Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Willie Penrose


20 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Defence the number of cadets enlisted in the Air Corps, Navy and Army since 1 January 1999. [16663/99]

Liz McManus


26 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence the number of apprentices enlisted in the Air Corps, Navy and Army since 1 January 1999. [16665/99]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin


28 Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Defence the number of new recruits enlisted in the Defence Forces since January 1999; if he has satisfied himself with the numbers; and the difficulties, if any, his Department is having in obtaining recruits. [16667/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 26, and 28 together.

The 1999 cadetship competition was advertised in April and it is intended that 58 cadets will be recruited from that competition in October this year. Seventeen Naval Service apprentices were enlisted in April 1999. A competition for 15 Air Corps avionics apprentices was advertised recently and it is envisaged that successful applicants will commence duty in autumn 1999. The military authorities have submitted no proposals for the enlistment of additional Army apprentices this year.

It is intended to enlist 550 recruits to the Permanent Defence Force in 1999. To date some 146 recruits have already been enlisted from the first phase of the general service recruitment programme which commenced in February and a further 105 are expected to be enlisted within the next three weeks. I envisage no difficulty in reaching the full recruitment quota for this year as we will be maintaining our policy of continuous recruitment throughout 1999 with the second phase of general recruitment due to commence in the autumn.

What advertising took place for these positions? On previous occasions I asked what contact was made with career guidance teachers in schools, colleges or universities in relation to such positions. Was contact made with them in this case or was there only an advertisement in the newspapers? Recruitment should be through career guidance teachers to give pupils every opportunity to take up these positions. Perhaps the Minister could take this on board to ensure it happens.

I was happy to take on board the House's advice. Deputy Wall mentioned this matter to me more than 12 months ago. The recruitment programme is now oriented towards, and primarily focused on, second level schools and local radio. It does not concentrate as much on the traditional national advertising campaign, although that is still conducted.

We had more than 1,000 applications to last year's recruitment programme. Even with employment opportunities in the economy generally and the number of students going to third level, the calibre of the candidates offering is going up all the time and the programme is becoming more successful. The Deputy has had the opportunity to meet some of the young recruits and those who are now applying are dedicated to the Defence Forces, that is what they want to do. I am extremely happy with that progress and we are having no difficulty filling our complement.

I am concerned that, as a country of tradesmen and craftsmen, we may lose out if the Government does not ensure we have enough apprentices for all the relevant trades. I ask the Minister to make a commitment that, where possible, the Department of Defence will not be found wanting and will ensure every possible position is provided to train craftsmen and tradesman, whatever the trade may be.

As I indicated in my reply, so far this year I have had no request from the military authorities for recruitment of apprentices. Some 28 apprentices are completing their training at present. Any requirement for specialist services arising from apprenticeship recruitment will be undertaken once I have a request from the military authorities to do so.

On Army apprentices, does the Minister agree that if we are to have 40 new APCs and perhaps a mechanised battalion over seas, it is imperative that we have fitters, etc., for those vehicles, and that if we do not take in apprentices we may run into difficulty? He said he had received no request from the Army authorities but is that not because there is no structure to educate these apprentices since the closing of the apprentice school in Naas? One reason for recruitment in recent years was the successful voluntary early retirement or VER scheme. Will that scheme continue in the immediate future or is it finished for the time being?

The VER scheme is over, the last phase was during 1998. The Deputy is incorrect in saying there is no facility for training apprentices; apprenticeships in the Navy and Air Corps, third level institutes and FÁS training schemes are available.

What about Army apprentices?

Where there are specialist needs which can be supplied only by Defence Forces personnel, the new training facility in the Curragh will be well able to take care of that. If we want to train people we have plenty of facilities in which to do it. All the indications suggest we are one of the best countries in Europe at training people, but we can do it at much less cost than the Deputy is suggesting.

Regarding recruitment of Air Corps cadets, has a decision been taken on replacing aircraft? The Price Waterhouse report stated that a decision not to replace the Marchetti aircraft would impact fundamentally on the training regime for Air Corps pilots; if they were not replaced pilot training would have to be conducted outside the Air Corps and, in all probability, outside the State. What action is the Minister taking to ensure this does not happen and that replacement fleet is ordered so that we can continue to train Air Corps pilots in Ireland?

It is my ambition to be able to maintain these training facilities into the future and that will require the purchase of new aircraft in due course. The final draft of the review of the Air Corps will shortly be available and that will point to the levels of expenditure required to replace aircraft over a period of ten or more years. An interesting feature of some of the discoveries I have made in recent times is the extent to which aircraft in other countries, equivalent to ours, has a much longer lifespan, notwithstanding that the hours in the air for other countries' aircraft are significantly longer. It may be that a considerable amount of our aircraft could have its life extended. Notwithstanding that, there will be a need for new aircraft and it will be my task to see how I can meet those resources following the completion of the review. We will continue to do that job as well as we can.

Does the Minister now disagree with the findings of the Price Waterhouse report which stated repeatedly that various aircraft were due for replacement in 2002?

We must move on.

We cannot go into that issue in detail until I have the final report. I do not disagree that we will need considerable resources to replace aircraft over time. I am simply saying that it was interesting for me to discover in the course of my examination that aircraft scheduled to become obsolete at a certain time will have fewer hours in the air and will be seven years newer than similar aircraft working in style in another European country.

With regard to the recruitment requirements for the Naval Service, is the Minister confident that we can cope with the necessity for additional vessels and the recruitment of additional personnel? The number of patrol vessels patrolling 15,000 sq. miles of territorial waters is inadequate and is not comparable to the number of vessels patrolling any other western seaboard. In terms of the expansion of recruitment, is the Minister satisfied he can recruit people to the Naval Service?

As Deputy Finucane knows, I have stepped up recruitment to the Navy which has been considerably better in recent years than in the previous term of office. It is still not sufficient, however, and we have a significant requirement to protect our natural resources. We must be able to strengthen that whenever we can with new recruitment and with the new ships that will come onstream later this year. It will be difficult. I understand the complement this year will be approximately 135 additional recruits and there will be specialist areas in cadets, watchkeepers, etc., but it is getting more difficult. We have a particular problem currently because there was substantial recruitment to the Navy in the late 1970s but after 21 years people are now qualifying for their pensions. The alternative opportunities in employment outside the Navy are significantly greater than they were in the past. A problem is being experienced in trying to maintain the numbers and meet the type of commitments Deputy Finucane outlined which are essential in protecting our fisheries resources, combating the import of illicit drugs into the country and in the provision of rescue and safety measures. The recruitment this year will be higher than ever before and we hope to continue that and draw more people into the service.