My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.
The resources available to the Defence Forces to carry out their operational commitments are kept under constant review and future equipment priorities for the Air Corps and Naval Service are considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment priorities planning process.
The Government is currently investing in updating the Air Corps fleet of aircraft with the replacement of the existing five Cessna aircraft with three larger and more capable fixed wing utility Pilatus PC 12 aircraft at a cost of €30m plus VAT which are being equipped for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance). It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020. Planning is also in progress to replace the CASA Maritime Patrol aircraft and a tender competition is currently underway in this regard.
The Naval Service ship replacement programme is evidence of the Government's commitment to investment in the Naval Service with four new Offshore Patrol Vessels delivered between 2014 and 2018. In addition, a Programme to extend the life of the P50 class vessels operated by the Naval Service, LÉ Roisín and LÉ Niamh, has recently commenced. Planning is also under way for the replacement of the current Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel.
With reference to Search and Rescue, the Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. In accordance with the current White Paper, the Defence Forces have a role in assisting the civil authorities (Aid to the Civil Authority) and both the Air Corps and the Naval Service provide support to the Coast Guard on an 'as available' basis in accordance with an agreed Service Level Agreement.
I am satisfied that the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps and Naval Service, have the necessary resources to meet these commitments.