I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
As the Deputies are aware, arising from the comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government decided to reduce the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF to 9,500 personnel. The savings arising from this decision and those arising from broader reductions in the number of public servants were required to meet fiscal consolidation targets which are a key component of the EU-IMF programme. In response to this reduced strength ceiling, I initiated a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve. This is to ensure the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces is prioritised within the available resources.
A three brigade structure has been retained since the strength of the PDF was reduced to 11,500 and is no longer viable within a reduced strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel. Accordingly, the re-organisation encompasses a reduction in the number of Army brigades from the current three to two.
I tasked the Chief of Staff and Secretary General of my Department with bringing forward detailed proposals for my consideration. It is important that time be permitted for the completion of the preparatory work and for consideration of the range of outstanding issues. I have received regular updates on progress and I expect to receive a final report from the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff in the near future.
It has been my stated intention to refrain from commenting on the re-organisation until this work is complete. However, I found it necessary in recent days to clarify the position with regard to Custume Barracks in Athlone. This was required to dispel an ongoing campaign of misinformation and misleading speculation that suggested falsely that removal of the brigade headquarters would result in 600 personnel being withdrawn from the barracks. I clarified this matter by announcing that the brigade headquarters for the two new brigades would be located in Cork and Dublin and that this decision would have minimal impact on strength levels in Custume Barracks. The fact is there are approximately 1,050 Defence Forces personnel currently based in the barracks. Following the re-organisation, there will be approximately 1,000 Defence Forces personnel remaining in the barracks. This decision and the announcement regarding the brigade headquarters were informed by an interim report received by me from the Chief of Staff and Secretary General. I have no intention of revisiting this decision.
As with any reform or re-organisation, individuals may be concerned about the potential impact upon them. Any change arising will be encompassed within the scope of the broader public service reform programme and the Croke Park agreement. The Deputies will appreciate that consideration of detailed questions must await the completion of the preparatory work and final decisions. This includes questions regarding final organisational structures, rank distributions and implementation issues, such as movements of personnel.