The White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the Reserve Defence Force (RDF) and confirms that its primary role is to augment the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) in crisis situations. The White Paper acknowledges that there may be professional skills that on occasion may not be readily available in the PDF and outlines an intention to harness specialist skills that members of the Reserve may have to better support the PDF.
As part of the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP) arising from the Report of the Public Sector Pay Commission on recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence Forces, a Workforce Planning project is underway which will identify skills sets in the PDF and identify appropriate measures to address any such gaps. A skills survey already undertaken of the RDF will assist in identifying possible options to address gaps. Options to underpin the engagement of members of the Reserve will be identified as the various stages of this work unfold.
As outlined in the White Paper on Defence, the Government has decided to retain the FLR. A review of the regulatory framework underpinning the FLR, with a view to presenting proposals on terms and conditions of membership, is due to commence upon completion of the projects arising from the HLIP.
Recruitment to the RDF is ongoing and the recruitment procedures in place are constantly reviewed and updated as required. However, given the competing recruitment demands at present, where PDF recruitment is and should remain a priority, it should be noted that the same personnel and resources are utilised for both PDF and RDF recruitment. Nonetheless, RDF recruitment will also be progressed to the greatest extent possible.
I understand that a revised Defence Forces framework for living with COVID -19 is now in place, based on the recent easing of Government restrictions and will afford more scope for Reserve Training within the parameters of government guidelines. This will further facilitate the commencement of the Reserve Defence Force Induction Process with planned induction training to commence shortly. A number of other initiatives to streamline the induction process for RDF applicants are also in train.
Subhead A.5 of the Defence Vote contains the provisions for Reserve paid training. The overall budget for the RDF has been maintained for a number of years at €2.150m, of which €2.068m is allocated to paid training, which provides for seven days annual paid training for each effective member of the AR and NSR. The budget also provides for fourteen days paid training for all additional personnel recruited, along with career and specialist courses for selected members of the Reserve in line with Reserve priorities. This provision is sufficient having regard to the existing strength of the RDF and the voluntary nature of Reserve training.
My officials have been actively involved with the Military Authorities on the process of amending and updating Defence Force Regulations (DFR) R5 (Structure of RDF) and S7 (Establishment of RDFRA). These DFRs encompass a broad range of matters ranging from Finance, Human Resource matters, Training to Effectiveness Criteria. Significant progress has been made and the revised drafts are currently being finalised. It is anticipated that final drafts of both Regulations will be available very shortly and will be circulated to key stakeholders, including RDFRA, the Representative Association for members of the RDF.
As the Deputy is aware, I obtained Government approval earlier this year to bring forward a Defence (Amendment) Bill which, if approved, will update the Defence Legislation on the use of the RDF on a voluntary basis, on-island and overseas in support of the PDF. The Bill is entering Committee Stage this week.
The Independent Commission on the Defence Forces, which as the Deputy will be aware, is also expected to include proposals on the role and contribution of the RDF, including its legislation, the regulations governing the RDF, the development of the First Line Reserve(FLR) and whether specialists from the RDF should be able to serve overseas. The Commission is due to report at the end of the year. I look forward to the outcome of the Commission's work, including any proposals relating to the future of the Reserve Defence Forces.
I should add that the proposed amendments to this Bill, do not prejudge any possible recommendations from the Commission however, but will facilitate the implementation of any recommendations the Commission may make, which would, of necessity, require legislative amendments.
I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government appreciates the service of the RDF and recognises its important contribution to Ireland's defence capability.