My priority as Minister with responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service is maintained to the greatest extent possible.
The allocation of over €1 billion for the Defence Sector for 2019 emphasises the importance attached by the Government to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the resources necessary to deliver on all roles assigned, both at home and overseas.
In terms of personnel, the Defence Forces retain a wide range of specialist skills and equipment. The full spectrum of personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any emergencies that may arise. Between 2016 and 2018 over 2,000 personnel were inducted into the Permanent Defence Force while, in February 2019, the largest ever cadet class in the history of the State was commissioned. Nevertheless, I recognise that reaching a strength level of 9,500 personnel is a key challenge for the Defence Forces at present but I am committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces have the means to continue to carry out all of the roles assigned by Government.
At National level, representation of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning by both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency and that the command structure within the Defence Forces is compatible with the requirements in this area. In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies such as a natural disaster rests with three designated principal response agencies, namely, An Garda Síochána, the relevant Local Authority and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority and Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) roles. Major Emergency Plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these Plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.
In terms of overseas, at present there are close to 680 members of the Defence Forces serving in missions worldwide. In planning and supporting overseas operations, the combined engagement of the Defence Forces and Departmental staff is an essential element in the effective management of deployments. This includes reviewing potential operations, rotation planning, procurement planning and training. My Department and the Defence Forces work together to ensure the maximisation of options available to Government to meets its international obligations and I am satisfied this will continue in furtherance of Ireland's foreign and defence policy objectives.