Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Military Establishment Figure.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if he will give the establishment level for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, and the current actual personnel levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The information requested is as follows:

Establishment

Strength

Army

15,474

10,909

Air Corps

1,237

1,019

Naval Service

1,266

1,037

The establishment figure is to a large extent a notional concept which has never been attained and is not directly related to current needs. In that regard the present military structure is under review in order to arrive at a more realistic establishment figure.

The establishment figure referred to by the Minister is almost 18,000. In 1990 the then Minister for Defence indicated that this notional figure as it was referred to was under review. Why has it taken so long to complete the review? How soon is it expected that a correct establishment figure will be produced?

The review is under way, but I cannot give the reason for the delay. Perahps we tend to caress and accept notional figures.

I am sure the Minister could find something more pleasant to caress.

I am talking about a more realistic establishment figure.

I put it to the Minister that while the present figure may be notional one must assume that it was originally established to service the various barracks around the country and the various duties the Army needed to fulfil. Given that a number of barracks are being closed down and we have considerable commitments to the United Nations in terms of peacekeeping— this to some extent is a link to my earlier question — would it not make sense to recruit to the Army, bringing the figure up to the existing establishment figure, and take on a greater role in peacekeeping?

The way to proceed is to decide on the numbers that are adequate to perform the duties, taking into account our very good record in United Nations peacekeeping. One must come to a conclusion as to the number needed and that will be the realistic establishment figure. The recruitment of 1,000 people would cost between £12 million and £14 million per annum in pay and allowances alone.

May I ask the Minister if he is satisfied——

The Minister has no views of his own.

That is what I am beginning to find out today. The Minister quoted from reports and committees that he or somebody else has established. Has the Minister views on what the establishment figure should be and has he informed the Government as to what he believes it should be?

The Government are fully aware of the position with regard to the Permanent Defence Forces. We are happy that we have sufficient forces to meet all the commitments as of now. I mentioned during the course of Question Time that there are very few people leaving the Army and I attribute that to the very good conditions in the Army. Others less charitable than I am, vis-á-vis my Department, have different reasons for that but I believe I am right.

I agree with the Minister that the establishment figure needs to be reviewed but he is wrong to dismiss it as being a notional figure. It was never a notional figure; it was a figure established to assess the security and operational needs of the Defence Forces at the time. The Minister said the matter is being reviewed at present, but Deputy De Rossa said that such a review was also promised by a previous Minister. Will the Minister say who is carrying out the review? Is it the Department, the Department in partnership with the Army or a team of professional advisers perhaps, from other countries, or indeed management consultants here? When will the review be completed?

My Department, in partnership with the military people, are reviewing the realistic figure.

Would the Minister consider calling in outside people to assess the matter?

No, if that was necessary I would do so.

Unless they are called in to consider the problem the Minister will not know whether they are needed.

I will not call them in unless I need them.

I can appreciate the complexity in deciding on the needs, particularly in terms of future developments, but two years is a considerable length of time for such a study to be under way. Will the Minister indicate when he expects the study will be complete and when a realistic establishment figure will be provided for?

We will come to a conclusion in that regard in the very near future. The Deputy referred to 1987 and he mentioned the Gleeson report——

I meant to say 1989.

The record will show that the Deputy referred to 1987. I can see why he switched from 1987——

The Minister is not bad at switching either.

I hope so. One needs a little deft footwork in a job like this. The figure was over 13,000 in 1980 and it was the same in 1992, so there seems to be general agreement between all Ministers and parties in relation to what the figure should be.