress on this, it would be helpful if there was not a legal action still pending.

In terms of allowances, Deputy Brady raised the issue of a specialist instructor allowance. That is a specific issue the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, raises all the time with me. I can understand the argument it makes. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's view on this is very clear. There was a negotiated buy-out, essentially, of that specialist instructor allowance under a previous pay round discussion and negotiation. RACO does not accept that; we are happy to work with it to try to progress this issue. I met with RACO last week and we spoke about this issue. I want to be helpful if I can. We also need to be realistic, however, in terms of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's view on this issue. It is something on which we can hopefully find a way forward as part of a new round of discussions or negotiations around public sector pay, or in advance of that if it is possible to do so. I will continue to speak to RACO with regard to this, however.

Given the pressure on training and need for instructors in terms of the level of recruitment we will need to facilitate and encourage in the years ahead, I can certainly see why there would be a strong argument around ensuring that we can incentivise specialist instructors to move into that space.

In terms of the sea service commitment scheme, as far as I know, 103 people are in that scheme now. We are looking at how we can broaden that. It took a year to negotiate this scheme and get it agreed. It was not easy because a public sector pay round was under discussion. What we could not do in the Naval Service, essentially, was increase pay in a straightforward pay increase fashion. That would have had a knock-on impact in terms of pay negotiations in other sectors and so on.

That is why this is quite targeted for people who have been in the Naval Service for three years and who are willing to commit to go to sea for a number of years. They get quite a significant financial recognition of that commitment in the sea service commitment scheme. Let me give members the updated figures. The new service commitment scheme was introduced in January 2021 for officers and enlisted personnel in the Naval Service who satisfied the following conditions: they must have a minimum of three years' service at ensign-able seaman grade and give an undertaking to serve for an aggregate of 24 months at sea, and a minimum number of 240 patrol days, over a maximum 48-month reference period. There is a total payment of €10,000 for this commitment and that is to be paid in stages. Stage payments of €2,500 are made following each six-month period of seagoing rotation on confirmation that the individual delivers the required minimum 60 patrol days per six-month period.

To date, the military authorities have advised that 103 applicants for the seagoing service commitment scheme have been approved. Payments for the first tranche of this scheme have been processed for a total of 70 personnel to date. The scheme remains open for further applicants as they commence their seagoing rotation. Would we like a broader scheme than that? Yes, I think so.

We have particular recruitment and retention issues in the Naval Service. That is not just a pay issue, by the way. It is a lifestyle issue as well, which is why one of the recommendations in the commission report is that we would look at double crewing for ships so that people would not have to spend as long at sea, which many find difficult in terms of family life and so on, particularly when there are alternatives in the workforce, the private sector and other opportunities in the public sector. We must, therefore, make it more attractive to be in the Naval Service and go to sea. We have to reward that financially but we also have to make sure the lifestyle issues and retention issues around HR management and so on for people in the Defence Forces are prioritised. It is a combination of all those things.

That is why there are clear recommendations on this in the commission's report. Its recommendation is that we provide immediate access to the seagoing service commitment scheme to direct entry personnel into the Naval Service, replace the existing seagoing allowances with less complex seagoing duty measures and make a few other changes that would apply to everybody. Those are issues we have to consider and talk to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about, as it ultimately has to sign off on any change to or broadening of criteria.

A number of Deputies raised concerns about the Reserve Defence Force. I have spoken to reservists who up until a few months ago were very downbeat about the future. I have heard people say that this service is being allowed to die on its feet. I can promise that it will not be allowed to do that. We are committed to the future of the Reserve, to broadening the role of reservists and to bringing in professional expertise around recruitment and what is needed to excite people about opportunities in the Reserve. That is a clear recommendation of the commission's report. In fact, there is a whole chapter on it. We need to set about addressing this issue. The report also recommends a reserve for the Air Corps. We would then have reserves in the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps so there would be a presence in Haulbowline, Baldonnel and the Curragh.

I do not want to sugarcoat the problems. The numbers are way too low and have been falling in recent years. They are not falling dramatically but they are steadily falling from a low base and that is not good. It is not good for morale, retention or recruitment. It is possible to dramatically increase the numbers coming into the Reserve with the right approach. Deputy Berry said we should be more proactive and should give preferential treatment to people who choose to leave the Defence Forces and allow them the option of staying connected to the Defence Forces by being part of the Reserve. That is already happening in some cases but we could be more proactive on that. It is one of a series of things we need to do to invest in the Reserve. My conversations with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, in the last number of months have been very positive and constructive. We need to work in partnership with it on this issue.

Deputy Stanton asked about the allowances and the fact that the Estimate is lower than the outturn from last year. The Estimate is for €48 million. In 2020 there was an outturn of just under €46.5 million and there was an outturn last year of nearly €52 million. The reason the allowances for last year are so much higher is that there were a lot of extra Covid duties and extra allowances linked to overtime and so on. Last year was an extraordinary year for the Defence Forces due to the extra duties and so on. That is the explanation for that. If the Estimate is proven wrong this year or we have a new crisis that requires significant extra Defence Forces input, we will revise that figure, but hopefully we have had enough of that. We will have to wait and see.

Deputy Lawless has gone but he raised the issue of pay. Each year, our Estimate is calculated on the basis of the establishment number and not on the number of people in the Defence Forces. We are the only Department, of which I am aware, that has a deal with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on this. Every year we get enough pay for a full complement of the Defence Forces and if that pay is not spent, which it will not be if we are 1,000 people short, we can then transfer that unspent money into other expenditure across the Defence Forces. Normally that goes into capital expenditure but not always. There may be other issues as well. That has been the practice for the last number of years. I have made it very clear to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that when the number gets back up to the establishment of 9,500, we will need a corresponding increase in the overall budget. At the moment we are benefiting from that unspent pay money in other areas and it is in many ways supplementing expenditure in those areas that would not be available if we got back up to 9,500. However, it will take us some time to get there. I have flagged that with regard to future budgets.

Deputy Berry had a number of questions and comments. He noted that 19% of Defence Forces members have served overseas. As the Deputy will know, serving overseas is a central part of being a member of the Irish Defence Forces. People are trained and equipped for that and plan for it. It is a huge part of what we do, unlike in many other countries where the priority is often core defence of a state, either along a border or dealing with threats, perceived threats and so on. Our structures are built around peacekeeping service overseas and peace interventions. In the future, some of those interventions will become more complex. We are going to look at doing more chapter VII missions, which will require more complex training, more advanced equipment and better armour. That has a price tag but that is where we need to be.

I take the point that one in five members of the Defence Forces being overseas for six months of the year, or a decent portion of the year, puts pressures on the system. There is a lot of talk about the Naval Service. There was also a lot of talk about problems in the Air Corps because pilots were being lost to the private sector and we had to introduce schemes to get them back. However, there is not enough talk about the pressure on the Army, particularly linked to service overseas. It is short of numbers too. We need to make sure our service overseas is tailored to the resources we have available to us. For example, we have some decisions to make in the months ahead because French forces are pulling out of Mali. France has a huge contingent there. Whether that changes the risk profile of that training mission and the UN mission is a matter we are assessing carefully at the moment. We got a renewed mandate for a continuation of that training mission for another 12 months from Cabinet just in the last few days. We will continue to assess that through the summer as France moves out of a country that has, unfortunately, become more volatile and less democratic. We will take all that into account.

The memorandum of understanding on defence with the UK was signed a number of years ago with the UK's Secretary of State for Defence. It was predominantly about procurement and training. Nothing about defence policy was part of that. It was more a practical memorandum of understanding for sharing knowledge, procurement systems and so on. I do not know whether I can share it but I will take a look at it.

Some of the memos are confidential and some are not. If it is not confidential, I will have no issue with sharing it.

Regarding staff numbers in the Department versus the Defence Forces, it is important to say that, because we have had pressures in the Defence Forces in terms of recruitment, retention and being under strength, it does not mean that there should be a corresponding loss of numbers in the Department of Defence. One is not contingent on the other. We need a Department that is well resourced and is doing the job that is asked of it, and that is what the Department of Defence is doing. We have a significant issue to deal with in terms of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces and we need a well-resourced Department to help us do that. I do not believe that those comparisons are comparing like with like and that, if the Defence Forces are under pressure, it is all of a sudden not balanced if the Department is not under pressure as well. I know the Deputy is not suggesting that, but there has not been a significant increase in staffing numbers in the Department. We could well make a strong case for increased numbers in our Department, given the work that will be involved in bringing about transformational change and growth in the defence sector on the back of the commission's report. I take the Deputy's point, but the two organisations have different roles to play.

A number of personnel in the Department work in specialist areas of the Defence Forces. Even without the commission's report, we should not underestimate the civil-military partnership that is necessary to deliver the change that is needed in the Defence Forces, be that cultural change and modernisation or our work on gender issues linked to that culture. We have a very busy Department and it is not going to get less busy any time soon.

This brings me on to the matter of the number of women in the Defence Forces. When we put the White Paper together in 2015, we set a target of, if I remember correctly, approximately 12%. Currently, we are at 7%, or essentially half of where we need to be. I will provide the actual numbers on female strength. In 2016, the figure was 2.6%, although the inducted figure was 7.8%. In 2017, the figure was 6.5%. In 2018, it was 6.7%. In 2019, it was 6.9%. In 2020, it was 7%. There has been a gradual, but slow, increase year after year. Of those we are inducting into the Defence Forces, between 7% and 8% are women. According to the challenge that has been put to us by the commission, that figure needs to be more than 30%, so one third of people entering the Defence Forces should be women. There are few, if any, countries in the world that are achieving those numbers, but we have to set ourselves a target. It will take us time to get into the double figures and move on from there, but the Defence Forces will be made a more attractive career option for women through a combination of better HR management; expertise from outside the Defence Forces contributing to HR management and transformation in the Defence Forces, which was a recommended structural change as part of a new defence headquarters with a chief of defence, or CHOD, and a non-military HR head of transformation reporting into that office at a senior level; and multiple recommendations on bringing about cultural change, introducing much more family-friendly practices within the Defence Forces and ensuring that there is more transparency and clarity around promotion opportunities and a complete zero-tolerance approach towards discrimination and bullying, whether it is based on gender or other factors. Making it a more attractive career option for women is badly needed because the contribution they can make to the Defence Forces more broadly will be considerable if we can change those numbers. This applies across the service, including the Reserve.

The report does not pull its punches in terms of the gender issues in the Defence Forces. It is my intention, and that of my Secretary General, the Chief of Staff and our teams, to deliver significant change in this regard. The role that the Women of Honour and others have played in exposing the unacceptable nature of the treatment and experience of some women in the Defence Forces will bring about significant change. I am determined that that will be the case.

I understand that there was to be a report completed by December 2021 on pregnancy-related and other discrimination.

I am not aware of any recommendation that has come through to me on that yet apart from conversations I have had with members of the Defence Forces regarding the lack of family-friendly practices, particularly in the context of pregnancy and commitments to go to sea and the like, parental leave, maternity leave and so on. These are issues on which work needs to be done as regards the approach in and across the Defence Forces, but I am not aware of an individual report.

It is my understanding that it was a recommendation of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. This matter is of interest to my colleague, Deputy Clarke, for whom I am substituting. Will I tell her to follow up with the Minister by email?

I am being told that the report is awaited. I have not seen recommendations from it, so I presume it has not been concluded or has not got to me.

I am not keen to start a debate in any way, as we are on the Estimates. Deputy Farrell has indicated that an email would be acceptable.

I suggest that an email be sent to Deputy Clarke and copied to Deputy Farrell.

I asked the Minister about the Reserve Defence Force and the prospect of introducing legislation to protect the employment rights of members of the Reserve while they are on overseas deployment and so on.

Deputy Stanton also wanted a breakdown of the Army Reserve versus the Naval Service Reserve and so on. I will provide the numbers. A key ongoing challenge for the Reserve Defence Force is to recruit and retain personnel. As of the end of last year, its effective strength was 1,489. The Army Reserve's strength was 1,373 and the Naval Service Reserve's strength was 116. The strength of the First Line Reserve was 271. There are 199 effective female personnel serving in the Reserve – 178 in the Army Reserve and 21 in the Naval Service Reserve.

We have spoken about this issue previously. If we are successfully going to include reservists in overseas missions, it will impose on their careers and work at home. I have given a commitment to consult employer groups. I do not believe that the way to do this is to go straight to legislation. We want co-operation. Otherwise, we will have employers looking for ways of avoiding the problems and inconvenience of losing workers for months at a time. I would like to approach this by trying to get the buy-in of employers. If we have to back that up with legislation, we will look at doing so.

Has the Minister initiated that process?

I have not met the employer groups yet, although the process may well have started. I have spoken to RDFRA about the matter and we have given it a commitment to report back to it after I have had a chance to meet the employer groups.

I thank the Minister.

That concludes our discussion of subheads A1 to A7, inclusive. Moving to subheads A8 to A18, inclusive, and having regard to the fact we have covered issues with the Naval Service, at least from Deputy Brady's perspective, I will take any other questions on those subheads, moving through matters briefly. I call Deputy Stanton.

I note that in the briefing we received, under subhead A15, communications and IT, there is no mention of cybersecurity. We have security issues on land, sea and air at this time but the other concern is cybersecurity. I see no figure for that and did not hear any mention of it in the Minister's statement. I know there are confidentiality and security issues involved in this but even mobile telephone networks are now under scrutiny in terms of their security. I would have expected a separate subhead on cybersecurity. Will he comment on that?

On page 20, under subhead A13, I very much welcome the increase in infrastructure expenditure from the guts of-----

Sorry, will the Deputy clarify to which subhead he is referring? The page numbers in my document are different from those in the members' briefing.

I am referring to subhead A13. I welcome the allocation of €45 million but everybody here knows that most of the facilities across the country were built by the British and they are crumbling. There is a lot of talk of increasing the Defence Vote in October but some people are pushing back on that because they think the money will be spent on warmongering equipment. The reality is it will be spent on people and premises. That is the key point I want to get across. We need a multimillion investment in premises and that is where the vast majority of the increase will go. I welcome this increase but plenty more is required.

On subhead A13, which deals with infrastructure, does the Minister have a breakdown of regional expenditure? In regard to subhead A14, on uniforms, clothing, equipment and catering, PDFORRA recently said that the current rations are not sustainable given the rise in food costs. Will he comment on that? Subhead A15, communications and IT, provides for the purchase and maintenance of Defence Forces computers, signalling and office equipment. Given the changing nature of the role of the Defence Forces in national cybersecurity, does the Minister believe that allocation is sufficient? We have seen the impact of the attack on the HSE. Regarding subhead A18, the increase in litigation would indicate there is a rising challenge in terms of court cases. It is surprising not to see a corresponding increase in medical and healthcare support provision under this subhead. Will he also comment on that? Unfortunately, I will have to leave soon to attend another committee meeting.

Any issues raised by the Deputy will be responded to by the Minister in writing through the clerk to the committee.

Earlier in the year, we saw our capabilities to defend our neutrality questioned in respect of the planned naval exercise by Russia off the southern coast. This highlighted many of the deficiencies that have been widely articulated over a considerable period, including in respect of our primary radar capability and our ability to monitor subsea activities. Given the proximity of highly sensitive data cables between Europe and America, we have been badly exposed. Much of what has been identified as lacking, including our primary radar capability, was highlighted in the White Paper in 2015. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this Estimate in terms of building up that capacity. There are major security concerns stemming from the grotesque invasion of Ukraine by Russia and our ability to defend our neutrality in terms of our responsibilities to police our air and waters and the other areas I mentioned. The Minister will say the Commission on the Defence Forces has identified what needs to be done but the White Paper also identified measures that needed to be taken, such as those relating to primary radar capability. There is no provision here for any of that. Will he comment broadly in this regard?

On subhead A15, Defence Forces built infrastructure, construction and maintenance, this committee has embarked on a number of barracks visits, including to Haulbowline, most recently, and the Curragh. While it is welcome to see some capital investment in infrastructure in both locations, it was very evident from our visits that a greater level of investment is required into the future. I am acutely aware of the five-year capital plan but there is no provision in this regard in the plan. The derelict houses that would previously have been used as married quarters are very visible to anyone driving through the Curragh. When I was there, I asked what the intention is for those houses that are lying vacant. We talk about the need to increase the number of women in the Defence Forces, with a high target of 30% rightly set by the commission. What is the plan by the Department and the Minister for the houses in the Curragh? In the midst of a housing crisis, it is crazy for them to be left vacant. Leaving that aside, there is all this talk of making the Defence Forces more family-friendly. Does the Minister not see a role for those houses in that regard? Female members of the Defence Forces have to travel to the Curragh for specific training and be away from young children. Does he not see a role for those houses to be brought back into use to facilitate women in those circumstances? I do not see any plan for their use. Something could be developed along those lines to make the organisation more family-friendly.

My colleague, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, touched on the issue of rations, which was highlighted earlier in the year by PDFORRA. I understand the current ration is €4.20 a day to feed members of the Defence Forces. In 2010, it was €4.80, at which point it was cut to €4.20. Twelve years later, notwithstanding the rate of inflation and everything else, that rate has stayed static and is out of line with other sectors of the public service. Is this issue being looked at and what is being done to address it? Does the Minister consider such a rate to be sustainable and right? For overseas deployment, the ration is something in the region of €6. Members of the Defence Forces have to go overseas to be better fed. There is a serious issue in this regard and it is one that has been highlighted. I want to hear whether it is being looked at with a view to increasing the ration. If I am reading the document correctly, the Estimate proposes a 4% decrease in the allocation for this.

Can the Deputy point me to the relevant part of the document?

I do not have it to hand but will try to locate it for the Minister.

That is fine. I am not looking to be difficult.

There are a number of broad policy questions that you might address briefly, Minister, and then the specific question on the Estimates.

A number of members raised the cyber issue. The primary role of the Defence Forces with regard to cybersecurity relates to the Defence Forces and the security of its networks and systems. The Defence Forces and the Department of Defence work with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications on an ongoing basis on the delivery of measures to improve the cybersecurity of the State. The Defence Forces provide support to the National Cyber Security Centre and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in line with the programme for Government commitment to implement the national cybersecurity strategy. I assure members that my Department and the Defence Forces implement a programme of continuous review in respect of ICT security to keep up to date with current threat levels. We also have a member of the Defence Forces in the European Cybersecurity Competence Centre in Tallinn in Estonia, which is probably the leading organisation in the EU on it.

The commission report references cybersecurity a great deal. The report contains a large number of recommendations relating to cybersecurity, and the Government will now consider the future development of the Defence Forces in light of that report. Members of the Defence Forces and officials from the Department of Defence are actively involved in the implementation of the national cybersecurity strategy. This includes work to develop and update detailed risk assessment of the current vulnerability of all critical national infrastructure. The response to cyber threats is a whole-of-government challenge, with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications taking the lead role. From an operational perspective, it would be inappropriate to comment on the cyber capability of the Defence Forces other than to say there is ongoing development of cyber capabilities in the Defence Forces.

Members are right to raise the issue because we know there is a significant cyber risk to Ireland. We had a very significant cyberattack on our health systems and the HSE in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic that put many patients at risk and cost the Government a considerable amount of money to fix. Neutrality does not mean we are safe. There are both state and non-state actors that want to interfere with our systems.

In terms of built infrastructure, it is one of the big increases in expenditure in these Estimates. There is a significant increase in the built infrastructure. I will give the committee a sense of the significant projects that were completed during 2021, and we will build beyond that. There was construction of two new gymnasia at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick and Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny at a combined cost of €6.2 million. Provision of a new electric target range at The Curragh was €2.1 million. There was a no danger area, NDA, range at Gormanston, a personnel support service resource centre in Collins Barracks in Cork, which I opened, and replacement of standby generators at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. There is a series of built infrastructure upgrades. Deputy Berry is right. We operate out of barracks that were put in place in a different era. Many of the buildings are historical and substantial, but they have to be upgraded and modernised from an energy point of view and from a quality of life and quality of work perspective.

There is far too much dereliction in The Curragh. People talk about that, but we have to prioritise the capital spend we have available. Everyone who is calling for more expenditure might tell me what projects they want me to drop and not proceed with. We cannot deal with the dereliction overnight. We can do it in a phased way as we increase our budgets, which we are doing with our capital budget. We are spending the highest capital budget this year since before the crash in 2008. I hope to be able to continue to increase that expenditure. There is significant work to be done in The Curragh, Haulbowline and in other barracks. Much of that is on a multi-annual investment programme, which I am happy to share with colleagues.

Regarding the radar issue, the White Paper recommends we look at that, resources permitting. It has been a question of prioritisation. It is easy to do everything if one has a limitless budget, which we do not have. We have an increasing budget every year and I hope that will continue. We will make recommendations regarding radar facilities in the context of experience, the commission report and the White Paper, but it is resource contingent. That is why we need to spend more money on defence. When Members stand up in the Dáil or Seanad and say we should not be investing in weaponry and defence systems because somehow that is a militarisation of Ireland, it is not. It is about ensuring our Defence Forces are operating in the right training environments and have the right equipment and training systems to be able to perform their role on land, at sea and in the air. In my view, that requires significantly more investment on both the capital and current sides. It is up to me to try to get that response from the Government, it is hoped before the summer break, in terms of the response to the commission report. We have a very strong evidence base now to back that up.

Also, the Deputy spoke about lessons learned in the context of a potential Russian naval exercise. It was not in Irish waters, actually, but in international waters that Ireland has responsibility for monitoring and observing. We need to be honest with ourselves. We could quadruple our defence budget and not have the defence capacity to repel a Russian naval fleet wanting to come into our waters. Let us get into the real world here. At present, what we are being asked to do by a commission report is to improve capacity in multiple areas. It recommends we should consider moving beyond that but accepts this will take a lot more time in the context of issues such as fighter jets and so forth, which some people seem to think is pie in the sky. The truth is that Ireland's capacity in conventional defence is quite limited. We need to have a much better understanding in terms of information and observation in both the air and sea and we need to invest accordingly. I hope we will.

What the commission is asking us to do when comparing Ireland with other peer group countries of similar size, wealth and defence perspectives is to move from spending a third of what they spend on average per year to spending a half of what they spend relative to GDP. We have to put that into context, particularly in the context of what we are seeing now in Ukraine. Very fundamental questions must be asked with regard to security, stability, our place in the European Union and what contribution we can make towards protecting our way of life, which we have been a part of building in the European Union, given the threats we are seeing to the east at present. That will be a discussion that will also be part of the consideration of the commission's report.

Thank you.

Can I answer the question on rations, in case I am accused of avoiding the question?

Defence Forces personnel engaged in security duties, approved training courses and operational exercises and single personnel living in barracks may avail of daily meals in certain circumstances. Average annual expenditure in this area in the three years of 2019 to 2021 has been €3.2 million.

The current daily ration rate is €4.20. This rate is reviewed periodically to counter inflation impacts. The Office of Government Procurement, OGP, has put framework contract arrangements in place for major food procurement for the Defence Forces and other public service bodies to try to guarantee value for money. The military authorities have advised the daily ration rate will be reviewed, having regard to the retendering of the OGP food contracts, a process that is under way. PDFORRA has raised the matter and its views will be taken into account in that regard. Of course soldiers need to be well fed, given the role they need to play. The review will take that into account.

On the issue of houses at the Curragh, we did make a policy decision several years ago to move away from residential quarters, if one likes, or married quarters on or in barracks. There are no plans to change that policy. The commission did not propose change in that respect. I am told the houses to which the Deputy is referring are not habitable. They are run down and quite derelict and would need to be significantly upgraded if we were to allow people to live there. That is not the plan at the moment.

I thank the Minister. These have been comprehensive replies. I am conscious that we have gone as far as subhead A18. I propose to proceed now from subhead A19, to include the balance of issues under Vote 36. We have had policy issues and direct questions that have been dealt with. I call Deputy Stanton, to be followed by Deputies Berry and Brady, to address any outstanding issues relating to the remainder of Vote 36.

I will be brief because I know it is getting late. I am searching for the recruitment budget, which is important. I see funding for advertising is mentioned under miscellaneous expenditure, with a figure of €450,000. Does that cover recruitment or is recruitment provided for elsewhere? I refer to the figure of €450,000 under A22, relating to miscellaneous expenditure and advertising. That is all I can find that might relate to recruitment. As recruitment and retention is such a significant issue, I ask the Minister to let us know what is being expended in that regard and how it is being expended.

On the issue of recruitment, I refer to the cost of the aptitude tests recruits have to undertake. I also understand quite a number of people fall at that hurdle, which gives me pause for thought as to whether they are appropriate in the first place.

Subhead A25 relates to the Irish Red Cross and the funding it receives. I assume that if the Red Cross is expanding its role now as it is being called on to do far more in the context of the Ukraine crisis and so forth, it will be getting funding from other Departments to give it the wherewithal to do that work. Could it rely on the undoubted experience and abilities of the Defence Forces with regard to logistics and so on? A significant number of people are coming into Ireland in a very short period. The Chairman and I know from our previous jobs the challenges of dealing with people coming in who may have trauma, language skill issues, accommodation needs, health issues and so on. I put it to the Minister that the Defence Forces have a significant amount to offer there in terms of logistics.

Those are my questions for the Minister. I have to leave the meeting soon because I am half an hour late for another meeting.

I thank the Deputy. For clarification, I am including programme B, appropriations-in-aid, in this section.

Subhead A23 refers to the European peace facility and €5 million being handed over. I was surprised by that. I could be completely wrong, but normally when money goes to Europe it comes from the Department of the Taoiseach. I seek clarification on that money having come from the defence budget. I agree that an additional €9.5 million for the European peace facility was announced by the Taoiseach approximately ten days ago. Will that additional €9.5 million come from a separate budget or is it coming from the Defence Forces Vote?

It is from the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is the same Minister but a different Department.

We will deal with that tomorrow.

I will have to check that with the Department of Foreign Affairs before it gets shifted over.

On a connected but different point, I agree with the €9.5 million being handed over for non-lethal equipment as per the programme for Government and we should honour that commitment, but has there been any consideration of or any final decision made regarding the provision of non-lethal equipment such as helmets, body armour, communications equipment and medical equipment from Defence Forces stockpiles? Rather than just providing money, can we directly provide non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainians, who are in desperate need at the moment? Has any final decision been made on - I will not say lethal equipment - protective and defensive anti-armour weapons?

I am hearing that money was handed back to the central Exchequer last year. I am looking for confirmation on that. I am hearing the figure may be approximately €29 million.

It is €23 million.

Is that money completely gone or, in light of the fact the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces has now been published, is there any chance of having a supplementary budget to get that €23 million back? I am concerned because 12 months were spent - I will not say that time was wasted because it was not - waiting for the report of the commission. If the budget for the 2023 financial year will not be announced until October, could we not get that €23 million back and start implementing the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces as soon as possible?

As regards subhead A24 and the Civil Defence, it is an area to which the committee has not given much focus. I am conscious of that because it is a fantastic organisation that does exceptional work across the State. It looks to me like the funding proposed for this year involves a cut of in the region of half a million euro. I might be wrong in that regard. The 2021 Estimate was €5.64 million; this year it is €5.14 million. I ask the Minister to explain that in the first instance. I ask the Minister to provide a general overview of the Civil Defence - Towards 2030 implementation plan. Where are we in the context of that plan? What is being achieved? What else needs to be achieved?

I agree with Deputy Stanton regarding the Irish Red Cross and its needs in these exceptional times. I welcome the funding that has been provided. I question whether more can be given. I believe more should be given.

My last question relates to section B and the appropriations-in-aid. I refer to land and premises and the section that deals with sales. I am conscious that, for example, in my constituency of Wicklow, and in Bray in particular, land held by the Department at Rockbrae House, which was formerly used by the 21st Infantry Battalion of the Reserve Defence Force, has been identified as surplus to requirements and a process is in place to transfer it to Wicklow County Council for the construction of housing, which is to be welcomed. There seems to be an increase in provision of money from the sale of land and premises held by the Department. I ask the Minister to provide detail in that regard. What are the exact numbers? What is being considered? What land or premises is in the process of being transferred? What is the nature of it. There has been a significant amount of controversy, and rightfully so, in respect of Cathal Brugha Barracks.

I know a process has been put in place with regard to the barracks. I just hope that is not figured somewhere in that section. Will someone categorically-----


I know the Minister has been strong on the issues.

There is a figure there of €200,000 in terms of land sale this year. It is a very small figure.

Where will the funds come from for the process one of the Minister's Cabinet colleagues announced as a review or feasibility study or whatever term he put on it? Is it included in this? I ask for the Minister's views on that. It is a crazy decision, if it is given any consideration.

The Minister is on the record as saying that matters are at a very early stage in terms of feasibility. There are a number of questions. I am conscious of the time and the dwindling membership. I ask the Minister to deal with these final issues before proceeding to a conclusion.

With regard to the land sales issue, I am on the record with regard to Cathal Brugha Barracks. We are going through a process that is appropriate and necessary but, certainly, my responsibility is to the Defence Forces. More than 1,000 people serve in Cathal Brugha Barracks. It is a considerably significant military installation in the heart of Dublin city. We are assessing that, but there are no preconceived outcomes or anything like that. As far as I am concerned, it is a very important part of our military infrastructure.

Deputy Brady asked about the figure with regard to land and premises sales. The figure is €200,000. It is relatively small in the bigger scheme of things. There are no big sales there. That is for sure.

Things are happening in terms of defence infrastructure, such as St. Bricin's medical facility in Dublin 7. The Deputy knows where that is. It is in a very strategic location in Dublin. The Land Development Agency is very interested in acquiring that. We will build a new medical facility in Baldonnel which is funded and will move ahead this year. I have made it very clear that we can only close one facility if we build a new modern facility. However, the St. Bricin's site can make a valuable contribution from a housing perspective. It is in a strategic location.

The Department has also had proactive engagement with the LDA following its interest in Collins Barracks in Mullingar for the development of housing. These facilities are not being used any longer by the Defence Forces. We look to strategically work with another arm of the State to ensure we can make a contribution from a housing perspective. I reassure the Deputy of that.

Since 2019, the Department of Defence has been provided with €3.6 million from the Dormant Accounts Fund. In 2019, Civil Defence was allocated €500,000 which was used to procure 16 4x4 passenger vehicles. In 2020, Civil Defence was allocated funding of €1 million to upgrade its fleet. In 2020, it was allocated another €1 million. The Army veterans associations were also allocated total funding of €300,000. Sail Training Ireland was allocated €50,000.

This year, Civil Defence has been allocated €500,000 to upgrade its fleet again. The Army veterans associations have been allocated another €200,00 in funding. That is the Dormant Accounts Fund element which is, essentially, capital injections on top of the money that we also allocate to Civil Defence.

I will move on to Deputy Berry's questions. First, I was quite involved in the design of the European peace facility because I wanted Ireland to be part of it. I did not want to be outside of that. Ireland, Austria and Malta have a particular perspective here that we want to contribute to a European peace facility in which the EU can effectively pool its resources to make an intervention in a part of the world and that can respond to conflict or instability in a way that promotes peace and so on.

However, there are two funds within the peace facility. One can fund lethal weapons and the other can fund other elements of the project that are not lethal weapons but can be helmets, gloves, fuel, medical kits, defensive vests and such. The same project can be funded by two funds: one for lethal weapons and the other for non-lethal weapons.

When we designed the European peace facility, we never envisaged that it would be deployed in the heart of Europe in response to an illegal war on Ukraine by Russia. That has now been used as the tool to fund and support the Ukrainian military in an effort to defend itself. It is a €500 million fund. Some €450 million of that is focused on lethal weapons and €50 million of it is focused on other equally important and necessary but non-lethal weaponry.

We contribute our full amount as a percentage of the €500 million. Some 1.9% is the allocation key, which is between €9 million and €10 million. This is the same as every other country but we focus our financial contribution on non-lethal weaponry, or the €50 million element of the fund. In percentage terms, we make the same contribution as any other country.

We are also looking at what contribution we can make in terms of actual stores of equipment. I have heard Deputy Berry call on me to look at providing Javelin anti-tank weaponry and so on. We have decided not to provide lethal weaponry but, even if we did, we do not have excess stockpiles of Javelins. I have looked at the infantry of equipment and asked for a report on that.

While it is true we have some, we also have a training use and obligations in terms of equipment linked to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and so on. There is not a large stockpile of excess equipment that we could share, even if we wanted to. We have also looked at defensive equipment such as helmets, vests and so on. There are some limited excess stocks.

One of the areas we have extra stocks is in food parcels that would be very useful for soldiers in the field. We are looking at stocks we can share. However, most of our contribution will be financial to efficiently purchase equipment and stocks and get them in to Ukraine, as quickly as we can, in order that young men and women who sign up and join can get defensive equipment to protect themselves in the context of the war in Ukraine.

We are making a full contribution but it is important that people understand we have looked at all the options in terms of what is available and what is not. We are acting on the basis of providing as much product, as quickly as we can, using the efficient channels that are open to us to get product into people who need it in Ukraine.

In terms of the €23 million underspend, as it happens, a number of Departments had underspends last year. Some of that is linked to Covid. From our perspective, much of the building work that was due to move ahead last year was significantly behind schedule. We simply were not able to go on site for a significant portion of the year because of Covid restrictions. That stalled things.

We also tried to spend the majority of that money on procurement of equipment on which we expected to be able to sign off in December but will not be able to sign off until this month.

That was unfortunate because I certainly would have liked to have spent all of the money available to us last year. We cannot carry that money over because that is not the way the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform works. The conversation on how we should respond to the commission in respect of increased resourcing will need to take place in the context of the recommendations I will bring to the Government in June. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, will be central to those resourcing conversations because we cannot facilitate the level of ambition on structural and cultural change and increased resourcing contained in the commission report without an all-of-government commitment from the three party leaders and, of course, from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. All of that money has to deliver an outcome and must represent value for money because the availability of money is finite. We are competing with many other Departments which are also making claims from the national Exchequer. We have a very strong evidence base now from the commission report to make progress in this area.

I thank the Minister on behalf of the select committee and on my own behalf both for his attendance and for dealing in such a comprehensive manner with the many questions over a variety of areas and Votes. I also thank his officials for joining him. As we have now completed our consideration of the Revised Estimates for Votes 35 and 36, the clerk will send a message to that effect to the Clerk of the Dáil. The select committee will adjourn until tomorrow, 10 March at 2.45 p.m. when we will meet the Minister, Deputy Coveney, again to consider the Revised Estimates for Vote 27 - International Co-operation and Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs. The joint committee will also meet the Minister at 1.30 p.m. tomorrow to discuss the ongoing and serious crisis in Ukraine.