Defence Forces Strength

Questions (1, 2)

Dara Calleary

Question:

1Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence further to his recent announcement to disband the Western Brigade reducing the number of brigades from three to two, the time frame for the implementation of this decision; the number of senior army positions that will be eliminated by this reduction; if troops will be transferred from their current base; the number of troops who will lose their position as a result of this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30131/12]

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

2Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence if he will reconsider his decision to downgrade Custume Barracks, Athlone, County Westmeath [30265/12]

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Oral answers (27 contributions) (Question to Minister for Defence)

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.

I thank the Minister for his reply. His decision has been seven months in preparation. He issued his letter to the Chief of Staff on 5 December and today is supposed to be the longest day of the year, believe it or not.

That makes it the shortest night as well.

It was actually brighter on 5 December when the Minister made his announcement. Why was the western brigade chosen to be left behind in the new arrangement? The personnel serving in Custume Barracks want to know how many of them will be moved out of the barracks. If he decided to reduce the number of brigades in what he termed a cost-cutting measure, surely he cannot expect the House to believe that only 50 members of the Defence Forces will move out of the barracks. Few costs would be saved.

Will the Minister confirm that 1,400 positions, regardless of whether they are filled, are attached to Custume Barracks? I gather that, when speaking on local radio in the midlands during the week, the Minister stated that Custume Barracks would not be large enough for so many people. It was not Deputies on this side of the House who stated they had no confidence in the Minister, rather it was one of his colleagues. From local Deputies, including some members of the Minister's party, I gather Custume Barracks is well able to house that number of people. During the debate in the House in the run-up to the closure of the barracks in Mullingar, the Minister assured us Custume Barracks was more than capable of taking in personnel from Mullingar.

That these are the last Department of Defence priority questions in this session presents a difficulty. We will not have a chance to question the Minister again until September. When will the information be shared with the House and with those affected in Custume Barracks? Will we have a chance to question the Minister on the matter?

I regret the Deputy has been misled by his colleague, Deputy Troy, who has been running a campaign around Athlone, calling public meetings with his Fianna Fáil colleagues and-----

-----suggesting, first, that the barracks was to close, which was untrue, and second, that 600 personnel were to be removed from the barracks. When that also turned out to be untrue and I made it clear the barracks would have in or about 1,000 personnel at the end of the re-organisation, he went around telling everyone there were either 1,400 or 1,450 personnel in the barracks. I noticed with some interest that Deputy Calleary phrased it as the barracks having the capacity to have 1,400, even if they are not there at the moment. Let me enlighten him. Throughout the period when Fianna Fáil was in government over the past ten years, Custume Barracks never had 1,400 personnel. It does not have 1,400 personnel today, it did not have that many when the Deputy's party left government and it did not have that many when his party was in government.

How many will it have when the Minister is out of government?

This is a complete fabrication. When the current Government took up office on 9 March 2011, there were just over 900 personnel in Custume Barracks.

The Government closed the barracks in Mullingar.

The Minister stated he would not.

Today, there are 1,050 personnel in Custume Barracks, 34 of whom are currently abroad on duties but who remain attached to Custume Barracks. There are no mythical 350 extra personnel - they feature in Deputy Troy's imagination - and there never have been.

Perhaps the Minister should speak with his backbencher, who considers that the Minister is using the barracks as a kicking post.

The practical reality is that, when this re-organisation is implemented, Custume Barracks will end up with approximately 100 more personnel than were there on 9 March 2011.

Was a cost-benefit analysis of the decision to move the brigade headquarters out of Custume Barracks undertaken? When will the changes indicated by the Minister be fully implemented? Will the savings that might be made be re-invested in the Defence Forces, as was the case previously when major savings, barrack closures and so on occurred? The Minister claims the change in strength will only be 50 personnel. Next year, we will determine whether the Minister held to a reduction of only 50 personnel. I do not believe he will. When will the changes be fully implemented, was a cost-benefit analysis conducted and will the savings be re-invested?

I very much welcome the new era of politics in which we are currently engaged. That Sinn Féin is now showing such considerable support for the Defence Forces is a very important and welcome development.

The Minister is in good form today.

The monetary savings have been delivered through the reduction in personnel strength and are reflected in the 2012 budget. The provision for the Permanent Defence Force's pay in the Vote 36 Estimates in 2011 was just over €442 million. The corresponding provision for 2012 is €425 million. The re-organisation will absorb the reduction in numbers and improve operational effectiveness. The reduction in the number of brigades from three to two will free up military personnel from administrative and support functions.

The reality is, at a time when we had 11,500 personnel in the Defence Forces, a three brigade structure made sense. At a time when we have 9,500 personnel in the Defence Forces, a two brigade structure makes sense. What this is about is ensuring the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces and that they are deployed in a manner that is in the public interest and maximises their effectiveness, both in assisting the civil power in their duties in this State and in facilitating their undertaking of international duties.

What is also of particular importance at a time when we have reduced numbers in the Defence Forces is that we have a reasonable proportion between enlisted personnel and officers and that we do not have disproportionate numbers among the higher ranks compared with enlisted personnel. This re-organisation and the decisions made by this Government have had the effect of facilitating a recruitment campaign to the Defence Forces for an additional 600 personnel this year and they have provided for more effective Defence Forces.

The Deputy might be interested to know the Government announced two decisions in December. First, personnel numbers during the course of this year would be brought up and maintained at 9,500. Second, we would move from a three brigade to a two brigade structure. Those particular decisions guaranteed we would have proper numbers within the Defence Forces in order that they could effectively undertake their functions. I am quite pleased to inform the House that we were, unfortunately, heading down a route where, as a result of the manner in which the Defence Forces were being funded and dealt with when Fianna Fáil was in government, there was a risk that numbers within the Defence Forces could have fallen below 8,000.

Thank you, Minister.

We made very important decisions to protect the numbers in the Defence Forces and we used its establishment to the maximum efficiency and capability. What we are now implementing is the agreed portion of the re-organisation as agreed by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of my Department. As to when we will have the final detail of this, I cannot give an exact date but it will be within the next few weeks. Some final work is still being done on that.

Thank you, Minister.

When that work is completed, I will be quite happy to make an announcement on it.

Why was such a fundamental decision about the re-organisation of the Army taken outside of the Green Paper process? That process is there to design a roadmap for our Defence Forces for the next ten years. Again, the Minister has not answered the question as to why the Western Brigade was chosen for abolition.

My understanding is that there was a commitment to prepare a new White Paper in the previous programme for Government. It is also my understanding that the previous Government had no difficulty with initiating a re-organisation of the Permanent Defence Force at that stage to accommodate a strength reduction to 10,000 in advance of that process. The reality was when we came into government, the strength was going to fall substantially below that.

Will the Minister answer the question?

The priority is the maintenance of the operational capability of the Defence Forces within a reduced resource envelope to underpin the re-organisation. In these circumstances, I cannot understand how it is now suggested that it is necessary to await the publication of the Green Paper and the outcome of any White Paper. The organisational structures that were outmoded at 10,000 are even more outmoded at 9,500 personnel. I am determined to ensure the Defence Forces are re-organised to reflect the current strength ceiling as soon as possible.

The process of preparing a Green Paper on defence has commenced. A broad consultative process will be initiated upon its publication. This is planned for the end of the year. It is neither feasible nor prudent to wait until the White Paper is finalised in 2013 and only in 2014 to initiate a re-organisation of the Defence Forces to ensure they are able to operate to their maximum efficiency and capability.

Why is the Western Brigade to be abolished?

Army Barracks

Questions (3, 4, 5)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

3Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Defence the savings that have been made as a result of the closure of Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, County Tipperary; the costs associated with the provision of security and maintenance at the former Kickham Barracks site; the costs associated with the provision of an alternative building for the Reserve Defence Forces who were formerly located at Kickham Barracks; his plans for the Kickham Barracks site in the future; if he has progressed the idea of relocating Clonmel Garda Station onto the premises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30133/12]

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Dara Calleary

Question:

4Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made in the use of the army barracks closed in 2012; the amount of money spent on the maintenance and security of the closed barrack sites to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30132/12]

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Seamus Healy

Question:

5Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Defence the progress made regarding the future of the site of the former Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30134/12]

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Oral answers (32 contributions) (Question to Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.

The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective in the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports over the past number of years. This was a key consideration of the Government in addressing this issue as releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained notwithstanding the fall in strength. As with previous rounds of consolidation under the Defence Forces modernisation programme, barracks, once vacated, are being disposed of with the proceeds being used to fund the upgrading of Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure.

Military personnel occupied on security and support functions within the four barracks closed on 30 March 2012 have been released for operational duties leading to an efficiency gain of around €5 million per annum. In addition, there are direct cash savings of approximately €1.3 million per annum arising from utilities, maintenance and security duty allowances in the four barracks.

Since the announcement of the Government's decision on barrack closures, my Department has written to each Department, various agencies and local authorities seeking expressions of interest in acquiring any of the properties to benefit the local community as a whole but with particular emphasis on job creation measures. As a result, I can confirm that agreement has been reached with Mayo County Council for the purchase of Mitchell Barracks, Castlebar. The council has already taken over the property under a caretaker agreement pending full completion of the necessary legal paperwork to complete the transfer of title.

There have also been discussions between officials from my Department and a number of other State agencies on the sale of Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, and Cavan. However, these discussions are still ongoing. Some discussion has also taken place on Mullingar Barracks but no substantial progress has been made towards achieving a sale. Every effort will be made to dispose of the barracks so as to maximise the benefits to the local community.

When barracks close, there is an onus on my Department to provide necessary security and undertake maintenance and upkeep as required. Security fencing is under way at some of the barracks at a total estimated cost of €130,000. Temporary additional security measures have also been put in place at a cost of €40,000 to date. Out of those figures approximately €36,000 has been spent on Kickham Barracks.

Regarding Reserve Defence Force premises in Clonmel, a property has been identified. Several minor issues have arisen with the lease which are being addressed, however.

I asked a specific question about Kickham Barracks and the Minister has bundled it in with others which I am not happy about. He also gave only one figure of €36,000 when the question requested three figures. He did not even answer the last part of the question on the relocation of the Garda station in Clonmel. The gardaí based there are working in a hovel, a third world premises which is not fit for purpose of any shape, make or form and access for the public is disgraceful. Will he reply to that part of the question?

Could the Deputy complete his question because I have to bring in the other Deputies who put down questions on this?

There were three parts to that detailed question and the Minister only answered one. He often talks about my ramblings but they were put down on paper to him. He had time to answer them but he failed. He is more interested in jibes at Fianna Fáil and the Technical Group, for which he seems to have an obsession.

We will come back to the Deputy.

He will, however, have to go out to the working class people in Tallaght and look after them. He might not like that.

I do not know what Deputy Mattie McGrath is taking but it makes life very interesting when he is in the House.

Would the Minister just answer the questions? I wish himbon voyage to Tallaght.

The issue of Kickham Barracks and the relocation of Clonmel Garda station is being discussed in the context of the disposal of the barracks. I am conscious of the condition of the Garda station in question.

Will the Minister come down to see it?

There is a particular problem, however, which is that the Office of Public Works has substantially less funding available to it for the construction of new Garda stations as a consequence of the destruction of our fiscal base-----

Will the Minister answer the question and forget about the past?

-----by the previous Government, a Government for which Deputy Mattie McGrath was happy to vote and of which he was part.

Regard has been taken of relocation of the Garda station to the Clonmel barracks. I hope and believe discussions that are taking place on this matter will come to a successful outcome.

We had debates with the Minister with his justice hat on the threat posed by dissident republican activity. There have been several serious incidents since the decision was taken to close Cavan Barracks. Given this threat, we may need a military presence on the Border. Will the Minister agree that Cavan Barracks, given its location, would be the most ideal place for such a presence?

In discussions with various groups the Minister met regarding the barracks in Mullingar, he mentioned there was potentially an interest from a foreign third level institution. Has that progressed?

That interest was a possibility but, unfortunately, those in top management at the particular institution changed. It seems the interest has fallen away. We were hoping something beneficial to the area would come of that. Unfortunately, that interest does not seem to be there. I did say when I mentioned it that I did not want to give rise to any unreal expectations as it was an initial interest.

On the basis of advice from the Garda Síochána and the Army's Chief of Staff, I am satisfied that both the Garda and Defence Forces are adequately positioned to take any action that may be necessary and have the capability to do so should there be some issue or incident with dissident republican activity that gives rise to concern. As the Deputy knows, there is a good relationship, with maximum co-operation, between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI in dealing with a broad range of security issues. That will continue. The Army is only engaged as a backup to the civil power should the need arise, and the chief of staff is quite satisfied that any eventuality that could occur can be properly addressed based on the current barracks and the manner in which the Defence Forces are currently deployed.

Will the Minister confirm the interest of South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee in part of Kickham Barracks? The committee has a building immediately adjacent to the barracks and I know it has an interest in a small portion of the site, together with the north block. I support Deputy McGrath's comments regarding relocation of the Garda barracks.

I believe the Minister mentioned a figure of approximately €36,000 for security costs for Kickham Barracks. Is that the correct figure? Will the Minister confirm the tendering process in place for that work?

There was none.

Will the Minister outline if the process was adhered to in that case? I have previously raised the matter of a memorial plaque for Company Sergeant Felix Grant, and his son Felix, known as Tony, has been in contact with the Department. He was also a member of the Defence Forces, and he has indicated the family's preference to have the memorial plaque back in Clonmel. Will the Minister confirm the position of the plaque?

I know there have been discussions about the plaque, which was removed for safe keeping.

I hope it is not scrap metal.

Officials from the Department are happy to be engaged in discussions and if an appropriate arrangement can be agreed, I would be happy to be of assistance. Some further work needs to be done on the matter.

I confirm that among the groups or individuals which have shown an interest in the barracks is the VEC. I understand discussions are ongoing in that context and I am optimistic that there will be some fruitful development from those discussions. I do not want to pre-empt decisions and I am conscious that there is some way to go on that issue, which involves not just decisions by the VEC and the Department of Defence but matters that must be addressed by the Department of Education and Skills. There has been constructive engagement and I would welcome progress.

As I was saying to Deputy McGrath when Deputy Healy came into the House, I am conscious, wearing the two hats I have, of the need for a new Garda station. I also know that a portion of the barracks could provide a very good location for a new Garda station. The difficulty is that the Office of Public Works, OPW, the group within the Government which funds the construction of Garda stations, has very limited available funding. We are giving serious consideration to facilitating the reservation of space that would help in building a Garda station at a time when funding becomes available. We are anxious not to make decisions that would create a difficulty in that context but, unfortunately, in current financial circumstances a number of Garda stations are required in various parts of the State as a consequence of others either being in poor condition or not meeting the needs of areas that have seen expansion. A number of these projects will be put on hold for some time.

Will the Minister visit Clonmel Garda station? From discussions with the Garda, I understand it would need a good portion of the 11-acre site, perhaps five acres or more. The Department owns the site so it is important that the Minister ring-fence it and make the site available. We can deal with the OPW at another stage and do our best. I also support the VEC using the location. I am fearful that vandalism will occur and the site will go into disrepair. This is a prime location in pristine condition and I hope it will not be like the Army barracks in Kildare, which is horrifying to see.

The Minister's reply implies that no tender process was carried out for the provision of security, and local security firms are very annoyed because they did not get the opportunity to tender. Will the Minister confirm that?

I welcome the Minister's response with regard to the VEC and the Garda, as well as the information on the memorial plaque. Is it correct that €36,000 has been spent to date on security for the barracks? Will the Minister inform us of the tendering process? Was it adhered to for Kickham Barracks? What will be the cost of securing this new building for the Reserve Defence Forces?

It strikes me that the Minister is trying to achieve some kind of solution for putting a Garda barracks in the old Army barracks in Clonmel. There is a high proportion of unemployment in south Tipperary, with many of those unemployed including craftspeople. In the 1980s, AnCO was able to complete some superb State buildings. Would it be possible, in conjunction with the OPW and Department of Social Protection, to get it done in a cost-effective way with a pilot scheme?

Where Tipperary leads, others follow.

If a new Garda station is to be built, a substantial capital outlay must be incurred. We must have a state-of-the-art station meeting all the operational necessities of modern policing and we cannot have a jerry-built sticking plaster of a building. I know the Deputy is not suggesting that.

The core building is there.

There is currently no funding. I could take the Deputy around the country and point out where we need new Garda stations but the funding is not there. We need planning for the process and I will not pretend that the money for it exists, although I wish it did. I wish we had the sort of capital allocations that existed in years gone by as I share the Deputy's view that if we were able to fund projects of this nature, it would contribute to employment. We are dependent on funding from the EU and IMF and we are required to reduce expenditure across a broad range of areas. Unfortunately, I cannot produce by magic money that does not exist.

I assure Deputies that there are security arrangements for Kickham Barracks and there is no possibility of a repeat of some of the events which took place in Kildare. Frankly, the previous Government did not do what was necessary to properly secure that property. It was temporarily made available to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the previous Government and when it ceased using it, the barracks was not adequately secured. We took immediate steps to secure all four vacated barracks and did what was necessary to avoid the problems quite properly pointed out by Deputy McGrath as occurring in Kildare. That is the interest not simply of the State in reserving its assets but also the local communities. I hope that within a reasonable period, the barracks in Cavan and Clonmel will change ownership and there will be developments of benefit to the local community.

I am concerned there is not the same level of interest yet in Mullingar. I hope in what we are doing we will stimulate that interest.

In the intervening period, we will ensure the barracks are properly secured as assets to the State and I will do what I can as Minister for Justice and Equality, in consultation with my colleague in the Office of Public Works, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to push forward where it is possible the construction of new Garda stations. This is an issue Deputy Tom Hayes has raised with me on a regular basis and I am fully aware of the local position. He has expressed concern about developments in Clonmel and has directly engaged with some of the groups that have visited the barracks in Clonmel with a view to acquiring portions of the barracks for projects that would be of benefit to the local community.

I presume the answer to Questions Nos. 6 and 8 will be the same as the previous reply.

There will be some additional information, although I cannot guarantee that.

Miracles will never cease.