Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Military Assistance at Civil Events.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence the circumstances in which members of the Defence Forces may be used for civilian events; if the Defence Forces receive a fee where personnel are used for such purposes as stewarding at such events; if, in these cases, any additional payment is made to the personnel involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

All requests for military assistance at civilian events are considered by the Department in consultation with the military authorities and are acceded to only where it is considered appropriate and where it does not interfere with normal military activities. However, requests for stewarding by military personnel are not generally acceded to.

Subsistence allowances are normally payable to military personnel on duty at civilian events in situations where they are away from their home stations and when the issue of rations is not practicable. In cases where military assistance is provided for civilian events the Department will, depending on the nature of the event, recover any additional costs incurred.

This question arises from a report in theIrish Defender which stated that 41 members of the Defence Forces from the Curragh Camp, with military equipment, were used in stewarding and monitoring the progress of horses at the Heineken Punchestown Horse Trials. Is the Minister aware of this and has he come to any conclusions on the reason it was agreed Army personnel would be used in this way?

The Deputy is correct. In 1993 the director of the Punchestown Horse Trials applied to the Department for the provision of a number of Signal Corps personnel to provide communications at the event on 22-23 May. This request was acceded to on the basis that any additional costs would be borne by the organisers. The organisers paid subsistence at the appropriate military rates to the personnel involved. In addition, time off in lieu was given to each of the personnel involved. PDFORRA submitted a claim for payment of an allowance equivalent to the maintenance of essential service allowance for Saturday of £33.35, with no working day as a rest day, and on Sunday £44.46 for personnel engaged in duties at the Punchestown Horse Trials. The Department rejected the claim on the grounds that the personnel involved were not engaged in the maintenance of an essential service. A report recording disagreement was adopted on 24 February 1994 and PDFORRA is now free to take the issue to arbitration in the context of theProgramme for Competitiveness and Work if it wishes. As it is open to PDFORRA to take this issue to arbitration under the conciliation and arbitration scheme it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the issue.

The purpose in raising this question is not to highlight any specific complaints PDFORRA may have about the way in which the soldiers were treated, although it appears that this left something to be desired. Does the Minister agree that it was in breach of the regulations to allow Army personnel and equipment to be used in this way and that neither the Department of Defence nor military personnel were entitled to detail personnel to participate in what is essentially a commercial event using arms equipment in the process?

As it is open to PDFORRA to take the issue to arbitration under the conciliation and arbitration scheme — the matter is notsub judice in the strict sense — it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the matter. I am not avoiding the question; if the Deputy raises the issue with me when the matter has been settled I will comment on it.

Apart from the Punchestown Horse Trials, is this a regular occurrence and, if so, what is the procedure involved if groups wish to avail of the services of military personnel?

Most requests for tents, Army personnel or the Army Band are acceded to. Without exception, if I am asked to provide Army personnel or equipment for an event I accede to the request. In recent times the demand for Army personnel and equipment has been heavy. It is my intention to ensure that such requests are acceded to as it does not do the Army or communities any harm; it is a good public relations exercise for the Army which displays itself in the best possible light which is to the benefit of the Defence Forces.

No one in this House is implying that the Army does not portray itself in the best possible light; we are dealing with an abuse of Army regulations which specify clearly when Army personnel and equipment may be used. Their use at the Heineken Punchestown Horse Trials is not covered. Until the Minister changes the regulations it is in order to raise questions in the House on how they are used. Where a commercial organisation is involved the Department should be wary or reluctant to allow Army personnel to be used in this way.

I want to bring this question to finality.

Many commercial organisations can provide the telecommunications and intercom systems available to the Army. It seems that this company was attempting to avail of cheap labour.

That should be adequate, Deputy.

It is unfair to use the Army in this way.

It is appropriate for the Deputy to raise questions in the House in relation to Army regulations. On the question of the abuse of these regulations I have to await the outcome of any action taken on behalf of the individuals concerned. It would be inappropriate to comment further.

I protest; I am asking a straight question——

We have dwelt on this question for an inordinate length of time.

Was the allocation of Army personnel for the event to which I have referred in keeping with the regulations? That is a straightforward question and it has no bearing on any financial claim PDFORRA may make.

While I do not have all the facts I would like to think that the regulations were adhered to. It is positive that this commercial company was willing to use Army personnel at its event. I have no doubt that the Deputy will raise the matter again on another occasion but I am satisfied the regulations were adhered to. The Army is very strict in dealing with these matters.

Before proceeding to deal with Question No. 12, I advise the House that I will be proceeding to deal with questions to the Minister for the Marine at 3.29 p.m. approximately.