Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998

Vol. 496 No. 4

Other Questions. - Overseas Military Service.

Brendan McGahon


33 McGahon asked the Minister for Defence the number of personnel who served with the 83rd Infantry Battalion UNIFIL and will also serve with the 84th Infantry Battalion UNIFIL; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22963/98]

Deirdre Clune


64 Ms Clune asked the Minister for Defence the number of Defence Forces personnel who are currently volunteers for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17893/98]

Michael Joe Cosgrave


67 Mr. Cosgrave asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a further statement on the shortage of personnel volunteering to serve overseas following his statement at the PDFORRA conference. [22725/98]

Frances Fitzgerald


139 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a further statement on the shortage of personnel volunteering to serve overseas following his statement at the PDFORRA conference. [22756/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 64, 67 and 139 together.

A total of 24 personnel who served with the 83rd Infantry Battalion are currently serving with the 84th Infantry Battalion.

My address to the PDFORRA annual delegate conference in Ennis on 8 October 1998 was wide-ranging and covered many issues. One of those issues was overseas service. I made the point that if significant problems were to arise in fulfilling our obligations in UNIFIL, we would have to pull out of Lebanon.

However, I am delighted to report that there were no problems with the numbers of volunteers for the 84th Infantry Battalion which departed at the end of October for service with UNIFIL. All positions in the battalion, with the exception of a cook, were filled by the rotation dates. For the first time in years, there is a waiting list of privates to serve in Lebanon. This is a testimony to the Government's policy of ongoing continuing recruitment of the Defence Forces. I thank the Deputies who tabled these questions which enabled me to again outline the progress we are making.

Does the fact that 24 personnel from the previous battalion are serving with the current battalion not indicate that there was a shortfall in the number of volunteers? It was not normal practice for people to stay for two consecutive terms. That practice evolved when there was difficulty in getting volunteers. Would the Minister agree that the situation may not be as rosy as he paints it?

The main difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is that when the sun is shining Fine Gael say it will rain in an hour and when it is raining Fianna Fáil say it will be fine in an hour.

The Minister should stop philosophising and answer the question.

Nobody knows better than Deputy Timmins the average numbers that rotate on two consecutive battalions, varying between 50 and 90. That the number is down to about 24 means that quite a number would like to have stayed on but there was no space for them because of applications arising from the continuous recruitment in which we have engaged, the first time any Government has done this for many years.

Will the Minister increase recruitment in the coming year?

We will get around to recruitment for 1999 in due course. That is linked to the number of people who are taking voluntary early retirement, the numbers who will retire naturally and others who leave for employment in other enterprises. That will continue to be evaluated so that the numbers remain as programmed for in the implementation plan.

The Minister stated previously that his investigation of the question of FCA personnel serving overseas is in its infancy. Have there been any further developments in that?

I understand the Minister mentioned at the PDFORRA conference that if we did not have volunteers he would tell the United Nations that we could not supply any more troops and that we would not take part in the mission. Does that mean he is not prepared to implement the 1961 legislation under which he has authority to detail people to travel overseas?

The Deputy is right.

The Minister mentioned earlier that there was some difficulties in specialist areas with regard to people travelling overseas. Will the Minister expand on that in light of Question No. 23? Will he deal especially with military police?

In reply to Deputy Wall — perhaps he was not present in the House when I dealt with the matter — I was disappointed at the initial reaction to the proposal. Bearing in mind that the reserve force, having permanent jobs at home, would not normally be available for United Nations service over the protracted span of time that would be required, where there are deficiencies in specialities in the Permanent Defence Forces, we will look to see to what extent the reserve force could meet our commitments. I would like to continue that exercise, bearing in mind that all aspects of the Defence Forces form a full circle, and make the best possible effort both at home and away to fulfil our mission as representatives of the people.

Deputy Timmins is right in what he said. There is a provision, but it is not exercised. We have always depended on voluntary endeavour. We will continue to rely on that because it works. I have no knowledge of problems with specialities. In the beginning there are always some, but as the rotation date approaches such problems tend to be resolved in one way or another.

To which ones is the Minister referring?

There were problems for a while in the culinary area, but I have heard of nothing recently that has exacerbated that. From time to time there are problems in relation to different specialities. Greater numbers are leaving to take up other jobs, particularly highly qualified people who are attracted by the growth in the economy as a whole. An opportunity on one side presents a challenge on the other.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.