Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010

Vol. 725 No. 2

Other Questions

Defence Forces Personnel

Eamon Gilmore


24 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the outcome of the investigation being carried out by the Defence Forces into allegations that members may have been working for private security firms in the Seychelles and possibly involved in the purchase of arms; if any new changes in regulations have been introduced as a result of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47257/10]

Emmet Stagg


61 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Defence if he will describe the updating of the Defence Forces policy on off duty employment for certain Permanent Defence Forces personnel recently announced by the Chief of Staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47277/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 61 together.

The military authorities have completed an investigation into allegations that Defence Forces personnel were involved in the use of Irish Defence Forces' equipment in the Seychelles and that Defence Forces regulations were breached. The Chief of Staff has recently reported to me in this regard. The Chief of Staff has confirmed that of the five personnel against whom allegations were made, two are currently serving members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, and three are former members. I am advised that the investigation found no evidence to support the suggestion that Defence Forces equipment was utilised in any of the alleged activities, nor was there any evidence found of any illegal arms purchases or sales. In addition, the investigation undertaken by the military authorities indicates that Defence Forces regulations were not breached.

During the course of the investigation, I received a letter from the Seychelles' Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff received a letter from that country's Chief of Defence. Both letters indicated that any arms purchased for their state forces were fully legitimate and are in service by authorised Seychelles Government security personnel. In addition, the letters confirmed that Irish Defence Forces personnel only provided and facilitated lawful services for the Government of the Seychelles and in doing so made a significant contribution to the welfare and safety of the country. The letters also indicated that the character of Irish personnel who assisted in training their State police force were of the highest order.

While the investigation found that Defence Force regulations had not been breached, having considered the report, the Chief of Staff concluded that because of the nature of the specialist training required for certain military employment, it is not compatible with service in the PDF for such training and skills to be employed outside of the PDF. In this context he has updated the Defence Forces policy on off-duty employment to provide, inter alia, that PDF personnel cannot undertake off duty employment that utilises the specific military training they acquire as part of their service in the PDF.

I wish to sound a note of relief that the members and former members of the Defence Forces were found to be not guilty of any wrongdoing in respect of this matter. As a result of this investigation, the reputation of the Defence Forces stands intact. The Minister indicated that the policy relating to the activities in which members of the Defence Forces can become involved in the context of off-duty employment has been revised. Will he expand on the position in this regard?

Deputies will be aware that members of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána are frequently involved in capacity-building exercises in support of Governments in several countries. Heretofore, their work in this regard has been done with the approval of the military authorities. With regard to exercises involving more than 12 personnel, the approval of the United Nations and Dáil Éireann is required. The activities carried out in support of the training of personnel on behalf of the Government of the Seychelles did not come under the ambit of the system to which I refer. I understand the military authorities formed the view that, in this instance, the activities to which I refer appear to have been entirely positive in nature. All available evidence certainly points to this being the case. Nevertheless, it was decided that the regulations should be amended to ensure that regardless of how positive in nature they might be, activities of the kind which occurred in this instance would not be undertaken by serving members of the PDF who would be obliged to use the skills they acquired during their training as military personnel.

Does this mean that if prior approval is sought and obtained, members can be given permission to take part in the type of activity in question?

In a sense, there is a distinction. In the instance in question, the regulations were not breached. However, it was felt that these regulations needed to be stronger. The part of the regulations to which I refer relates to individual members of the Defence Forces rather than to the organised overseas deployment of personnel which have occurred on many occasions. As I understand it, the amendment of the regulations relates to the obligations placed on individual members and does not provide for the wider context to which Deputy O'Shea refers.

Is the Minister aware of any other instance where activity of this kind is either taking place now or has occurred in the recent past?

I am not so aware. However, I inquired with regard to when the regulations were last amended. I understand that members of the Defence Forces had been involved in various private enterprise operations — including in the vicinity of nightclubs — and that some issues arose as a result. On foot of this, the relevant regulations were amended several years ago. I am not aware of any current instances involving the type of activity under discussion.

Liz McManus


25 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Defence the number of suicides there have been in the Defence Forces since Lariam was first used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47270/10]

Jan O'Sullivan


57 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces who have committed suicide and had taken Lariam that have been reported to the Irish Medicines Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47272/10]

Jan O'Sullivan


66 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence the number of persons who have committed suicide in the Defence Forces since Lariam was first used that were either taking Lariam or had taken Lariam in the past and if in the past, the date on which they had their last Lariam dose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47271/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 57 and 66 together.

I am advised by the military authorities that the Defence Forces personnel management system does not capture data on the number of suicides in the Defence Forces during a specific period. In this context, the information requested regarding the number of suicide victims who were either taking Lariam or who had taken Lariam prior to committing suicide is not available.

Lariam is authorised for use by the Irish Medicines Board, which is the statutory regulatory body charged with regulating the use of medicines to ensure the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines available in Ireland. Lariam was first authorised for use by the Irish Medicines Board in 1989. The authorised product information provides details to ensure the safe and effective use of this medicinal product. While certain risks associated with the use of the drug were highlighted in drug safety newsletters in 1996 and 2003, the Irish Medicines Board remained of the view that the benefit-risk profile for the product remained acceptable. The Irish Medicines Board continues to review the safety of this and all medicines on an ongoing basis and updates the product information as appropriate.

In accordance with best practice in prescribing this medication and taking account of the contraindications, warnings and side effects highlighted by the Irish Medicines Board, the Defence Forces screen all personnel for medical suitability. The screening system automatically rules out personnel from overseas service with certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders and so on which, as has been indicated by the Irish Medicines Board, are more likely to precipitate serious adverse reactions to Lariam. Pregnant personnel also are excluded.

In the case of overseas missions to malarious areas, the medical screening involves an assessment of the individual's suitability to be prescribed the selected anti-malarial agent in line with current Irish Medicines Board guidelines. This typically involves review of the individual's previous experience, if any, with the medication. The individual's medical history is also screened for those conditions which have been identified as precipitating serious side effects in association with the medication. In addition, blood tests are carried out to ensure that the liver is healthy, as liver disease is an accepted contraindication to the use of Lariam.

It is the policy of the Defence Forces Medical Corps that personnel who are found suitable for Lariam should commence their medication three to four weeks in advance of their travel. The purpose of this precaution is twofold. While it allows a slow build-up of the medication in the bloodstream, it also permits assessment by the person of his or her individual reaction to the medication while still in Ireland. During this probationary period, the individual can consult a medical officer on any adverse reaction, minor or major. Some minor reactions may be transient but if persistent or troublesome, the individual will be deemed to have sensitivity to the medication and will be found not medically suitable for the mission.

The Defence Forces take all necessary precautions in assessing the suitability of personnel before prescribing Lariam in accordance with the prescribing instructions and information provided by the Irish Medicines Board. Personnel are screened both before and after deployments and all necessary actions are taken to ensure that those with contraindications to Lariam use are deemed unsuitable for overseas service and are not prescribed the medication.

To revert to the original question regarding suicides, may I take it there is no record of the number of serving or former members of the Defence Forces who have committed suicide? If such information is not available, it is difficult to assess what role or part Lariam could have played in this regard. What exactly is the position with regard to the deaths of serving members? Is it a military function to establish the cause of death or that of a civilian coroner? How do the Defence Forces deal with deaths within the service?

The Defence Forces personnel management system does not have a means to capture the data in this regard. My understanding is that the coroner decides what is the cause of death and obviously suicide sometimes is found to be the cause. However, all kinds of other outcomes are possible and frequently it is not entirely clear what was the cause. Moreover, it is a matter of enormous sensitivity to survivors and family members and is a very difficult issue with which to deal but my understanding is that it is a civil matter to be dealt with by the coroner and that the Defence Forces personnel management system does not have the capacity to accommodate the information.

While I take it that this is the position, some Members have been receiving representations on concerns regarding Lariam toxicity pertaining to ongoing illness and suicide. Does the Minister not agree that, in respect of the personnel and families affected, an effort should be made to put together the necessary information in order that the entire subject of the use of Lariam in this regard can be more fully assessed?

I agree with the Deputy that it would be helpful to have the maximum level of information available and it is important to bear in mind that, in the first instance, responsibility rests with the Irish Medicines Board in respect of any medicines that are approved for use. The Deputy is correct in that the Defence Forces have particular reason to use this medication and have a large cohort of people who need to use it. A reasonable person would state that the precautions taken by administering three or four weeks beforehand, as well as ongoing assessment before travel and during the overseas trip, are very important. Moreover, one should bear in mind that the Defence Forces Medical Corps is available to personnel both in Ireland and to those who are deployed on overseas service. I have no reason to believe that members of the Defence Forces are reluctant to access the services available from the Medical Corps.

I have three brief questions. First, have there been any reported adverse effects as a result of the use of Lariam? Second, can the Minister provide Members with figures regarding the number of suicides or attempted suicides in the Defence Forces in the recent past? Third, the Minister should comment on mental health issues in the Defence Forces.

As for adverse effects, my understanding is that the Medical Corps would notify the Irish Medicines Board of any effects and that an internal medical communications channel exists. In respect of figures for attempted suicide or suicides, this certainly is not captured by the personnel management system in any event. Moreover, I am not aware whether it is being captured in respect of any other group for that matter. What was the third question?

It pertained to mental health issues. On the subject of adverse effects, is the Minister aware of any incidents in which a report was given by the Medical Corps to the Irish Medicines Board as he has indicated? Has any such report been given?

While I am not aware of any particular report, I understand that the Irish Medicines Board depends on two sources. In the first instance, it depends on international medical sources. In addition, I understand that access is available for sources in all the medical services within the country at every level to make information available. As far as I am aware, there is an obligation on people to make such information available and I understand it is made available. However, I am not aware of any particular cohort of people being subject to particular tests or of some kind of peer review being carried out. I am not aware whether this is the case within the Defence Forces and I certainly do not have such information to hand.

In a previous answer to me in respect of similar questions, the Minister stated that "three members of the Defence Forces had been treated for serious symptoms which may have been caused or contributed to by Lariam". He also noted there was a further cohort of seven personnel with less dramatic symptoms. The questions being debated pertain to suicide and there has been an obligation since 2003 on the Defence Forces to refer any adverse reaction to the Irish Medicines Board. In particular, the fact that suicide and suicide ideation was added to the safety literature in respect of Lariam in 2003 means the Defence Forces should be on high alert for any suicide. The mere fact that the victim was either taking or had taken Lariam in the past should have resulted in a suspected adverse drug reaction report to the Irish Medicines Board. My question is whether all such cases have been referred to the Irish Medicines Board. Moreover, if the Defence Forces have not compiled and are not compiling data on suicide, can the Minister instruct them to so do and to ensure that, in particular, cases in which Lariam had been taken are flagged to the Irish Medicines Board?

Is the Minister aware of the report of the Permanent Defence Force on suicide and turning the tide of suicide? Between 2001-06 there were 15 suicides of serving members. There is a question regarding whether Lariam has an effect among those who have left the Defence Forces.

Would the Minister agree to meet former members — I know there is a problem with meeting current serving members — of the Defence Forces who have highlighted issues regarding Lariam to see whether their concerns are based on fact? It would be helpful to the group that has now formed which is examining these issues. The US military and other militaries have stopped using Lariam specifically because there are concerns about suicide and other adverse effects.

The Deputy referred to ten cases, which he has previously referred to in parliamentary questions and which I have discussed with him, Deputies O'Shea and Stanton and others outside the House. In the case of the three people with serious symptomatology, it may have been caused or contributed to by Lariam. I am informed that there is nothing conclusive in this regard, which is not surprising. On the further cohort of seven, they have less dramatic symptoms and remain under review. Again, there is no conclusive evidence that the use of Lariam was a factor in any of the cases.

I am quite confident that the obligations to consult and provide information to the Irish Medicines Board are being complied with; I will check that. It is very difficult to access the figures on suicide. Whatever the local view may be at the time of a person's death, ultimately the matter is decided in a coroner's court and the information becomes available at some point in time. It is not always clear what the exact cause of death is in some instances. It is something which might make it very difficult for military authorities to gather the information.

I am prepared to examine this matter. The three Deputies and the group which was mentioned are obviously concerned about it. In so far as is possible, I will report to the Deputies on what seems to be practically possible.

In regard to a meeting, I tend to take the view that it is preferable to meet the representative associations of current serving members. I have also met the representative associations of retired people. It is a matter I will take up with the Deputy privately when I have considered it.

Decentralisation Programme

Enda Kenny


26 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Defence if the decentralisation of all military directorates due to move to Newbridge has now been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46277/10]

Phil Hogan


38 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Defence if the decentralisation of all civil branches of his Department to Newbridge has now been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46273/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 38 together.

The relocation to Newbridge under the decentralisation programme was successfully completed on 5 November 2010. The move to Newbridge now sees all civil branches of the Department located either in Newbridge or in Renmore, Galway. The chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, director of strategic planning and other relevant military staff have also relocated as planned. The remaining military directorates are located at their current locations in Parkgate Street, St. Bricin's Hospital, Coláiste Caoimhín, Park House and McKee Barracks, all in Dublin and also Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

The original decision on decentralisation provided for two buildings, one in the Curragh and one in Newbridge. The civil and military elements of the Department were to be accommodated between the two buildings. In light of budgetary constraints, the Government decided to defer proceeding with the new building in Defence Forces headquarters at the Curragh. This location, along with a number of other deferred locations, will be considered as part of the overall review of the programme in 2011.

It is clearly preferable to have all of the key managers, both civil and military, working in close proximity. The Department is actively pursuing options to address this situation, in advance of the review in 2011. The use of existing departmental property in the Curragh is being considered as an alternative to a new building. I will be engaged with the OPW, Department and Defence Forces to ensure that the organisations can carry out their business efficiently and effectively in the short and long term.

Could the Minister tell us the cost of decentralisation in his Department for the current year? What are the plans for the current military headquarters? Does he know how much it would cost to move the communications centre from there? Figures were given which were not disputed. Is the cost of moving it €1 million, €2 million or more? Does he have any plans to move it from its current location?

As the Deputy will be aware, the Office of Public Works is responsible for the provision of the buildings in Newbridge and so forth. I understand the overall cost will be in the region of €34 million. The Department of Defence will have spent approximately €430,000 on the decentralisation project, mainly on ICT and some adjustments which were required.

On the communications centre, my preference would be to have it moved to a permanent rather than an interim location, which was what was being considered the last time we discussed these matters. The cost of moving it permanently, depending on where it was moved, is variable and very variable if an interim arrangement is required. If an interim arrangement would be required the cost would be likely to be well in excess of €1 million.

If it was possible, which I mentioned in my initial answer, to transfer all the remaining staff to the Curragh, including the communications centre, and refurbish an existing building, a possibility which is currently being examined, the cost of the communications centre would obviously be part of the entire process. The original cost set out for it was in excess of €30 million for the entire operation. The building was deferred.

It is possible that the 2011 review will give it the go-ahead, in which case it will be done in that way. If that is not possible it can be considered in the context of making some alterations to existing buildings. It is premature to discuss that now since the review of part 2 of decentralisation is now under way.

Has the Minister given any consideration to using Parkgate House, the location of the current headquarters, staying there, saving €30 million and moving the other directorates from Coláiste Caoimhín and others into that building, given its historic importance and significance? Pearse signed the surrender there, for instance, and it has been the military headquarters since 1923. Does the Minister have any feeling for the historic importance of the building and location? Has he given any consideration to maintaining it? Where is the current office of the Minister?

The Minister's office is in the new building in Newbridge. The possibility of remaining in Parkgate House would be open for consideration by the Defence Forces if the Department or Defence Forces owned the property, but it is an OPW property and I understand it has plans for the entire area surrounding the new courts buildings and other legal aspects to be accommodated on the greater campus, therefore that option is not available to us.

In any event, there is considerable merit in going with the original proposal, which was to have two locations, the Curragh mainly for military personnel and Newbridge close by for the Department of Defence. The proximity would address all of the issues which are currently very difficult because of the number of locations I mentioned.

Would the Minister agree that spending €30 million at this time is daft? Could he not use his influence in Cabinet to hold what he has and save the money for a better use, rather than trying to spend it just to relocate? Have there been any additional costs as a result of the decentralisation to Newbridge, such as the relocation of staff and ongoing transport costs for people who have to come to Dublin? Is there an onus on personnel to travel to Dublin from Newbridge to hold meetings? What time cost is involved?

The Deputy will be aware that the decision to move from Parkgate House was made a number of years ago and was long under way before my appointment to the office. It is not a matter which is decided at Cabinet. Quite clearly, the OPW has a considerable portfolio of buildings and has decided to centralise the Courts Service and all the ancillary services in that area. I understand the plan is to create a campus and there is some logic to support that view.

There is also logic to support the view that personnel in Newbridge ought to be in close proximity to military personnel in the Curragh. My strong view is that the cost of the building, if it is proceeded with in 2011, will be considerably less than the €30 million that was estimated in 2006 or 2007, when this entire project commenced. That will be examined when a decision is being made on whether to pursue a new-build in the Curragh, which was the original plan. My personal leaning is to proceed with the refurbishment of the historic existing suite of buildings, which are considerably under-utilised. That might be an attractive option for the communication centre and the decentralisation of the remainder of the staff.

Civil Defence

Jimmy Deenihan


27 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence his responsibility regarding the Civil Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46256/10]

John Deasy


39 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Defence the strength and budget for the Civil Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46253/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 39 together.

The Civil Defence Board was established pursuant to the Civil Defence Act 2002 to co-ordinate the operation and future development of the Civil Defence at national level. While the board gives advice on policy issues, responsibility for policy and political accountability to the Oireachtas for the discharge of the board's functions remain with the Minister for Defence. In accordance with the Act, the board must submit to the Minister a three-year strategic plan setting out its key objectives and strategies. In June of this year, I launched the third strategic plan of the Civil Defence Board, which covers the period from 2010 to 2013. The strategies identified by the board place a high priority on the organisation's involvement in developing training and recruitment programmes and in the framework for major emergency management, which identifies a wider role for the Civil Defence in emergency response.

In 2010, the Civil Defence Board received a grant of €6.061 million, almost €1 million of which was allocated for the purchase of equipment. This has enabled the board to equip volunteers to a high standard. The board has re-equipped all of its casualty trained volunteers with up-to-date training manuals, DVDs and instructional material, thereby bringing the organisation into line with the statutory requirements laid down by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council. The Civil Defence College is a recognised certifying body for the preparation and delivery of courses approved by statutory and other national bodies such as the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Irish Heart Foundation. This accreditation, combined with the diverse range of training available to volunteers, is of great assistance to those who wish to develop career opportunities outside the Civil Defence.

The board's strategic plan identifies the marketing of the capabilities of the Civil Defence as an important strategy. While the recruitment of Civil Defence members is a local authority function, the Civil Defence Board encourages and supports local authorities to undertake recruitment campaigns. The board supports such recruitment initiatives through the provision of additional publicity material and media training for Civil Defence officers and other supports that help to enhance the image of the Civil Defence. Targeted recruitment programmes also take place in the form of public awareness campaigns and new training classes at various locations around the country. Earlier this year, the board compiled a volunteer database to give an accurate reflection of the numbers in the organisation and enable the board and local authorities to target recruitment campaigns as required. Development work on the database has been completed. The population of the database is under way at local authority level. The national membership strength, as obtained from local authorities earlier this year, is approximately 4,750. Significant numbers of Civil Defence officers on the ground are reporting an increase in membership. This is a very positive development for the future of the Civil Defence.

I thank the Minister for his response. Has he received any advice on policy issues relating to Civil Defence matters, or any proposals in that regard, from the board in recent years?

I had a number of meetings with Civil Defence personnel when I visited various places around the country. I had a long interaction with members of the Civil Defence Board, including its chairman, when I went to Roscrea for the launch of the three-year plan. Considerable thought has been given to how the Civil Defence might be developed. In the past, there were concerns because the Civil Defence reports to the Department of Defence at one level, but at another level is part of the local authority system through Civil Defence officers. Some of the advantages of that structure came to light when the deployment of Civil Defence personnel was a huge advantage to local authorities during the adverse weather conditions of recent weeks and of earlier this year. Some Civil Defence vehicles are suitable for all-terrain work and for use as ambulances. The trained personnel who use such vehicles, particularly when dealing with difficult weather events, make a significant and positive contribution to the work of local authorities.

One of the functions of the Civil Defence Board is to advise the Minister for Defence on policy issues. Has the Minister received any such advice in the last year or two? Has the board proposed any initiatives during that time? Has he received any proposals from the board regarding initiatives or policy matters? The making of such proposals is one of the functions of the board.

The board has been very proactive in interacting with departmental officials on the issues that arise. The importance of the volunteer programme initiative, which is close to completion, has been demonstrated. The initiative, which is particularly vibrant, has been successful in drawing the attention of the public to the existence of the Civil Defence and the advantages to volunteers of membership of the Civil Defence. It is fair to say that recruitment drives in some local authority areas have enjoyed considerable success. The efforts in other areas have been less successful. Concerns have been expressed about the availability and quality of training. Very good facilities are available at the headquarters in Roscrea. The Civil Defence also retains a training facility in the Phoenix Park. Its close association with the Irish Heart Foundation has been a positive development. Many of its courses are now accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council. I understand this initiative came from the board itself. It is important that independently verified and accredited qualifications are available. Other issues relating to insurance, etc., have also been successfully addressed.

It strikes me that vehicles are available at local level to many organisations, including the Civil Defence, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta and the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland. In light of the current Exchequer position, there is a major case for making every effort to co-ordinate the activities of the organisations I mentioned with those of the Reserve Defence Force, which we discussed earlier. If we are to encourage people to get involved in the Civil Defence, it must be made more attractive. It needs to get involved in other activities that are attractive to young people. We seem to be making contributions to statutory and voluntary bodies, such as the Civil Defence, that are doing the same work, such as providing assistance at local level during bad weather. If a programme of co-operation and co-ordination were established and maintained in an ongoing way, the whole operation would be more attractive for those involved and the public at large would get a much more streamlined and co-ordinated service in vital areas.

The Deputy has made a fair point about the particular challenge we face in this regard. The organisations he mentioned, each of which has a huge voluntary element, have successfully maintained relatively high membership levels. Some of them have found the challenge more difficult than others. The need for co-ordination arises most dramatically in circumstances like those of the last two weeks, which were also experienced in November 2009 and January 2010. The additional opportunities to deploy personnel in these circumstances, during real and contrived exercises, led to clear improvements during the most recent spell of bad weather, by comparison with the previous spells. Each of the organisations mentioned by the Deputy — the Reserve Defence Force, the Civil Defence, the Irish Red Cross and the Order of Malta, etc. — has its own role to play. It is interesting that some of these organisations have strong bases in certain geographical areas. The Reserve Defence Force, which we discussed earlier, has some enormously strong pockets of involvement, membership and recruitment. This success story is not always replicated elsewhere. Some of the other organisations are particularly strong in certain areas. That can be attributed in part to the personnel in those areas being in a position to drive the organisations in question. It is also a function of the attractiveness to young people of the particular organisation. We are speaking specifically about Civil Defence. One of the great attractions for young people is the fact that FETAC-approved courses are available which might be of assistance in terms of their employment prospects, quite apart from personal development. That is something we try to highlight to the greatest extent possible, but there is an enormous challenge in attracting people into such organisations, to keep them viable at local level.

Will the Minister say what the age limits are for Civil Defence, both lower and upper, and what involvement there is between Civil Defence and the schools?

I do not have the information on age limits off the top of my head, and I shall have to come back to the Deputy on that. In some areas there is considerable interaction with schools. While travelling around the country I have asked Civil Defence officers and others I have met about something which was very common in my youth, namely, the provision of first aid classes to a very high standard in relatively small rural communities. That had an enormous level of availability in my area, mainly through Civil Defence, while in other areas it was provided by the Red Cross and others. It seems to me to be an enormous advantage to civil society to have that type of skill available.

A number of things have happened. Standards have risen, of course, and regulation as regards the provision of training is at a very high level. The cost of the provision of some of these courses is very high, perhaps prohibitive in some instances, but it is something that could be usefully looked at, nonetheless.

That is not quite the point Deputy Stanton is referring to in terms of direct interaction with schools, I appreciate, which is very positive in some areas. The argument has been made to me that organisations such as Civil Defence and a number of others could be proactively involved in providing, for example, first aid courses in schools in transition year or whatever. This is something that has not really been scoped, and in an ideal world it should be available universally. That seems to me to be a considerable challenge, although at a considerable cost.

Departmental Expenditure

Thomas P. Broughan


28 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the way it is intended to achieve the administrative efficiencies of €21 million in full as contained in the budget 2011 proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47261/10]

Jim O'Keeffe


69 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence the basis on which he proposes to have administrative efficiencies in his Department leading to savings of €3 million in 2011 and €21 million in a full year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47360/10]

Eamon Gilmore


71 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on his Department’s estimate for 2011. [47258/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 69 and 71 together.

In common with all areas of the public service, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces will operate with reduced funding for 2011. The gross Estimate for Department of Defence and Army pensions combined in 2011 is €933 million, an overall reduction of 4% on the 2010 Estimate. Defence spending at €725 million, including capital, will be reduced by €30 million or 4% on the 2010 Estimate. The provision for Army pensions for 2011 is €208 million, which is, of course, non-discretionary expenditure.

It should be noted that a very significant proportion of defence spending is accounted for by pay and allowances. The bulk of the non-pay element is spent on items such as fuel and utility costs and the maintenance and replacement of essential stores and equipment.

The expenditure reductions in 2011 will be achieved mainly through the reduction in the cost of participation in overseas missions, in addition to savings delivered through the postponement of expenditure on equipment and capital works across the Defence Forces. The 2011 capital Estimate of €12 million reflects a 25% reduction on the 2010 provision. Capital spending will focus on building works to improve the accommodation and facilities of the Defence Forces.

While there have been reductions in the overall defence budget, steady investment since 2000 means that the Defence Forces are well placed to address the challenges for 2011.

The administrative efficiencies of €3 million in 2011 will be achieved chiefly through reduced employee numbers and related costs. The full year yield of €21 million on administrative efficiencies referred to in budget 2011 relates primarily to payroll savings across the Vote that will accumulate by 2014.

Expenditure in every area of Defence Forces activity is being critically appraised. The priority now and into the future is to maintain the capability of the Defence Forces to deliver effective services across all the roles assigned by Government.

The four year plan states that the defence area will contribute savings of €106 million by 2014. One of the issues mentioned is a reduction in the number of civilian employees attached to military installations. What exactly does that mean and what type of numbers may be involved? It obviously indicates that the duties carried out by civilians previously will now be carried out by military personnel, against the backdrop of a decrease in the number of officers and enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces. Are we in danger of reaching a level where the Defence Forces would no longer be a credible organisation fit for purpose?

As to the latter concern, I have no worries in that regard. I am absolutely certain that the Defence Forces will be fit for purpose, and that has been proven. Of all Departments, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have most successfully addressed downsizing, while improving quality of service simultaneously, to an extraordinary extent. This is testimony to the professionalism and commitment of all those in the Defence Forces, their representative associations and the Department of Defence.

I am absolutely confident that the challenges in the period 2011-14 can be addressed successfully. The framework to address them will need to be sketched during 2011, in my view. For 2011 everything has been sorted out as regards the matters we discussed earlier, overseas service and so forth, and we are fortunate to have very good equipment, to the highest standard, and most of it very new. Therefore there are no requirements in that regard either this year or next, and indeed very limited ones for 2013-14 in that regard, too. Fortunately, the stores are full to an extent which means there is no challenge in that regard in the short to medium term. It is as well to bear in mind that the Defence Forces and indeed, the Department, are very well positioned.

On the specific question about civilian personnel, that is something which will have to be considered in the context of the framework of options. There will not be compulsory redundancy and in the event that vacancies arise specific decisions will have to be made to ensure that whatever challenges they may pose are addressed.

The Minister said the full-year yield of €21 million on administrative efficiencies relates to payroll savings, and that will accumulate by 2014. Does that mean it will be €21 million in the full year, 2014, or will it accumulate between now and 2014? Could the Minister say what this actually means per annum between now and 2014?

Also, he talks about reduced personnel numbers. Is that primarily civilian personnel or does it refer to further reductions in military personnel?

It is mainly on the civilian employee side. I understand there are considerable opportunities available in that area, but the framework will have to be discussed with the stakeholders. It would be very unwise and unhelpful for a Minister or anybody else to lay out a narrow construct as regards what should be achieved over the period. Yesterday, I engaged with the two representative organisations and there are a whole lot of other players in this area that have an input to all of this. I do not believe any Department has achieved as much as the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over recent years. They are very well placed to deal with these challenges and very well equipped, which can be an enormous cost.

There is an ongoing cost, for example the purchase of the two ships, that is factored into the accounts and safely dealt with. There is a White Paper process and in the context of that some work has to be done on the four year element. To embark on the ten year White Paper process without taking account of the parameters of the 2011-14 element would seem to me to be ill-advised. That may delay the White Paper process somewhat, although my hope is that it can be accommodated within it. The ultimate point lies in deciding what is required of the Defence Forces by the Government and the State. That will be set out to a considerable extent in a White Paper. It is a very big and important job that is gradually coming to be better understood, and this, in a sense, has to be the defining centre of how one operates all that flows from that.

The Minister is very clever in that he has avoided my question. Is the €21 million in respect of 2014 or is to be accumulated between now and 2014? Perhaps the Minister will also provide a breakdown of the overall figure for each year between now and 2014.

It is stated in the reply that administrative efficiencies of €3 million in 2011 will be achieved through reduced employee numbers. The four year yield of €21 million on administrative efficiencies relates primarily to payroll savings across the Vote. They are accumulated and not defined and would be likely to arise more or less in proportion across the four year period. The figure will be €3 million in 2011 and so on and so forth, accumulating to €21 million.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.