When I moved to report progress on Thursday last, I was dealing with the provisions in the Estimate which showed that it was the belief of the Minister that the strength of the forces would be 32 per cent. below establishment, that is, so far as N.C.O.s and men are concerned. I had been commenting on the bad recruiting policy as one of the reasons why the Army was so consistently below strength. The second reason which I put forward for the numbers being below establishment is that at present far too much routine duty is being carried out by too few N.C.O.s and men. This is partly due to the fact that so high a proportion of our troops is either serving overseas or undergoing special training before going overseas, while others are still on special leave on their return. When it is seen that the estimated strength of N.C.O.s and men will be something around 6,500 or 7,000 men, and we are constantly maintaining anything up to 800 men overseas, it will be realised that the load placed on those at home is far too heavy.
In addition, there is far too much routine duty because there are too many large barracks being occupied at present. This is a matter I commented on on previous Estimates also. A barracks like Collins Barracks, which is only about ten per cent. occupied, a barracks so old that it is almost insanitary, would certainly seem to me to be a very good reason for not joining the Army. I was in Collins Barracks for a long time and I know that one frequently sees the walls streaming with water for weeks on end. There are enormous prison-like structures like Collins Barracks, Griffith Barracks and, although not to the same extent, Cathal Brugha Barracks.
The only modern barracks in Dublin is Clancy Barracks. Cathal Brugha Barracks is also fairly old but never seems to be quite so depressing or quite so wet, but McKee Barracks and Clancy Barracks are not half used or one-tenth used, whereas the barracks which seem to me to be the least attractive and least suitable for housing men are the ones in which infantry battalions and field companies are stationed at present. I would ask the Minister, therefore, to reconsider the question of the use of military barracks over again to see whether use could not be made of the more suitable barracks, so that some at least of the existing barracks could be closed altogether.
Under Subhead S, for instance, we see that the ordinary repairs, renewals and maintenance of barracks, are estimated to cost £111,655 in the current year. I am not against maintaining barracks. I should hate to see them getting worse than they are at present. At the same time, you could, by using more modern structures, save a tremendous amount of this ordinary maintenance bill.
Another reason for the low numbers in the Forces is undoubtedly the bad uniforms to which reference was made by Deputy MacEoin and Deputy Tully. Deputy MacEoin was not quite as violent as I should have liked him to be on this matter, but Deputy Tully said all that I would like to say. All I can say, therefore, is that I agree with Deputy Tully that the present uniform is bad in every way. The material itself is bad and the design of the uniform is entirely out of date and most unsuitable for ordinary parade use and certainly for active service use.
Last year, we were told by the Minister's predecessor that the matter of a new design of uniform was under active consideration. We got the impression that some progress was being made and that as soon as existing stocks of the present "bull's wool" uniform had been issued, they would not be replenished from the same source. It is very depressing, therefore, to find the Minister on this Estimate obviously seeing no sign of any early improvement. I am perfectly convinced that there will be no early improvement, unless and until the Minister gives an absolute order to that effect. If it is suggested by the Minister that, perhaps, there might be some improvement in the standard of clothing, the standard of tailoring and the whole design of the uniform, I think he will find himself faced with every conceivable obstacle. The only way to get over these obstacles is to give a direct order that the uniform shall be redesigned from top to bottom and shall be issued not later than six months from this date. It is only by doing that that the Minister will be able to get any progress. His failure to do it in his comparatively short term in office in his Department and the failure of his predecessors prove my point. I have been hoping and wishing for a new design but absolutely nothing appears to have been done.
Under Subhead P, we see provision for defensive equipment. There has been some discussion already on the type of weapons issued to our troops. It certainly is welcome news that the Belgian FN rifle is now being adopted and I do not think Deputy Sherwin need be unduly worried about the ammunition supply position when this same rifle is in use in many other armies. There seems to be a misconception in some people's minds as to the best type of weapon for the ordinary infantryman. There is a feeling that if each N.C.O. and man were armed with sub-machineguns, they would be far better fighting men but people very often forget that these sub-machineguns are very greedy in their consumption of ammunition. There is no good having a man with a sub-machinegun if he is able to get through his ammunition supply in a matter of from five to ten minutes. Consequently, another weapon is required as well as the fully automatic Gustav sub-machinegun. I think the FN rifle, which is automatic to some extent and can be used for single shots with reasonable accuracy, is an essential and most desirable addition to our equipment.
Subhead P.2 refers to the Naval Service. This is a matter to which I have referred on previous Estimates also and to which, all being well, I shall continue to refer until I see some progress in regard to it. I am not alone in this because I think many of us in this House, and many of the public also, are not at all happy with the constitution of our Naval Service. It is not, in any sense, a navy. It is not intended to be. Its primary duty appears to be fishery protection. The vessels are far from being ideal for that purpose. They are not only far from being ideal for the chasing of foreign vessels which can sometimes— not always—outsail these corvettes but the upkeep of these vessels is far too high. It is necessary, but at the same time it is very expensive. I still feel that these corvettes should be disposed of to some other country which may be able to make better use of them.
I feel that the Naval Service should be entirely reconstituted either as a corps of marines or, alternatively, as a separate corps altogether, something along the lines of the United States coastguard, with proper liaison between the lifeboats, Irish Lights, and the rescue services. If such a force were formed and equipped with comparatively small fast launches, it would give very much better protection to our fishing grounds than that given by the corvettes at present. It would cost far less to run and it would give our sailors vessels of which they would really be proud. To regard this as a naval service at all is entirely wrong. The whole thing should be radically reconsidered.
Subhead Y.1 refers to the Reserve. I should, first of all, like to deal with the matter of gratuities to members of the Army Reserve, making it clear that I am referring to the Regular Reserve and not to the FCA. In 1928, the gratuities payable annually, on completion of annual training, to officers were as follows: Second lieutenant, lieutenant and captain, £50; commandant, £75; major, £90 and colonel, £110. These were the gratuities payable to officers on completion of 30 days annual training.
The position now is different in that annual training goes on only for a maximum of 21 days, but when one considers the difference between the value of money in 1928 and in 1946, when the present rates were struck, I think the House will see and the Minister will appreciate that the present rates of gratuity payments to officers of the Reserve are entirely inadequate. The present rates were framed in 1946 and have not been amended since. They grant a gratuity to a second lieutenant of £20, instead of £50 in 1928. A first lieutenant gets £30, instead of £50; a captain now gets £50, exactly the same as his predecessor in 1928; a commandant gets the same, £75; a lieutenant-colonel, the equivalent of a major, £95, as against a major's £90 in 1928; and a colonel is back where he started with £110.
Even since 1946, the value of money has gone down very considerably and I would point out to the Minister that if he wants to have a proper Regular Reserve, he will have to stop treating the officers, N.C.O.s and men of the Reserve as if they were an unpaid troop of boy scouts. The N.C.O.s and men have received no increase whatever on the gratuities settled for them in 1928. Might I ask the Minister, therefore, to consider a radical revision in the payment of officers, N.C.O.s and men of the Regular Reserve ?
As far as the FCA is concerned, I still believe it is far too costly, that when only a maximum proportion of 75 per cent. of men on training is provided for, there should be some very radical pruning of the whole organisation. There is undoubtedly a hard core of extremely hardworking and efficient officers, N.C.O.s and men in the Force but they are being overburdened by a tremendous amount of dead wood which should be cut away. Possibly the situation might be improved in so far as the integration of the Force is concerned, if, instead of forming separate FCA units, subunits of the Regular Army were formed from the FCA instead—that is to say, that a company of FCA would be attached to each infantry battalion of the Regular Army. In that way, regulars and FCA men might become associated more closely with each other in living, in training together.
Above all, I would urge that the question of uniform should not be overlooked. The idea of having a different uniform for the FCA is obnoxious. It makes for division instead of unity between the two Forces. We had the same trouble in the Volunteer Force before the Emergency, where anybody wearing a volunteer force uniform was regarded as a very secondary soldier. We had our own opinions on that and tended to regard the regular men as secondary soldiers. That is not the right spirit to have in the Army. All should be wearing precisely the same uniform.
In general, I would criticise the Minister's speech, because, like all his predecessors, he has made no statement whatsoever on general defence policy. We are not—I certainly am not—any clearer in our minds as to what the general overall defence policy now is. I also feel that the whole question of Army organisation needs a radical revision. The present organisation, in which we have infantry battalions and artillery regiments as separate units, is not suited to our requirements. Every time we have to send further troops to the Congo, we have to make up another maxiumgatherum outfit.
I would hope to see our Army reorganised so that it will consist of comparatively small mixed units— Infantry, Engineers, Field ambulance. Supply and Transport and so on—so that whenever required for service either here or elsewhere some of these units will have been already working and training as units, that they can go overseas or go into action here, if necessary, as units.
None of the so-called battalions we have sent to the Congo has been able to do this and how they have been able to survive the strain and stress of the conditions prevailing there without that close esprit de corps which should exist in an Army unit, I cannot imagine. It can only have been done by superb leadership. Instead of having to scrape the barrel every time, looking for volunteers all over the country, we should in future be able to have small groups of mixed arms ready for action at any time in any place as required and forget about these grandiose titles of battalions, brigades and so on.
I spoke last year on this Estimate, and was gravely misunderstood, on the question of the military parade on Easter Sunday. That parade on Easter Sunday is supposed to be, and is intended to be, in commemoration of the Rising of 1916, but if we were more honest about it, if we felt deeply about it, we would hold that parade either on the calendar anniversary of the Rising or on Easter Monday, because Easter Sunday has no significance, as far as the Rising of 1916 is concerned. It seems to me that the reason for that is that we prefer to have our bank holiday really free and that is a terrible reflection on our sincerity in commemorating that historic event.
The Easter parade this year—I did not see it myself but I have heard quite a lot about it—was extremely smart, almost entirely the product of the FCA because there were not enough regular soldiers to form a worthwhile parade. I do not regard a show of military strength as being a proper way to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. It only gives us a confusion of thought which is most undesirable. We should move more towards having a day of national remembrance. There is an awful lot to be said for the arrangement they have in Britain and I think we have much to learn from them.
I always hate to see political Parties, small groups and so on, making political propaganda by their attendances by themselves at the graves of our national heroes. I would hope we would grow up a little more in this respect and that when there is a pilgrimage to Bodenstown or a gathering at Arbour Hill, we would go there together for national remembrance and not to take credit to ourselves for being the lineal successors of those who have gone before.
It is invariable, in my short period here, for Fine Gael to make a protest against the failure of the Government to give official remembrance to Michael Collins. It is a reflection on all of us that such criticism has to be made. I would hope we would grow out of that and, possibly in the context of the new Garden of Remembrance at the Rotunda, could agree to celebrate a day of national remembrance. A Sunday might be most suitable for holding a national remembrance, but a military parade on one of the feastdays of the Church sticks in my throat.
Reference has been made to the possible promotion of N.C.O.s and men to commissioned rank. I must speak with care here in an effort to make sure I am not misunderstood. I do not want to block the chances of any N.C.O. or man who is capable of and suitable for holding a commission, but I would be utterly against making it easy for an N.C.O. or man to be granted a commission without getting the full training in the Military College. If there is a hard way of becoming an officer and an easy way, anyone who becomes a commissioned officer the easy way will be regarded by his fellows as a second-rate officer throughout his career. By all means, let cadetships in the Military College be open to a fair proportion of N.C.O.s and men. That is reasonable. It means that when someone who has started his military career in the ranks is finally commissioned, he will stand with his head up, knowing that he is as well qualified in every respect as every other officer who ever left the College. But any suggestion that you could slip in a few cheap commissioned officers to a few easy jobs would be absolutely anathema to me and to most other commissioned officers also. Please do not let us have two classes of officers.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,