Thursday, 7 November 2019

Questions (7)

Jack Chambers


7. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the White Paper on Defence update; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45728/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I ask the Minister to report on the White Paper on Defence update. It is four years since the White Paper was published. It states:

The Government intend to put in place a new fixed cycle of defence reviews. These are common practice internationally and give reassurance that policy remains up to date and relevant to changing...circumstances... Under this programmed approach, the first White Paper update would commence in July 2018...

Will the Minister of State give an update on that? Did it commence on time? Are there any revisions to the White Paper? We need a full update.

I thank the Deputy. The White Paper on Defence sets out the Government's decision to put in place a fixed cycle of defence reviews. These are common internationally and give assurance that policy remains up to date and relevant to changing future circumstances. The White Paper provides that these reviews are to have a three-yearly cycle, with every second review being more comprehensive in nature and styled a strategic defence review. The White Paper specified that the first in this new cycle of reviews would be a White Paper update.

A joint civil-military working group formally commenced work on the White Paper update in July 2018, as laid down in the White Paper, and work on the update is now complete. The completion of the update was led by me, while the process was managed by a high-level joint civil-military steering group. Beneath this, a working group comprising civil and military representatives has worked in support of the steering group.

The process undertaken to carry out this update looked at three broad strands. The first of these strands was a security environment assessment. An interdepartmental and inter-agency defence and security environment assessment group was established to review and update the security environment assessment. The work of this group was led by the Department of Defence and also comprised representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach; Justice and Equality; Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Communications, Climate Action and Environment; as well as the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. This was done in order to situate appropriately the defence policy response in terms of the lead or supporting roles that defence plays.

The second strand dealt with progress on White Paper implementation. Since publication of the White Paper, a total of 95 separate projects have been identified for completion over a ten-year period. The White Paper update includes a review of overall progress on all 95 White Paper implementation projects broken down by their chapter in the White Paper and categorised based on their life cycle, from "not initiated" through to "closed".

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The third strand concerned consultation with the Oireachtas. The Government’s view has been that defence matters should ideally attract all-party support and there is an acknowledgement in the White Paper of the strong tradition within the Chambers of the Oireachtas of support for national interest defence issues. In this spirit, I met with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, on 5 March 2019 in regard to both the White Paper update and the process of establishing the fixed cycle of defence reviews. Following my consideration, the White Paper update will be placed before Cabinet and subsequently published on my Department's website.

What impact has that had on the retention crisis in the context of the implementation of the White Paper? There is a serious concern that all of the commitments mentioned in the White Paper have taken a complete back seat since the Minister of State published the Public Service Pay Commission report, and there is a complete information vacuum for the representative associations. The Minister of State has given little detail about what the outcome of the White Paper update is. Will he publish it? Many of the remarks he made at the Oireachtas committee were that he is reviewing the White Paper, and there is this ongoing review nonsense that he mentioned previously. He should publish it, review it and then update it, but that has not happened under his watch, despite the commitments. We have had no progress or update on the White Paper and there is a clear vacuum, as I said.

The representative associations want an update on the technician pay 2-6 review. Instead of it being another review, when will the outcome be outlined for the representative associations? To go back to the issue of the Army bomb disposal unit, which is a retention issue in the White Paper, the reason there can be a response is that people have to work 168 hours a week, 365 days a year, when they are not paid for that. This is why the Minister of State can respond. However, if he was to measure the capability, it is simply not there.

I presume the Deputy's text message was a bit delayed coming in. First, one of the reasons the White Paper has not been published is that despite the fact I wrote to the committee, on which the Deputy sits, in early 2018, the earliest I could get in to discuss the White Paper was 5 March 2019. That delayed it for a considerable number of months. I tried and I wrote to the committee again. When I did get to the committee, however, Deputy Chambers never spoke to me about the White Paper and he spoke to me about everything else bar the White Paper. In fairness, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Maureen O'Sullivan were the only two who actually spoke about the contents of the White Paper.

Is the Minister of State saying it is the committee's fault?

The White Paper update has not gone to Cabinet-----

-----so it would be totally inappropriate for me to discuss the details within the update prior to Cabinet scrutiny. I can assure the Deputy that recruitment and retention remains one of the key priorities for me, as Minister of State. It is entailed in the White Paper, it is in the implementation plan and it is in the Public Service Pay Commission report. There is much work ongoing on recruitment and retention because this is a major challenge for Government, for the Defence Forces and for me, as Minister of State.

We are over time. I call Deputy Chambers for a final question. It has been a very bad morning and we are only on Question No. 7.

At that committee, I asked about the recruitment and retention crisis in regard to the White Paper. If that does not fit the Minister of State's priorities on the White Paper, what on earth is he doing in his ministerial office? Can the Minister of State outline the successful projects that have concluded as a result of the White Paper? Can he outline the position on the tech 2-6 review and when it will be completed? This is the problem: the Minister of State said he would update the White Paper in 2018 and we are at the end of 2019 and he has not even brought it to Cabinet. If that is going to be the outcome of the review process for the Public Service Pay Commission timeline, which is already delayed, and the Minister of State has admitted he has not even matched the outcomes that were mentioned, then we are going to see the collapse and exodus continue. The Minister of State is not matching the timelines he was supposed to adhere to - that is the issue. He should list the successful outcomes of the White Paper, list the outcome of the tech 2-6 review and tell us when he is going to publish the update, rather than just attacking back. He is the one who has to be held to account.

I have no issue whatsoever with being held accountable. What I am saying is that it was within the agreement of the White Paper that I would have to bring it to the committee, a committee on which the Deputy sits. I waited for months and months to get into the committee to have this signed off on.

It is not the committee's fault.

Had I got into the committee when I wrote to it originally, I would have had this published. The Deputy is failing in his responsibilities as a committee member.

I am not a committee member. I attend on defence issues.

The Deputy is not a member of the defence committee. He is the spokesperson on defence but he is not a member of the defence committee. That says a lot.

I am bringing the White Paper update to Cabinet and it would be totally inappropriate for me to discuss it here in the Chamber before bringing it to Government. However, I have no problem whatsoever in discussing the update of the White Paper with the Deputy or anybody else once I bring it to Cabinet.