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Thursday, 20 Sep 2012

Written Answers Nos. 1 - 19

Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, answered orally.

Value for Money Reviews

Questions (10)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Defence when he will publish his value for money review of the Defence Forces. [39497/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

A Value for Money Review of the Reserve Defence Force is ongoing and the Steering Committee, established to oversee the VFM Review of the Reserve, met most recently on the 19th September. The Steering Committee is working towards completing the report by the end of this month. The Steering Committee commenced its work in February 2010 and in the intervening period other priorities such as undertaking the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure (CRE), diverted analytical resources away from the Value for Money Review. In this context, the Review has taken longer than anticipated. However, in practical terms, the development of proposals for the Reserve would have been premature in advance of the outcome of the CRE.

No decisions have been made regarding the future development of the Reserve pending the Minister’s receipt and consideration of the Value for Money report. The Minister is looking forward to receiving the VFM Report and considering its recommendations. You will appreciate that any further comments at this point, including possible options for the future development of the RDF, would be pre-empting the final report and the Minister is anxious to allow the Steering Committee to complete its work. The report will subsequently be published on the Department’s website in line with the normal VFM process.

Defence Forces Reorganisation

Questions (11)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

11. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which he has had discussions with senior military personnel in the context of the possible retention of all existing military installations throughout the country with particular reference to the need to ensure the retention of maximum strength at the various existing locations and keeping in mind the need for the ready availability of the Defence Forces in all regions throughout the country in the event of a national emergency arising from any source; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39527/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Defence property portfolio is kept under review to ensure the most effective use of military resources, having regard to the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces. 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. Notwithstanding this, the overall priority of the Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible. As the Deputy will be aware the Minister has confirmed that no further barrack closures are envisaged at this time.

The Defence Forces have the necessary resources to fulfil all roles that are assigned to them by Government, including the provision of assistance to the civil authorities in any emergency situations that may arise throughout the country. In relation to security, primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with An Garda Síochána. However, one of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence (2000) is to provide Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice, means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. A wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies and the Defence Forces hold regular coordination and liaison meetings with An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.

Whilst the Defence Forces are not a Principal Response Agency, as defined in the Framework for Major Emergency Management, they will continue to provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or severe weather emergency. The Defence Forces are represented on the eight Regional Working Groups that have been established under the Framework and, on an ongoing basis, designated members of the Defence Forces, based around the country, act as Liaison Officers to Local Authorities. These arrangements continue to work well locally.

The various procedures that are in place, both nationally and locally, were seen to operate very effectively during the Winter of 2010 as the Defence Forces made all assets, resources and capabilities available to the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning and responded to all requests for assistance received from the civil authorities during the periods of severe weather that occurred that Winter. The response of the Defence Forces proved to be extremely effective then and they will continue to provide the same level of support if requested should the need arise again.

Defence Forces Reorganisation

Questions (12, 20, 23)

Mick Wallace

Question:

12. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence if the option of voluntary relocation will be open to members of the Defence Forces as part of the reorganisation of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39523/12]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

20. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Defence the scale of re-deployment of Defence Force personnel which will be required to facilitate the restructuring of the Defence Forces organisation to a two brigade structure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39492/12]

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Mick Wallace

Question:

23. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence if he has opened discussions with the representative bodies in relation to the implementation of the reorganisation of the Defence Forces; his views on reports that there is much confusion over whether or not Defence Forces personnel will have the option of voluntary relocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39524/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 20 and 23 together.

I have addressed many of the issues raised in these questions in my reply to the earlier priority questions. In relation to the disbandment of the Western Brigade, the Minister tasked the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief of Staff to bring forward proposals for a reorganization of the Defence Forces within the context of the reduced strength of 9,500 serving personnel. Those proposals recommended that the Army component of the Defence Forces be reduced from a three brigade to a two brigade structure. This was on the basis that the three brigade structure, which had originally been designed for a force of 11,500, could not be sustained in the context of maintaining numbers at 9,500, without impacting on the capacity of the Defence Forces to deliver the services required by Government. The Minister, having considered the matter in detail, accepted the proposals of the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff for the reorganisation of the Army into a two Brigade structure with Brigade Headquarters being located in Dublin and Cork.

On the transfer of the Mc Kee Barracks staff, the transfer requirement will not become apparent until such time as the implementation process proceeds further and personnel have indicated their preferences in relation to transfer or remaining in their current location. On reassignment or transfer criteria, as I indicated in my answer to the earlier questions, this will be voluntary as far as possible. Personnel will be reassigned using the following criteria:

1. Hold the substantive Rank of the appointment in question.

2. Where a number of candidates meet the requirement for the appointment the following will be considered in order:

- If the applicant has had to change station due to Barrack closures during the period 01 August 2008 to 01 August 2012;

- Length of Service in the Rank relevant to the appointment

- Length of Service.

Opportunities will also be given for personnel to retrain and reskill to fill vacancies in their current locations, and this is being incorporated into the Defence Forces Training directive for 2013.

The maintenance of Defence Forces operational requirements must be prioritised within the reorganization implementation process. However, within that context, where possible, all practical alternatives, including reskilling will be explored to avoid or minimize relocation. Undoubtedly it will be necessary to mandatorily move some personnel whose units are being disbanded or relocated and who cannot be accommodated in their current location. This cannot be avoided. It needs to be emphasised that this is not a painless process for personnel serving in the Defence Forces.

Serving members of the Defence Forces, officers and enlisted personnel, are being required to make decisions under the current reorganisation which they would not otherwise make or in different times have had to consider. This is the reality of the public service today and of the reforms taking place across the public service.

Defence Forces Ombudsman Resources

Questions (13)

Brendan Smith

Question:

13. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future of the Ombudsman of the Defence Forces; the future powers and resources of the position; the time frame for any changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39479/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The term of appointment of the former Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn, expired on 18 September 2012. The Public Appointments Service are currently conducting a competition aimed at filling the post, with interviews scheduled to be completed in early October. Once this process is complete the matter will be submitted to Government by the Minister proposing that the Government recommend to the President that the person successful in the current competition be appointed as the new Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. It is anticipated that this process will be completed by the end of October. While there will be a short interregnum before the appointment of the new Ombudsman, this is not a major concern. The staff in the Office of the Ombudsman will continue to process and investigate cases pending the new appointment.

The primary role of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, which is provided for in the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004, is to provide an independent appeals process for members of the Defence Forces who have processed a complaint through the internal Defence Forces redress of wrongs process but remain dissatisfied with the outcome or the manner in which the complaint was handled. The 2004 Act also provides that, subject to certain conditions, the Ombudsman may accept complaints directly from former members of the Defence Forces. There are no plans to change these roles.

Recent trends show a significant increase in the number of redress of wrongs complaints being resolved within the military system, thus reducing the number of cases being referred to the Ombudsman for investigation, a fact I very much welcome. In addition, it is anticipated that the new and comprehensive promotion system for NCOs agreed and introduced earlier this year will eliminate the many complaint referrals to the Ombudsman, which account for about a third of the caseload. Against this background, the post of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces was advertised on a part time, three day week basis, subject to ongoing review of caseload and referrals. The Minister has no plans currently for changes in the role of the Ombudsman or to amend the legislation in relation to the powers or functions of the Ombudsman.

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record of the House, the Government’s appreciation of the seven years’ service given to the State by Ms. Marrinan Quinn since she was first appointed as Ombudsman for the Defence Forces in 2005. Her service during this period was all the more noteworthy given that she was the first person to undertake this important role, a fact that necessitated her putting in place all the various operating structures and systems that have served the office so well in the intervening years. I thank her for her contribution and I wish her well in the future.

Army Barracks Closures

Questions (14)

Niall Collins

Question:

14. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future of the army barracks closed in 2012; the future closures he has planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39459/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

As the Minister for Defence has previously outlined to the House 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 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, once barracks are vacated they are disposed of. The proceeds are used to fund the upgrading of Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure.

Since the announcement of the Government decision on barrack closures, the Department of Defence has written to each Government Department and various agencies and local authorities seeking expressions of interest in acquiring any of the properties to benefit the local community. As a result 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 the Department and a number of other State agencies in relation to the sale of Kickham Barracks Clonmel. These discussions are still ongoing and it is expected that an announcement in relation to Cavan Barracks will be made shortly. Some discussion has also taken place in relation to Mullingar Barracks. However no substantial progress has been made towards achieving a sale. I can assure you that every effort will be made to dispose of the barracks so as to maximize the benefits to the local community. I can also advise the House that there are no plans for additional barrack closures.

Army Barracks Closures

Questions (15)

Clare Daly

Question:

15. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence if a cost benefit analysis was conducted into the substantial reduction in Defence Forces personnel, with particular reference to the towns in which barracks have been targeted for closure. [39526/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The cost savings accruing as a result of barrack closure are substantial and are particularly important as they enable the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained notwithstanding the fall in overall strength. Regarding the recent closure of the four military barracks - Clonmel, Cavan, Mullingar and Castlebar - military personnel occupied on security and support functions within these installations have been released for operational duties leading to a manpower 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.

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. Since the modernisation programme began sales of €84 million approximately from the sale of surplus properties has been reinvested in the Defence Forces.

The economic argument for consolidation within the Defence Forces has been proven over the years. The modernisation programme has produced a well trained, well equipped military organisation which despite the current financial constraints has shown itself to be well capable of meeting the roles laid down by Government both at home and abroad. The success of the modernisation programme is even more remarkable when viewed against the reduction in Defence Vote 36 expenditure from €879.8 million in 2008 to an estimated €688.4 million in 2012.

Overseas Missions

Questions (16, 31)

John McGuinness

Question:

16. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Defence the role that the Irish Defence Forces will play in future UN missions in Syria; if the Defence Forces are preparing for such a mission in view of the deteriorating situation there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39455/12]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

31. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the degree to which he has received requests for deployment of members of the Defence Forces overseas; the likely strength and location of such deployments; when they are likely to occur, whether on EU or UN sponsored duty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39528/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 31 together.

In May 2012, six members of the Permanent Defence Force were deployed as unarmed military observers to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, UNSMIS, in response to a request from the United Nations. On 20 July 2012, the Security Council of the United Nations extended the mission for 30 days and said that any further extension could be possible only ‘in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides'' to allow the UNSMIS monitors to implement their mandate. As those conditions were not met, the UNSMIS mandate came to an end at midnight on 19 August 2012 and the UNSMIS monitors were withdrawn from Syria.

The conflict in Syria is now rapidly descending into all-out civil war with an increase in recent weeks of urban fighting between armed forces and opposition factions. The crisis has now reached a level where it poses a major threat to global peace and security, including the stability of the wider region.

The appointment of Ladkhar Brahimi as the new UN-League of Arab States special envoy is to be welcomed. We must strongly support his diplomatic efforts to bring peace and end violence in Syria. The Government remains firmly convinced that only a negotiated political solution will be able to set Syria on a road of peaceful reform where all credible and acceptable actors contribute to an overall national effort of reconciliation and reconstruction.

As regards future deployment of Defence Forces overseas, Ireland receives requests, from time to time, in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. When considering any particular request, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, which has the potential to contribute to a political solution, consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy and the degree of risk involved are amongst the factors considered.

Currently, 433 Defence Forces personnel are serving overseas. In addition, Ireland is currently participating in the Austro-German led Battlegroup which is on standby from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2012. The other members of the Austro-German Battlegroup are Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM. Training and planning is currently ongoing in preparation for a Battlegroup deployment if such a decision is taken by the EU Council. Ireland has received an invitation from the Operational Commander of Operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA to contribute an autonomous vessel protection detachment, AVPD, to the operation. This operation is the EU’s first maritime operation which contributes to improving maritime security off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. The defence organisation is currently considering whether it will be in a position to contribute an AVPD to this operation.

The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas. However, following the deployment of a battalion to UNIFIL since mid-2011, it is not anticipated that there will be any major deployments of troops to further missions in the foreseeable future.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (17)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

17. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence his plans to reduce bills for telecommunications services in his Department in Budget 2013. [39495/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces actively manage both landline and mobile services. This management has delivered significant efficiencies and cost savings. Expenditure on landline and mobile services in the Department of Defence fell by 13% between 2009 and 2010 and by a further 21% between 2010 and 2011. Expenditure on landline and mobile services in the Defence Forces fell by over 5% between 2009 and 2010 and by over 15% between 2010 and 2011. The details of expenditure for 2009 to 2011 are contained in a tabular statement which I propose to circulate with the Official Report. The decentralisation of the Department of Defence to Newbridge County Kildare in late 2010 entailed the installation of a comprehensive new telecoms infrastructure. This installation provided a more robust and future-proofed telecoms infrastructure while delivering recurring cost savings.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will continue to actively manage telecommunications services into 2013. In particular, ongoing efficiencies will be sought in the context of the use of Government frameworks by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces. The Department and the Defence Forces constantly seek to drive out costs while meeting business and security requirements.

Mobile and Landline Bills 2009 – 2011

Department of Defence

Year

Total

Difference

2009

€386,000

2010

€333,000

-13%

2011

€261,000

-21%

Mobile and Landline Bills 2009 – 2011

Defence Forces

Year

Total

Difference

2009

€1,721,000

2010

€1,624,000

-5.6%

2011

€1,376,000

-15.3%

Defence Forces Deployment

Questions (18)

Clare Daly

Question:

18. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence the number of occasions on which Defence Forces personnel carriers were deployed in relation to civilian peace keeping operations; and the cost of these exercises. [39525/12]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Defence)

The primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with An Garda Síochána. However, one of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence of 2000 is to provide aid to the civil power, ATCP, which, in practice, means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Armoured personnel carriers, which can carry up to 11 personnel in each vehicle, are deployed mainly in peace support operations overseas as a force protection measure. They are not normally deployed in the course of ATCP activities in this State.

Airport Development Projects

Questions (19)

Derek Keating

Question:

19. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Defence his views and if he has plans to consider developing a second airport which would be located in Baldonnel at Roger Casement Aerodrome, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39486/12]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The establishment of facilities for civil aviation purposes in this country is primarily a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Deputy will appreciate therefore that this is not within the remit of the Minister for Defence to consider the development of a second airport for the Dublin area irrespective of its location.

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