Written Answers. - Defence Forces Reserve.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

73 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if consideration has been given to the establishment of a reserve wing of the Air Corps based at Baldonnel, in view of the fact that the Air Corps is the only section of the Defence Forces without a reserve; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18777/03]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

99 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if it is intended to amalgamate the 2nd Field Medical Company based at St. Bricin's Hospital with another unit in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin; if this move is in accordance with the recommendations of the review board; the basis on which the decision was made; if there have been consultations with the personnel concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18787/03]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

107 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Defence if he has received final proposals from the implementation board for the amalgamation of FCA units; the proposals received; when a decision will be made on these proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18776/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 73, 99 and 107 together.

On 15 January I approved, in principle, the report of the reserve Defence Forces review implementation board for the implementation of the recommendations of the special steering group on the Reserve, which had reported to me in September 1999.
At present the Permanent Defence Force is organised in a three brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The Reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged that the implementation of these changes in the RDF will take place over a period of approximately six years.
The special steering group's report indicated that the existing first line reserve system satisfactorily addresses any Air Corps reserve aviation requirement. Former Air Corps personnel who volunteer for service on the first line reserve, or who have such a commitment, can be attached to an appropriate unit of the Air Corps. The steering group did not recommend that a special reserve unit or formation be established specifically for the Air Corps. The report highlighted the importance of encouraging participation in the RDF in major urban areas. Its recommendations included the provision of Army reserve units in Baldonnel to cater for young people living in south and west Dublin. I have asked that these recommendations be addressed as part of the review process.
The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is its countrywide, geographical spread. This aspect will, in general terms, be retained in the future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new reserve will be determined in the course of the ongoing detailed implementation process. The objective of this process is to ensure that better training and other facilities will be provided to members of the RDF. No decisions have been taken on the location of proposed newly amalgamated units. The military authorities have advised me that all proposed amalgamations will provide an optimal environment for personnel in the relevant areas to partake in the new enhanced RDF.
FCA members are already seeing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of better clothing, improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops we will see additional benefits in terms of a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure, and opportunities for suitably qualified reserve personnel to serve overseas. We will also see benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.
I am aware of the need to preserve and retain the traditional and well established strengths of the current reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nationwide geographical spread. I have been advised by the military authorities that no reserve location will be closed and no member of it will be asked or required to terminate their service.
The military authorities have proposed the amalgamation of 2nd Field Medical Company, currently located at St. Bricin's Hospital. At present the 11th Field Medical Company is located in Cathal Brugha Barracks. It is proposed that these merged units will then form a sub-unit of the logistics support battalion of the Eastern Brigade RDF which will be based in Cathal Brugha Barracks. I have been advised by the military authorities that the personnel involved were consulted by the officer commanding, 2nd Eastern Brigade RDF. No final decision on the amalgamation of FCA units will be taken until I have had the opportunity to examine and approve the final amalgamation proposals.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

74 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence his views on the new Article 40.3 in the draft EU Constitution which requires member states to undertake, and progressively, to improve their military capabilities; the improvements planned in this regard in terms of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18871/03]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

79 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence his views on the EU Council decision to set up an EU armaments agency by 2004. [18888/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

82 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence his preferred role for the Permanent Defence Forces in the context of future European provisions in respect of defence and security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18834/03]

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

89 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence his views on the European armaments research and military capabilities agency proposed in the draft EU Constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18869/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 74, 79, 82 and 89 together.

The roles of the Defence Forces as decided by the Government include the participation in multinational peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations and under UN mandate, including regional security missions authorised by the UN.

The development by the EU of a capability to carry out Petersberg Task operations, such as humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace support operations, in support of the UN is in accordance with Ireland's policy on participation in overseas missions. The EU has made great progress in developing the security and defence policy in a relatively short period. As the Taoiseach reported to the House last week, the European Council at Thessaloniki confirmed that the EU has an operational capability across the full range of Petersberg Tasks, limited and constrained by certain shortfalls.
We have already seen some tangible results of the EU's operational capability through the EU Police Mission in Bosnia Herzegovina and the military mission Operation Concordia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which supported the EU's stabilisation and association agreement with FYROM. In recent weeks we have also seen the French led EU deployment of Operation Artemis in support of UN Mandate 1484 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All of these operations have, even in the short time they have been operating, supported peace and stability in the areas in question.
The Government is committed to the future participation of the Defence Forces in Petersberg Task type operations in accordance with the provisions of the White Paper on Defence and our national decision-making procedures. National sovereignty remains the underlying principle to participation in the European Security and Defence Policy. Ireland will only participate in operations authorised by the UN as comprehended by the appropriate legislation, the Defence Act (1954), the Defence (Amendment) No. 2 Act (1960) and the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993. It will also operate where there is Government approval and where the number of armed troops exceeds 12, a resolution of the Dáil.
On 19 and 20 June a European Council meeting was held in Thessaloniki. It represented a key milestone in relation to the development and future strengthening of ESDP. In addition to the Greek Presidency report on progress in relation to ESDP, which included a statement on the operationality of the ESDP, the meeting was also presented with the first draft of the new security strategy report, A Secure Europe in a Better World, by the Secretary General/High Representative Javier Solana. The European Council also received a draft Constitutional Treaty, presented by the President of the Convention on the Future of Europe Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, that included certain security and defence proposals.
These and other aspects of the proposals of the draft EU Treaty will require a careful and considered approach during the negotiations in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference of member states. The Government remains committed to the enhancement of the ESDP and to participating in the Intergovernmental Conference negotiations.
Article 40.3 of the Draft Constitution states that "member states shall undertake to progressively improve their military capabilities." This proposal is in accordance with the objectives of the White Paper on Defence, the major objective of which is to ensure that Ireland has a world class military organisation. Much has already been achieved by the Defence Forces under the White Paper process in relation to improving efficiencies, cost effectiveness and modernising capabilities. The Government is committed to the continuation of this process.
Article 40.3 goes on to propose the establishment of a "European armaments research and military capabilities agency." This proposal was taken a step further by the European Council at the meeting held in Thessaloniki. The appropriate bodies of the Council were asked to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments.
The Defence Forces are the end users of a wide range of material from uniforms and protective equipment to weapons and medical supplies. I have carefully watched developments regarding the establishment of an agency. Much work needs to be done at EU level on the modalities for its establishment. In addition, the agency will require expertise from the industrial, economic and research sectors as well as from Defence ministries.
I expect that my Department's officials will participate in the discussions that will be undertaken at EU level on the establishment of the agency. As I have mentioned in the House on previous occasions, the establishment of an agency may yield potential economies of scale for future purchases of equipment for the Defence Forces. I will continue to monitor developments in order to ensure that prospective efficiency gains in the area of Defence equipment procurement can be availed of by my Department.
Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 67.