Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - White Paper on Defence.

Gay Mitchell


21 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Defence when the White Paper on Defence will be published; and the status of consultation in this regard. [9260/99]

Pádraic McCormack


71 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Defence the organisations which requested a delay in the publication of the White Paper on Defence in order to give them more time to make submissions. [16602/99]

Frances Fitzgerald


107 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Defence the organisations which requested a delay in the publication of the White Paper on Defence in order to give them more time to make submissions. [16818/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 71 and 107 together.

I am grateful to the Deputies for affording me the opportunity to bring the House up to date on the progress of the White Paper on Defence. As the Deputies know, this will be the first ever White Paper on Defence. It will provide a framework for the evolution of national defence policy and the continuing reorganisation process in the Defence Forces. Overall, the White Paper presents a positive opportunity to map out a strategy for the development of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence over the next ten years.

A range of foundation work which will form the basis of the future planning elements of the White Paper has been under way for some time. These foundation elements relate to an assessment of the defence and security environment, an examination of the progress already made in the reorganisation of the Defence Forces under the Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan, and the consultative process. As the Deputies are doubtless aware, the defence and security environment is in a state of evolution both in the European and national contexts.

The timetable for the White Paper will depend on the completion of the consultative and planning elements and the subsequent work. Subject to the satisfactory completion of this work, I plan to bring my proposals to Government later this year.

I emphasise the importance I have placed on the consultation element of the process. It would be remiss of me not to ensure that a topic of fundamental importance is properly addressed. I must add, however, that I am conscious of the need for balance to be maintained between consultation on the one hand and my duty as Minister on the formation of defence policy on the other.

In August 1998, a notice was inserted in the national press inviting interested individuals and organisations to make submissions to my Department by 16 October 1998. Some submissions were received by this date and others came in the subsequent months. While neither individuals or organisations requested a delay in the publication of the White Paper on Defence, some asked for an extension of the deadline for the receipt of their submissions. Consequently, additional time was made available to those who required it to complete their submissions on the White Paper. Obviously, this has had implications for the timetable for the completion of the White Paper.

In all, some 45 submissions have been received from a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations and a series of consultations have taken place on foot of these written submissions. These consultations may be augmented as the preparatory work proceeds. I understand these submissions contain a wide range of views and it is important to ensure that all submissions are adequately considered.

I assure the House that full consultations on the White Paper on Defence will take place with the Defence Forces representative associations in accordance with the normal system of representation.

It is my recollection that the Minister stated in the House that the reason the White Paper would be delayed was because some organisations had asked him for an extension of time. The timescale he has outlined is next year.

Later this year.

Later this year? That is not because any individual organisation asked the Minister for an extension of time but because it is a Government decision to delay it. Has the Minister not received all the submissions the various representative associations and others intended to make? Would it not have been more correct for him to say it was a Government decision to delay the White Paper on Defence until later this year, even though the Taoiseach and the Minister said it would be published in June? I raise this matter because it has implications for decision-making in respect of the Defence Forces. For example, the reviews of the Air Corps and the needs of the Navy have not yet been carried out. The Minister has not made the decisions about the Air Corps fleet, which has implications for training. All things being considered, the Minister should have tried to publish the White Paper on Defence in June so that it would not delay these decisions which are so important for the future of the Defence Forces.

I remind Members that supplementary questions and the replies are limited to one minute.

As I indicated in my reply, I was anxious to ensure there was a good consultative process. Deputy Fitzgerald is wrong to suggest that the Government is delaying this matter. Not only did some groups request more time to make their submissions, they then asked if they could make an oral submission also, which we are glad to accept. This is the first ever White Paper and we want to get it right. We do not intend to rush it out just for the sake of doing it. The consultative process is continuing. It has meant that we will be some months behind the original estimate, but there has been no delay in other areas such as recruitment, refurbishment, acquisition, the review, etc. All of that work is proceeding includ ing appointments and transfers. I said at the outset that the White Paper would not delay the mainstream of activities but it has to be completed properly. We will then have the medium to long-term strategy that will be followed into the future, but I assure the Deputy that nothing else is being held up.

Will the Minister confirm if the Department of Finance and or the Department of Foreign Affairs made a submission on the White Paper? If so, have these submissions influenced current defence policy in any way?

A submission was made, which has been referred to already in the House today, by the Department of Finance. It will be taken in the context of all other submissions. No one submission will dominate. We want to get a good consensus on the type of Defence Forces we require for the future to protect the State and to carry out whatever international obligations we might have under the United Nations. All of those will get due consideration.

Did the Department of Foreign Affairs make a submission?

I am unable to give a direct answer on that. I will contact the Deputy on that matter.

Has the Department sought to make an oral submission?

The Department of Finance has its own way of making submissions.

Behind closed doors.

Especially at Estimates time.

The Department of Finance is not that transparent in its pressure on the Defence Forces. Given that the Minister plans to have oral hearings, are there any plans to involve the public in consultation on this matter? The public has had an opportunity to contribute to the White Paper by way of written submission, but when the White Paper on Defence was being published there was a series of public meetings. The issues were discussed at those meetings and the findings were incorporated in the White Paper. There is enormous interest in Defence Forces issues at present for a variety of reasons, not all of them good, but there is increasing interest in the role of our Defence Forces at home and abroad. People have opinions on this and the Minister has the chance to give people an opportunity to state those opinions. It would be interesting to gauge public opinion through consultative meetings.

There were 18 submissions from organisations, 12 from serving and former members of the Defence Forces, seven from Civil Defence officers and eight from individuals, making a total of 45. I was happy that so many organisations and individuals took the time and interest in this. I had not considered national fora for this as we had already gone so far with the consultative process, allowing people to come in and make oral submissions. I will give some thought to it, but it is not something I had contemplated.