Ireland's defence policy is set out in the White Paper on Defence (2015) and the White Paper Update (2019). Both the White Paper and the White Paper Update were based on security environment assessments carried out by interdepartmental groups.
The White Paper set out an ambitious programme of capital investment for the Naval Service, including the mid-life refit and upgrade of the P50 class of vessels, and the replacement of the flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi-role vessel (MRV). The MRV, is an important element of the Defence Equipment Development Plan and is provided for in the Government's National Development Plan as a major capital project. It is the Government’s intention that this new vessel will provide a flexible and adaptive capability for a wide range of maritime tasks.
The White Paper, in addressing Air Corps capability, provided for the replacement of the Cessnas and Casa 235 fleets. The Cessnas have now been replaced by three Pilatus PC-12 aircraft in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) role providing a substantially increased capability with their state of the art surveillance technology. A further Pilatus PC-12 was also procured arising from the demands of Covid. A contract for the supply of two C295 Maritime Patrol Aircraft to replace the two Casa 235s was signed with Airbus in 2019, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2023. These C295s are larger and more capable aircraft than those they replace and will enable the Air Corps to conduct maritime patrols and surveillance across Ireland's area of maritime interest, with enhanced capabilities.
Equipment projects for the Army include the midlife upgrade of the Army's fleet of 80 Mowag Piranha III armoured personnel carrier vehicles which is well underway as well as the completion of the delivery of an additional 30 Armoured Utility Vehicles. The Army's softskin fleet continues to be updated also with over 220 vehicles due for delivery in 2022.
The Department of Defence has received a capital allocation under the National Development Plan of €566m over the 2022-2025 timeframe. Within that capital allocation the Defence annual capital budget for 2022 is €141m. This will enable continued investment in defence equipment, including major platforms, and barracks infrastructure.
The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the current events in Ukraine are prompting an open debate and consideration of our defence requirements. I fully accept there is an ongoing requirement to consider whether the capabilities we maintain are appropriate, having regard to the security environment, the roles that we wish the Defence Forces to undertake, and likely risks.
The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces was published on the 9th February 2022. The Commission's terms of reference included the consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing for the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. The Commission's report is being fully considered, in consultation with Ministerial colleagues and other stakeholders. The intent is to revert to Government with a proposed response and a high-level action plan in advance of the summer recess.
The establishment of an independent Commission on the Defence Forces underpins the Government's commitment to ensuring that the Defence Forces are fit for purpose, both in terms of meeting immediate requirements and also in terms of seeking to develop a longer term vision beyond 2030.
The Deputy will note the strong emphasis by the EU on diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the current situation in Ukraine. Ireland strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, a position I have repeatedly reaffirmed at UN Security Council meetings on Ukraine and in EU meetings.
The Government remains resolute in its solidarity and support for Ukraine, and reiterates the call on Russia to cease all hostilities immediately and to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally. Ireland is providing €20 million in humanitarian assistance to the UN and the Red Cross to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.