Questions Nos. 1 to 22, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 23 to 51, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 52 to 63, inclusive, answered orally.

Defence Forces Medical Services

Questions (64)

James Browne

Question:

64. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the case for implementation of telemental health and psychosocial support with Defence Forces personnel has been examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52644/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Defence)

I am informed that extensive consideration is ongoing in the area of telemedicine and telementalhealth in the Defence Forces.

Telemedicine is currently being trialled on a Defence Forces overseas deployment in the emergency medicine field under the auspices of MEDICO Cork, which is the HSE's national 24 Hour telemedical support unit. Telemental health is widely used within other militaries and its efficacy is supported by research as an effective and useful addition to more traditional supports.

In addition, the Defence Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group is addressing the implementation of a Defence Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. The timeline provides for the final completion and implementation of this strategy in July 2020. Telemental health and psychosocial support form part of this process and are being considered accordingly.

The Deputy will be aware that members of the Defence Forces serving overseas already have access to the DF Personnel Support Service (PSS). The PSS provides a welfare, information, psychosocial support and referral service, that is professional, responsive and confidential. It sustains and enhances the individual well being of personnel, and promotes a safe and positive work culture, in order to support the effectiveness of the Defence Forces.

Mental health supports are part of a range of medical and non-medical services provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them. Other medical mental health services available to personnel include access to clinical psychology and psychiatry services.

My Department also funds a confidential counselling, referral and support service for serving members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and Civil Defence volunteers. The service provides confidential counselling on a wide range of personal and work related issues, including but not limited to health, relationships, addictions, financial, bereavement, stress, conflict, critical incident and trauma.

In the case of relationship counselling, the spouse or partner may also attend the counselling sessions. A Freephone confidential helpline is available on a 24/7 basis 365 days a year. The helpline provides for referral to appointment-based telephone or face-to-face counselling.

While I am satisfied that the available medical services offer comprehensive supports to members of the Defence Forces, I can assure the Deputy that they are kept under constant review.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Questions (65)

Martin Heydon

Question:

65. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the ongoing review of technical pay within the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53031/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

Arising from the first report of the Commission in 2017 and the subsequent Public Service Stability Agreement, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive examination and analysis of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces.

The Report of the Public Service Pay Commission on Recruitment and Retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by Government on 4 July 2019. In accepting the report the Government also approved a plan, Strengthening Our Defence Forces – Phase 1, to implement the recommendations in the report.

A review of technical pay was provided for in the Public Service Agreement 2010 - 2014 (Croke Park Agreement). The purpose of the review in the context of the agreement was to rationalise existing technical pay arrangements and consider if the requirements could be met in a more cost effective manner.

A review of Technical Pay Group 1 was conducted in 2014 and came into effect on 12 January 2015. Military Management completed an initial review of Technical Pay Groups 2 - 6, which was presented to the Department in March 2017. Further work on this Report was required.

The Public Service Pay Commission recommended that the review of Technical Pay Groups 2 - 6, be completed at the earliest opportunity, without compromising the Public Service Stability Agreement. The Commission recommended that the review would include consideration of the earlier military management proposals.

The primary focus of the recommendations in the report of the Pay Commission relating to technical pay was substantially different to the focus of the original review. The altered focus of the review has resulted in a requirement for a slight extension to completing the project to allow for further analysis. While every effort has been made to carry out the review within the timeframes set out in the high level implementation plan, this extension to the deadline is warranted to ensure that the review is as comprehensive as possible.

An initial report focusing on three priority areas has been completed and is under consideration. Work on further aspects of the review is ongoing, as provided for in the plan.

Defence Forces Reserve

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 61.

Questions (66)

Jack Chambers

Question:

66. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the assertion that the Army Reserve, by reason of legislation and structural organisation, is largely prevented from enabling the meaningful application of reservists’ skills in technological innovation or in an area of specialisation beneficial to the wider Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52903/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Government appreciates the service of the members of the RDF and recognises the important role that the three elements of the RDF play in contributing to Ireland's defence capability. The White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the RDF and it is currently on a development path arising from the recommendations of the White Paper.

The White Paper sets out a blueprint for the development of the RDF and that the primary role is to support the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) in crisis situations. In non-crisis situations the main focus will be in training for this role. The White Paper states that the types of tasks that the RDF could be required to undertake in crisis situations is varied.

The principal legislation underpinning deployment of the Reserve Defence Force (RDF) is the Defence Act 1954. This legislation provides for, among other things, the call out of members of the RDF on permanent service during periods of emergency and the call out of members of the RDF in Aid to the Civil Power. The White Paper on Defence provides for a review of this legislation to identify proposals for any changes in the Defence Acts that may be required in order to reflect the possible crisis situations, where activation of members of the RDF is appropriate. This work has not commenced as yet as other tasks have been prioritised.

The White Paper also acknowledges that there may be professional skills that on occasion may not be readily available in the PDF. In this context, there may be individual members of the RDF, who by virtue of their professional civilian qualifications or in the case of members of the FLR, professional military skills, have the competence to undertake such specialised tasks. These could include ICT, medical, ordnance and engineering professionals. The White Paper provides for the establishment of a panel of such individuals to be established, to be known as the Specialist Reserve.

Under the current phase of implementation of White Paper actions, two White Paper projects have been identified which are important precursors to the establishment of a Specialist Reserve. A Skills survey of the RDF was conducted in 2015/16. The survey highlighted the existence of a substantial body of skills and qualifications in areas such as science, computing, engineering and medicine which have a direct relevance to the Defence Forces. A gap analysis of skills sets in the PDF will identify potential roles for those Reserve members who possess specialist skills and this is linked to an ongoing Workforce Planning project.

The ultimate intention is to utilise those Reservists who have specialist skills for which gaps exist in the PDF, and whose personal circumstances allow them to do so, to undertake required tasks in the Defence Forces, including on overseas missions. Options to underpin the engagement of such Reservists will be identified as the various stages of this work unfold.

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 61.

Defence Forces Properties

Questions (68, 73)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

68. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the timeframe for talks to continue with the Department of Education and Skills until a site can be secured for the new school to replace the existing Curragh post-primary school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52900/19]

View answer

Martin Heydon

Question:

73. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of work to identify a suitable site for a new post-primary school in the Curragh, County Kildare; his engagement with the Department of Education and Skills on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53018/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 73 together.

The provision of schools and associated issues is, in the first instance, a matter for my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills.

The lands in the area of the Defence Forces Training Centre form part of the Curragh Plains, a site unique in terms of its archaeological, environmental, historical and cultural heritage.

As custodian of the Curragh Plains, my Department is very aware of the competing challenges faced in relation to conservation of the land and requests for portions of the land to be made available for various reasons and particularly the demographic pressures on schools in the Kildare area.

The Department of Education and Skills wrote to my Department enquiring as to the availability of a suitable site for the provision of a post-primary school from within the Department's property portfolio in South Kildare.

As the Curragh contains an operational military installation, officials from my Department have requested the views of the military authorities on the matter. I have been advised that a formal submission will be made to my officials shortly.

My Department remains open to discussions with the Department of Education and Skills in relation to the future planning provision for schools in that area, having due regard for current and future operational military requirements arising in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh.

Air Corps Operations

Questions (69)

Jack Chambers

Question:

69. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he plans to take to address the fact that less than half of Air Corps pilots feel well informed on the regulation of remotely piloted aircraft systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52901/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Irish Aviation Authority has statutory responsibility under the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993 for the regulation of Civilian Aviation in Ireland. This includes remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or, as they are more commonly known, Drones. In Ireland, no drones are permitted to fly within 5km of an airport.

The Air Corps monitors developments in drones and Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) on an on-going basis. While the regulation of drone/RPAS in civil airspace is a matter for the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Air Corps is aware of their growing numbers and capabilities. The Defence Forces are aware that non-military drones/RPAS have flown near or over Defence Forces installations without approval, which is of concern from both a flight safety and a security perspective.

The threat faced from drones is primarily one of safety when they are not operated correctly. Drone Operators need to educate themselves and they need to fully understand they are in operation of an unmanned aircraft and that they understand the rules of flying and the restrictions and prohibitions. Where drone operators do not observe the rules in force, this places other air operators and the general public in danger. The Irish Aviation Authority take user education and training seriously and has developed a suite of guidance material tailored to both a recreational and professional audience.

The Deputy might also note that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport chairs the National Civil Aviation Security Committee. The Defence Organisation, including members of the Air Corps, participate on the National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group which is part of the National Civil Aviation Security Committee and they actively contribute to discussions on how the State can keep abreast of, and respond to, the threats and risks associated with increased drone activity in Ireland.

It is also of note that drones do not just present a threat but also an opportunity. Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence have deployed their drones in assistance of the relevant Lead Government Agencies with regard to assisting in search and rescue operations and in security operations. This support will continue and the utility of drones is open ended as the technology develops.

The Defence Forces deliver military training programmes and modules meeting national, EU and international standards. They also engage with external educational institutions in order to facilitate continued and ongoing organisational learning. This engagement with national and international educational institutions, military and civilian, aims to ensure that the Defence Forces maintains up to date knowledge and competence with regards to best international practice and employ all relevant modern training methods in the execution of its various roles as assigned by Government.

The General Officer Commanding and Director of Military Aviation has assured me that training is ongoing and he is satisfied that there is a robust programme in place to ensure members of the Air Corps are prepared for and can respond to hazards.

Defence Forces Expenditure

Questions (70)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

70. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will consider the proposal to increase the defence budget of the EU in the coming years as mentioned at the recent NATO summit; his views on the proposal that Europe needs to contribute more to NATO defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52906/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I understand that your question relates to the NATO Summit of July 2018 which took place in Brussels, Belgium at which it was proposed that the NATO members who are also EU Member States should give consideration to increasing their defence spending to the NATO target of 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It should be noted that the commitment sought applies to NATO Allies only. The commitment sought does not apply to partner nations such as Ireland and therefore is not under consideration.

Ireland’s engagement with NATO is through our participation in Partnership for Peace, which is a voluntary flexible instrument for cooperation between NATO and its partner countries. This involvement has delivered significant improvements for our Defence Forces in terms of capability development and operational capacity and has enabled us to make a positive impact, particularly in undertaking more demanding international crisis management operations. Ireland views its contribution to such operations, whether through UN, EU, NATO or OSCE led operations, as contributing to the overall European security architecture and, more widely, to international peace and security, which is a key focus of our foreign policy.

Interoperability with partners is central to the efficiency and effectiveness of our involvement in peace support deployments and, more importantly, the protection of our troops when deployed depends on interoperability with partners deployed alongside us. Participation in Partnership for Peace assists us in achieving this objective but with financial obligations remaining a national prerogative.

Defence Forces Personnel

Questions (71)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

71. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps he is taking to prevent members of the Defence Forces having to routinely serve multiple excessively long shifts contrary to the working time directive which covers other occupations but which has not been implemented in relation to members of the Defence Forces when not on active service. [52722/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The day-to-day tasking of personnel in the Defence Forces is a matter for the military authorities. I can assure the Deputy that the health and safety of personnel in the Defence Forces remains a priority for myself and the Chief of Staff.

The Working Time Directive has been transposed into national legislation by way of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997. As the Deputy will be aware, the Defence Forces are excluded from the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The Government has committed to amending this Act and bringing the Defence Forces and An Gárda Síochana within the scope of its provisions.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is the lead Department for this legislative process and the Department of Defence is working closely with that Department and the Department of Justice and Equality on the provisions for the proposed legislation.

The Working Time Directive recognises the unique nature of certain military activities and allows for exemptions of such activities in certain circumstances. The Directive also provides for derogations for specific activities. The Defence Forces have undertaken a comprehensive examination of work practices and have identified where derogations or exemptions may be required. As the Deputy will appreciate, the issues being considered are complex and there is a requirement to ensure that health and safety of personnel is protected whilst the Defence Forces retain operational effectiveness. This has informed work on the required legislative changes.

A subcommittee of Conciliation and Arbitration Council (comprising of the Representative Associations, military and civil management) has been established to discuss matters relating to implementation of the Working Time Directive. Arising from those discussions, amended practices regarding compensatory rest have been introduced. This builds upon existing work practices, the majority of which already meet the requirements of the Directive.

My Department and the Defence Forces are fully committed to ensuring that the provisions of the Working Directive are applied throughout the Defence Forces.