I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 8 together.
As the Deputy is aware, arising from the Government's comprehensive review of expenditure, the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force was reduced to 9,500 personnel. In response to this reduced strength ceiling, I initiated a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve. This re-organisation will encompass a reduction in the number of Army brigades from the current three to two. A three brigade structure was no longer viable within a reduced strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel.
The priority is on maintaining the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force to the greatest extent possible within this reduced strength ceiling. This will be achieved through rationalising administrative and support functions and rebalancing force elements. As I have previously outlined, I requested the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General to bring forward proposals for my consideration. It had been my stated preference to await the submission of final proposals before making any announcements.
Unfortunately, I found it necessary to clarify the position with regard to Custume Barracks to dispel the ongoing campaign of misinformation and misleading speculation which suggested falsely that the removal of the brigade headquarters would result in some 600 personnel being withdrawn from the barracks. I have recently clarified that the two new brigades will have their headquarters located in Cork and Dublin. I have again confirmed that Custume Barracks will not be closed and that within an overall strength of 9,500, the reorganisation will see numbers serving in Custume Barracks remaining in the order of 1,000 personnel. This firmly rebuffs the misinformation regarding the impact of the withdrawal of the brigade headquarters from Custume Barracks.
Despite my reassurances that the numbers based in the barracks will not be reduced by any significant margin, it has been incorrectly stated, in this House and elsewhere, that this decision represents a loss of 400 jobs from Custume Barracks. This is without foundation and misleading. The strength ceiling of the PDF is 9,500 and it is impossible to lose jobs that simply are not there. There are not 1,400 personnel based in Athlone; no such number were based there during the life of the previous Government and Custume Barracks, as presently constituted, could not accommodate such numbers.
Given the scale of the re-organisation, there will be movement of functions and personnel within and between barracks. As with any reform or reorganisation, individuals may be concerned about the potential impact upon them. Any changes arising will be encompassed within the scope of the broader public service reform programme and Croke Park agreement.
The Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the Chief of Staff are continuing their work to finalise proposals on the re-organisation. I look forward to receiving and considering these final proposals. The Deputy will appreciate that I will not be in a position to answer further questions regarding the re-organisation until this process is complete. Nevertheless, I felt it important to clarify the position on brigade headquarters last week because the misinformation in the constituency is causing upset generally in Athlone and was unfair to members of the Defence Forces and their families.