Written Answers. - Defence Forces Strength.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

136 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if an increase or decrease in the strength of the Naval Service is contemplated, with particular reference to current and likely responsibilities in the fight against crime and drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19127/03]

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. The White Paper also provided for the option of having 250 recruits in training at any one time. It is intended that an average number of 10,600 personnel will be maintained throughout 2003.

The strength of the Naval Service as at 31 May 2003 was 1039 all ranks.

Responsibility for the prevention of drug trafficking and other such illegal activities rests primarily with the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners, which are also responsible for the detention of persons and/or the seizure of drugs or equipment, which may be made at sea. The White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for both the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work. While the main day to day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union, Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a joint task force involving the Garda, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking. The Air Corps provides air support and on occasion carries the Customs National Drugs Team in an observation capacity for the purpose of monitoring vessels suspected of drug trafficking or other such illegal activities.
There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service and the Air Corps in this important area. I am satisfied that the extent of Naval Service and Air Corps reconnaissance, in conjunction with the Garda and the Customs Service, has had a major and beneficial impact in deterring drug trafficking and other such illegal activities.