Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - Defence Forces Strength.

Bernard J. Durkan


33 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if the current strength of the Defence Forces is sufficient to meet requirements; if the standard of equipment available is sufficient and comparable to that available to other defence forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16788/99]

The Defence Forces review implementation plan, 1996-98, provides for an overall strength of 11,500 for the Permanent Defence Forces. It is my intention to maintain a policy of continuous recruitment to fill vacancies, as required, and I am satisfied that this policy will ensure the maintenance of an adequate strength. This figure of 11,500 comprises the following strengths for the three components of the Permanent Defence Forces: Army, 9,487; Naval Service, 1,089; and Air Corps, 924. The implementation plan also provides for special studies to be carried out on the Naval Service and the Air Corps, and Price Waterhouse management consultants were engaged to conduct such a review.

The Government has now considered the final report from Price Waterhouse and has agreed, in principle, to the proposal that the State's future sea and air support requirements be discharged by the Naval Service and the Air Corps, on the basis of an appropriate mix of multi-tasking-multi-capabilities and dedicated services, and that Government decision-making on equipping and staffing of the Naval Service and the Air Corps should be made accordingly. Arrangements are currently under way for the drawing up of implementation plans for both services which will give effect to the recommendations of the consultants' report.

In recent years considerable sums have been expended under the Defence Vote in updating military equipment. Total amounts spent on weapons, ammunition, transport and communications systems as well as equipment for the Air Corps and Naval Service over the past four years are as follows: 1995, £18 million; 1996, £20 million; 1997, £31 million; and 1998, £37 million. It is estimated that approximately £55 million will be spent on these areas this year and will include the following major items: a new fishery patrol vessel, due for delivery later this year; LE Eithne completed a half life refit earlier this year and LE Orla will undergo a similar refurbishment programme later in the year; the supply of 16 new turrets and 16 fire directing systems for fitting to existing Pan hard armoured cars – the first two turrets and two fire directing systems were delivered and fitted last month and the balance is expected to be delivered towards the end of this year; the delivery of approximately 70 troop carrying vehicles such as four wheel drives and three quarter ton trucks, and a contract for the supply of up to 40 armoured personnel carriers. It is expected that a contract will be in place later this year and the first APCs should be delivered next year.

It is my intention to continue and expand, where possible, the modernisation programme to ensure the Defence Forces are equipped to the highest standards appropriate to their roles.

How does the Minister intend to fund the peacekeeping operations in which the Defence Forces will be involved in Kosovo at a cost of £2.5 million and meet expenses that will arise if a decision is made to become involved in Partnership for Peace and other demands are made on the Defence Forces? Is it intended to use money raised from the sale of barracks and savings under the voluntary early retirement scheme for this purpose? The Taoiseach said that there would be no increase in Defence spending.

The Taoiseach did not say that there would be no increase in Defence spending. The intention is that over time the Defence envelope will hold its own against all other areas. There will be an increase each year. The value of the voluntary early retirement scheme is that it releases funds for other purposes. The first tranche will become available this year. There are a number of opportunities open to us, including the rationalisation programme and savings accruing from the closure of barracks, which will be considered to continue the programme of change and modernisation. We will as a result be well able to commit increased resources to the United Nations without damaging the fabric of the Defence Forces. Infrastructural development can continue apace. What we have been doing is keeping dilapidated barracks open when they should be closed and sold off. I will now be in a position to ensure the Defence Vote will have an impact. I will not have to compete with the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science in drawing down funds. We will have plenty.

What is the Minister's understanding of what the Taoiseach said in his statement on Partnership for Peace in relation to the Defence budget?

The Taoiseach was talking about real spending. There will be a percentage increase each year.