I propose to take Questions Nos. 145 to 153, inclusive, together.
Deputy Jack Chambers was appointed Minister of State at the Department of An Taoiseach and Government Chief Whip and at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and the Media with special responsibility for the Gaeltacht and Sport on 15 July, 2020. His appointment as Minister of State and the responsibilities being assigned to him were announced at that time. On 17 November, 2020, he was assigned an additional role as Minister of State at the Department of Defence solely to fill a position as a member of the Council of Defence. The requirement for a Minister of State for Defence, in this regard, arises from the provisions of section 11 of the Defence Act, 1954 on the establishment of the Council for Defence. No functions of the Minister for Defence have been delegated to the Minister of State and full responsibility for defence policies, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces remains with Minister Coveney who will continue to represent Defence at Cabinet. As this is essentially a technical appointment with no delegation of functions, no specific announcement was made at the time.
Minister of State Chambers has engaged in a number of meetings in relation to defence matters since his appointment. At none of those meetings was he discharging functions in respect of Defence Policy generally or the business of the Department or the Defence Forces. As I understand it, he was familiarising himself with Defence stakeholders, receiving briefs on defence issues and Defence Forces operations in the context of his membership of the Council of Defence. As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate, his membership of the Council would benefit from some knowledge of Defence and current issues in that regard. I understand that the meetings attended on the relevant dates included a meeting with the Secretary General and the Management Board of my Department, a briefing on the Defence Forces Joint Task Force on Covid in McKee Barracks, a party policy discussion on defence and a meeting with PDFORRA.
On 12 February, 2021, the Minister of State met virtually with the new British Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Mr Paul Johnston. This was one of a number of introductory meetings the newly appointed Ambassador has had with various Ministers and Officials. The meeting with Minister of State Chambers touched on all areas of the Minister of State’s responsibilities, including sports, the Gaeltacht, parliamentary business and defence and the discussion was of a general nature. The Ambassador was accompanied by his Defence Attaché and the Minister of State was accompanied by an official from my Department at the meeting.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent Commission on the Defence Forces and on completion of the Commission’s work that a permanent pay review body for the Permanent Defence Force will be established. The Commission has been established and is due to report by the end of 2021. The Terms of Reference for the Commission on the Defence Forces state: “Upon completion of the Commission’s work, the Minister for Defence will consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the establishment of a permanent pay review body, reflecting the unique nature of military service in the context of the public service. All recommendations by the Commission or the successor body and their implementation must be consistent with national public sector wage policy.” While I am aware of the reports referenced by the Deputy in his question, I can confirm that no functions in this regard have been delegated to the Minister of State.