6. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence the reason families and ex-servicemen are being asked to leave their homes in the Curragh; and the alternative accommodation that has been put in place for them. [46643/13]
Vol. 819 No. 2
6. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence the reason families and ex-servicemen are being asked to leave their homes in the Curragh; and the alternative accommodation that has been put in place for them. [46643/13]
This is the same matter as was raised by Deputy Wallace, and I compliment the Minister on his consistency in his answer, because he demonstrated again a total lack of humanity and compassion in his retort earlier. What he calls "overholders" and "anachronisms" are families who have given loyal service to him and the State, and the Minister and the Department of Defence, as their employer, have a duty of care to them. I want to know what alternative arrangements the Minister has for these families and individuals who have not sufficient income to get a mortgage or rent privately, who are not being taken on by local authorities and who are being made homeless by the Minister.
Not only does the Deputy have no monopoly on compassion, she also has the same tendency as her colleague sitting beside her to be selective with the facts and the background of issues. As I mentioned earlier, in February 1997 the then Minister for Defence set out policy on married quarters on the basis that they were largely an anachronism and that they should be discontinued in a managed and orderly way. Since then the Department has discontinued the practice of providing such accommodation. In addition, given the age of the housing stock, it has been found that over time the properties require a significant and disproportionate investment in order to ensure compliance with regulations regarding rental properties.
Personnel are obliged, under Defence Force regulations, to vacate married quarters within a specified period of being discharged from the Permanent Defence Force, something which the Deputy chooses to ignore entirely. The term "overholder" is used to describe former members of the Defence Forces and their families who have refused to leave married quarters within 21 days of leaving the Defence Forces. The Department is, in accordance with normal procedure, seeking vacant possession of overheld married quarters. The situation of overholders continuing to occupy married quarters is not sustainable. As the Department is no longer in a position to subsidise housing for those who are not entitled to it, the Department has had to take necessary action. Each overholder is being dealt with on an individual basis, as evidenced in the statistics I gave Deputy Wallace.
The Department does not have a role in the provision of housing accommodation for the general public. The securing of alternative housing is a matter for the individuals concerned in the first instance.
If individuals are not in a position to secure housing in their own right, it may be the case that they qualify for social housing or that they qualify for some level of housing assistance. Officials of my Department have met with Kildare County Council officials regarding over-holders, so they are aware of the situation and will advise overholders of procedures and requirements when making applications for social housing.
The problem is that the Minister has said he is taking an approach of reminding these people of their responsibilities, but what we are talking about here are families who have lived in this area for decades. One individual has been living in the Curragh Camp for 34 years and has given 44 years service to the Army. He retired two years ago and got a letter four months after he retired telling him to vacate the premises. He has been to Kildare County Council and was told he is over the limit for social housing. He has been to the bank and was told he does not have enough money and he is too old to get a mortgage. That family is one example but there are others who have nowhere else to go.
The Minister said there were fewer than 75 families in this situation nationally. Some of those are widows and separated people in very low paid, temporary employment. Can the Minister not engage humanely with 75 people? He claims that the maintenance of this stock has been onerous on his Department. Where is the cost-benefit analysis conducted into that? These people paid substantial amounts of rent and, indeed, when they retire from the forces they pay more rent. How much is the Department spending on the maintenance of their premises because they are giving it quite a lot of rent? I do not believe it actually costs the Department anything.
As I have already indicated to the Deputy, my Department does not have a role in the provision of housing accommodation for the general public. However, my Department does deal with each case on its own merits. As I said, officials of my Department have been in contact with the local authorities, and information on the appropriate State agencies to provide assistance is given to those overholders as part of the Department's engagement with them. If the Department was not dealing with this matter in a humane and considered way, some of the individuals referred to by the Deputy, who have been maintaining occupation of accommodation they knew they had an obligation to vacate, would have been required long ago to vacate it.
I accept this is a difficult issue for some families. It is an issue the Department has sought to deal with over a series of years, through the presence of successive Ministers for Defence, in a manner that is as careful as is possible. However, at the end of the day, this was accommodation only provided to be made available to families during the term of a person being a member of the Defence Forces.
I contend that this was not the knowledge of all people and, in fact, the conduct of the Defence Forces would vindicate that. To take the case of one individual, he exited from the forces over 15 years ago, lived in his home for 40 years and, if one likes, he is only now being squeezed, even though he lives there with three generations of his family. The Department may not be a housing authority but it does have a duty of care to former employees and their families. In fact, the individual and humane approach the Department has been taking has involved one woman who has lived there for 27 years, raised her family there and remained living there post a marriage break-up, being given four or five harassment letters and being brought before the courts to be evicted.
I ask the Minister again to explain how much he claims it is costing his Department to keep these people there. My assertion is that they have actually paid, through their own rent, for the upkeep and maintenance. Where is the drain coming from? Could the Department not engage humanely with them in that they have lived there for decades and raised their families? Have they not got the right now to live out the older years of their life or for the Minister to actively assist them in gaining an alternative?
As the Deputy well knows, despite the nature of her presentation, there is substantial engagement by the military authorities and by the Department with individual families before any action is taken with regard to court proceedings. That action is taken as a last resort in the context of individuals in these circumstances.
7. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether the current balance between the three services within the Defence Forces is appropriate for an island nation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46843/13]
I raise this question in the context of the impending Green Paper. I want to ask the Minister for Defence for his views on the current balance between the three services within the Defence Forces, particularly whether that balance is appropriate in the context of this being an island nation.
The current defence policy framework was set out in the White Paper on Defence in 2000, as the Deputy knows. The capability decisions contained in that White Paper were based on a careful assessment of the defence and security environment and having regard to the roles the Defence Forces were required to undertake. Key capability decisions contained in the 2000 White Paper included the retention of a light infantry-based Army with a three-brigade structure and an all-arms capability, development of the Naval Service around a modern eight-ship flotilla, development of the Air Corps based on its then role profile and development of a re-organised Reserve Defence Force.
In the years following the economic collapse, the level of funding available for Defence has been reduced. In December 2011, following a comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government decided to stabilise the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel. This strength level was significantly higher than that which the previous Government’s national recovery plan would have necessitated. Within this 9,500 strength ceiling, the then organisational structures were no longer sustainable and I initiated a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces. The vast bulk of the reorganisation adjustment - 906 posts - was implemented within the Army. However, the impact on the Army’s capability was minimised as Army units were consolidated within a new more efficient two-brigade structure and personnel were redeployed from administrative and headquarters functions to operational units. The Air Corps and Naval Service establishments saw proportionately lesser reductions of 44 and 50 posts respectively.
On the equipment front, plans have been revised in accordance with operational priorities and the procurement of two new Naval Service vessels has been successfully managed within a constrained resource envelope. The first of these new ships is scheduled for delivery early next year, with the second ship due for delivery the following year. Other priorities in the Army and Air Corps are also being pursued in accordance with operational requirements.
All of these actions have ensured that the Defence Forces can continue to fulfil the roles assigned within the current policy framework. However, in order to ensure that defence policy continues to address emergent demands in the defence and security environment, we must periodically re-appraise our policy approach. As the Deputy knows, in July 2013, following Government approval, I launched a Green Paper on Defence. This initiated a consultative process that will inform the development of the White Paper.
Some 80% of the Permanent Defence Force in Ireland is in the Army, with 11.3% in the Naval Service and 8.5% in the Air Corps. This compares, for example, with another island nation, New Zealand, where 27% are in the air corps and 23% in the naval service. The Irish Maritime Forum made a number of interesting comments and constructive proposals in this regard. There is no doubt that, for an island nation, our Naval Service is underdeveloped and, indeed, undervalued. Comparable nations such as New Zealand have a much greater component in their defence forces. That said, we accept that New Zealand is much more isolated than Ireland. However, Ireland's maritime area has been extended from 410,000 sq. km to approximately 1 million sq. km since the publication of the White Paper back in 2000. In that context, and looking to the future, would the Minister share my view that we need to look at the future development of both the Naval Service and the Air Corps?
The Green Paper sets out a range of policy options and questions which were intended to focus submissions on key policy considerations in the preparation of the White Paper. The Deputy may be interested to know my Department has received 117 submissions on the Green Paper. Each of these submissions is being carefully considered by both civil and military personnel within the Department of Defence and, where appropriate, follow-on meetings are being arranged. The process has provided an important opportunity for all key stakeholders to input their views and I look forward to further engaging on this important project over the coming months. In doing so, and as the process is very much ongoing, I do not want to pre-empt or second guess any future policy approaches, such as force distribution and equipment or, indeed, the balance that currently exists between the three services within our Defence Forces.
I would like to thank the Deputy’s party and other parties for their submissions and I want to assure them they are being given full consideration. The issue the Deputy raises is, of course, one of the issues to be considered in the context of preparation of the White Paper.
In that matter of the White Paper, the steering group in 2000 consisted of a major-general, a colonel, an assistant secretary and a principal officer. The working group which was founded at the time consisted of two colonels and two principal officers. There was no permanent naval representative on either group.
In hindsight, that is something I very much regret. Does the Minister intend to establish such working groups to deal with the impending policy paper and, if so, will he ensure that they will include Naval Service and Air Corps representation?
I have absolutely no doubt that, in the context of the preparation of the White Paper, there will be substantial input from the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps. The Deputy might have noticed that Commandant Mark Mellett was appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff.
We welcome his appointment.
The other Deputy Chief of Staff comes from the Air Corps and the Chief of Staff is from the Army. There is a balance in this regard which will ensure that in the preparation and finalisation of the White Paper, all sections of the Defence Forces will be fully and properly represented. I am looking forward - when we have concluded our consideration of the substantial number of submissions received - to the engagement that will be necessary in order to ensure that we publish a White Paper which sets down a roadmap for the Defence Forces for the next decade. That roadmap must be appropriate and balanced and must meet the needs of the State in the context of the domestic role of the Defence Forces and also their very important international role at UN and EU level.
8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence the cost to the Defence Forces of providing security for US military planes at Shannon Airport. [46647/13]
30. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence the reason at least one Irish soldier was on the ground at Shannon on 7 September when a US Air Force Hercules C130 was present. [46646/13]
Section 317 of the Defence Act 1954 states: "No person shall, save with the consent in writing of a Minister of State, enter or land in the State while wearing any foreign uniform." Only a few years ago, our current President, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, described statements by the then Government in respect of Shannon as one untruth followed by another. What is the cost relating to the provision at security at Shannon Airport and why is taxpayers' money being used to protect US forces at Shannon, particularly when the latter are in breach of Irish neutrality and are very often en route to countries further afield in order to breach international law?
It is extraordinary that the Deputy's only international bête noire is the United States. He obviously is not concerned that 100,000 people have been killed in Syria or that there are difficulties in the other parts of the world for which no one can hold the United States responsible.
What about the 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq?
In relation to the Deputy's question, an Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which in practice means assisting an Garda Síochána when requested to do so. These ATCP security duties include the protection and guarding of vital installations and the provision of armed security escorts. From time to time, the Garda also requests support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport. Such assistance has been provided by the Defence Forces since 5 February 2003. I can confirm that on the 7 September last, members of the Defence Forces were requested by the Garda to assist with security duties at Shannon Airport.
The following items are taken into consideration when calculating the costs involved in providing ATCP at Shannon Airport - security duty allowance, rations and fuel. The costs incurred for the period 2010 to 2012 inclusive were as follows:
The costs for 2013 are expected to be broadly in line with 2012.
Am I correct in stating that the Minister is dealing with questions Nos. 8 and 30?
Both questions are in the name of Deputy Wallace.
Will other Members be able to contribute?
If we have time.
I have as much respect for the likes of Vladimir Putin and what he does to disturb world peace as I have for Barack Obama, Islamic militants, Israel or whomever. I am opposed to all forms of terrorism, be they perpetrated by an individual or a state.
In March 2011, the Labour Party - Fine Gael's partner in government - stated that it would be enforcing The Hague convention on neutrality. According to the convention, which defines the rights and duties of international law, neutral countries are forbidden to move troops or convoys of munitions of war or supplies across their territory. We have seen pictures of soldiers with guns, and not just in uniforms, on the ground at Shannon. I do not believe that this is appropriate if the country is to have any semblance of neutrality. We like to think that we are neutral in some way.
As the Deputy knows, US planes transporting members of that country's military have landed at Shannon for many years. There is no reason, in the context of the use of Shannon, that we should impede such transportation in any way. Indeed, there is no suggestion of which I am aware of any difficulties arising at Shannon Airport. I draw to the Deputy's attention that the business generated as a result of this use of Shannon is very important in the context of maintaining the viability of the airport, which plays a crucial role in the context of facilitating access from the United States through to other locations. I really do not understand what is the Deputy's difficulty. There is no suggestion that American soldiers landing in Shannon have ever behaved inappropriately or have done anything other than contribute to the local economy.
They are just on their way to kill people elsewhere.
A few years ago, the current Tánaiste wondered why the then Government had not complied with a request from the Human Rights Commission to inspect aircraft travelling through Shannon. The Minister states that this use of the airport is good for business. I accept that it is good for business but at what price? Let us not forget that plenty of civilians pass through Shannon. If we are going to allow military personnel who are often armed to pass through our airport in order that they can fly on to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Yemen and destroy the lives of others, then I am of the view that the price for facilitating business is too high.
The Deputy has obviously failed to notice that there is a group in Afghanistan called the Taliban-----
Do its members travel through Shannon?
-----which generally believes that it should enforce the most extreme form-----
The Minister's pal-----
Deputy Finian McGrath should allow the Minister to conclude.
-----of Islamic law whereby no woman should be educated or appear in public without being completely covered-----
This has nothing to do with the questions I tabled.
What has this got to do with Shannon? So the Minister supports the American war.
-----and that girls going to school are seen as reasonable targets and can be shot. Also operating out of Afghanistan is al-Qaeda, which planned and carried out the destruction of the twin towers in New York. The Deputy seems to be of the view that the sole focus of evil in the world is the United States and that there are no other trouble spots on the face of the planet-----
Is the Taliban using Shannon?
-----where individuals violate fundamental rights, seek to prevent normal communal activities and discriminate against women in a very foul way, treat them as second-class citizens and attempt to prevent them from accessing any form of education.
The Minister might be interested to discover that 19 of the 20 people who were involved in the 9/11 attacks in America came from autocratic states protected by America.
Hear, hear. Those are the facts.
The Minister should get his facts right.
Members are supposed to pose questions.
Yes, but the Minister is misinforming the House.
I do not believe Deputy Wallace asked a question.
Will the Minister stop coming before the House and acting as the USA's poodle in respect of international issues? The reality is that many people who operate in the human rights arena are genuinely concerned about the use of Shannon Airport by people on their way to bomb and kill others. Those of us on the Opposition benches have always opposed all forms of violence but the Minister is blatantly supporting US policy, end of story.
When one must use abuse, one is losing the argument.
There was no abuse.
I would not describe myself as a poodle or any other type of dog. I like dogs and am of the view that we should encourage people to keep pets because the latter brighten their lives and give them other interests.
The only country Deputy Finian McGrath and some of his colleagues ever pillory for its conduct is the United States.
I would love to see him, Deputy Mick Wallace and perhaps Deputy Clare Daly jumping up in a similar manner to address issues involving the violation of fundamental rights by Russia or in Iran, Iraq and a whole range of other countries.
There are violations of rights, particularly of women, in Saudi Arabia.
What about the Americans?
The United States does not get everything right or do everything right. We are, however, dealing with a simple issue, namely, the transport of troops and the use of Shannon Airport. The airport has been used for many years in that context and there is no reason it should not continue to be so used. It is of particular benefit to the airport and the local economy that it is so used.
9. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence the current arrangements for staff and resources of the FCA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46642/13]
Given the long tradition of the FCA, will the Minister indicate what is the organisation's current role, how many members it has and what resources are available to it?
As the Deputy may be aware, a value for money review of the Reserve Defence Force was completed and published in November 2012. It recommended the retention of an Army reserve, previously known as the FCA, and a Naval Service reserve, previously known as An Slua Muirí, with a combined strength of approximately 4,000 personnel and a range of other reforms which together would ensure a viable and cost-effective reserve into the future. A new organisational structure for the Army Reserve and the Naval Service Reserve came into effect at the end of March 2013 and a large number of under-strength units have been consolidated into a smaller number of full strength units. In addition, the way Reserve units are organised has fundamentally changed.
Under the new structure, Army units within the Defence Forces have both Permanent Defence Force and Reserve Defence Force components, as opposed to the separate parallel structures that previously were in place. This revised structure has improved access to equipment, expertise and appropriate training for members of the Reserve. It has also allowed for a significant reduction in the number of Permanent Defence Force personnel required to administer and train the Reserve on a full-time basis.
The Army Reserve now has an establishment of 3,869 personnel and the Naval Service Reserve has an establishment of 200 personnel. A key issue identified in the value for money review was the high number of reservists who were not meeting minimum levels of paid and unpaid training but were retained in the strength of units. The attainment of required levels of training is an essential requirement and I have ensured there is sufficient paid training to provide for a minimum of seven days paid training for all reservists and sustain recruitment to the Reserve. In this context, the budget available for paid training for members of the Reserve is €3.243 million in 2013. The number of paid training man days available to members of the Reserve has increased from 30,000 in 2012 to 41,500 in 2013.
Recruitment to and promotions within the Reserve will be in line with the number of vacancies that arise. A key requirement is to ensure reservists who are no longer active do not block appointments within the new organisation. This is a critical factor in ensuring the vitality of units and it is being addressed as part of the implementation process.
Ultimately, the recommendations of the value for money review that are being implemented are intended to enhance the overall capacity of the Defence Forces to deal with a broad range of contingencies. I am determined that the current reforms will be given every opportunity to succeed. I convey my appreciation to the many deeply committed members of the Reserve Defence Force and the Permanent Defence Force who are at the sharp end of the current reforms and will ultimately deliver the enhanced capabilities that are of such importance.
All change causes confusion and upset, the level of which will depend on the ability of the individual in question to cope with change. I know people who have been members of the FCA for a considerable period, probably most of their adult lives. Were members of the FCA, namely, those who experienced the changes, consulted as part of the process? Change may be fine for new entrants, given that the system is new to them, but the issue is how those who have given 20, 30 or many more years' service feel and the extent of their engagement with the new process.
The changes introduced were of crucial importance. One of the difficulties with the Reserve Defence Force is that a significant number of its members do not participate in paid training days. It is very important that we have a Reserve Defence Force that is fit for purpose and can engage with and assist the Permanent Defence Force when required. The new reforms we have introduced are designed to achieve a more integrated approach as between the Reserve and the Permanent Defence Force.
As I stated, I very much appreciate the contribution made by the many members of the Reserve Defence Force who have been engaged with the force for many years. The decisions on implementation of the changes have been made and there has been engagement with members of the Reserve. While I am advised that matters are developing very well, I remain concerned that we have numbers of individuals in the Reserve Defence Force who made a contribution in the past but are no longer active. I am anxious that, in the context of the Reserve Defence Force, we recruit some new young people who have the energy and desire to make a contribution and that those who are still members but no longer able to engage or make a contribution by participating in training days consider how best to approach matters to ensure the Reserve Defence Force is as effective as possible.
On those who are no longer active, will the Minister outline what role he envisages they could play in the future of the FCA? Perhaps they might be involved in a mentoring scheme for younger people entering the Reserve Defence Force? There is still a strong loyalty to the FCA among this group.
I understand the official title is no longer the FCA but the Reserve Defence Force. Has the title changed?
Yes, the title is the Reserve Defence Force.
The reason I ask is that the Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence in which it outlined its concerns. Its representatives expertly addressed the issues that have resulted in the depletion of the Reserve Defence Force. The association is seeking a meeting with the Minister. Has he met its representatives since the changes were implemented? Has he listened to their concerns and, if so, will he act on them?
While I have not recently met representatives of the association, I met them in or around the time of the meeting to which the Deputy referred. I am always happy to meet the organisation. This is never an issue and I am not aware of an outstanding request for a meeting. If its representatives wish to meet me, I would be happy to meet them.
To address Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's question, members of the Reserve and the Permanent Defence Force often maintain an interest in the Defence Forces when they retire. There are associations of which they are members and they actively contribute in different ways, often with very constructive suggestions and proposals. Some of the retired members of the Defence Forces and their representative groups are included in the numbers who have made submissions on the Defence Forces White Paper. Their knowledge and capacity to contribute are very much appreciated and given very careful consideration when constructive proposals are made.
11. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence if he will expand on his recent statement that Ireland’s expenditure on defence, as a proportion of GDP, is one of the lowest in the European Union, while the country's Defence Forces are assigned wider roles than those of the defence forces of most member states and that any consideration of defence resourcing must have due regard to these facts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46841/13]
Speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs in September, the Minister stated Ireland's expenditure on defence as a proportion of GDP was one of the lowest in the European Union, while the Defence Forces are assigned wider roles than the defence forces of most other member states. He also indicated any consideration of Defence Forces resourcing must have regard to these facts. Does he care to elaborate on these thoughts?
The comment to which the Deputy refers comes from a presentation I recently delivered at the Institute of International and European Affairs. In the presentation I outlined key issues raised in the Green Paper on Defence published in July. The purpose of the Green Paper was to initiate and stimulate a broad consultative process which would inform the development of a new White Paper on Defence, which it is intended to publish in 2014. The comment should be read in the context of the whole presentation which set out a broad range of issues that must be considered in the development of the next White Paper on Defence. The preparation of the White Paper must take into account an assessment of the future defence and security environment and the roles and tasks we wish the Defence Forces to undertake. However, the economic environment and level of resourcing available must necessarily be factored into considerations. This is a fundamental requirement to ensure a sustainable defence policy.
A key fact which is reflected in the comment to which the Deputy refers is that the Defence Forces undertake a broad range of security and support tasks not typically undertaken to the same extent by similar defence forces in other European states.
The security environment that prevails in this State has required our Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to undertake domestic security tasks on an ongoing basis. In many other European countries certain of the security tasks performed by the Army here would be undertaken by other armed forces, such as the Gendarmerie in France or the Carabinieri in Italy.
In looking to the future we must consider the types of capabilities that should be maintained having regard to likely future operational requirements and available resources. However, the White Paper must be firmly grounded in reality. The reality we face is one where the prioritisation of scarce resources and trade offs between capabilities must be carefully weighed against the implications of such decisions. A critical point, as outlined in my comment, is that the implications are not solely confined to contingent defence issues. Due to the wide variety of roles assigned to the Defence Forces they also have the potential to impact on ongoing operational tasks that provide essential supports to the civil power and protect our economic resources and if not delivered by the Defence Forces would need to be replicated in any event. This must be considered when allocating defence resources. I am conscious, as I said in the paper as delivered, that the proportionate sum we allocate by way of resources to the Defence Forces is extremely small compared to other European countries and is obviously one of the issues to be considered in the context of the White Paper.
Am I to take it from the Minister's comments that he accepts the share of GDP expended on the Defence Forces and Ireland's defence policy is insufficient? Is it his ambition that the White Paper will set a benchmark for expenditure as a percentage of national income?
There are many things that I would like to do and that we might like to do in this State but, of course, we have to be realistic in what we can achieve. It is important that, in developing the future direction and vision for our Defence Forces, we maintain a balanced perspective with regard to expenditure and resourcing decisions, while also having an awareness of what expenditure may be required to achieve the objectives that are set. In a different financial environment, obviously every Minister would like some additional resources to be made available for those who come within his or her wing or are providing essential and important services. It is right that I praise the military side of the Defence Forces - the Army, Navy and Air Corps - for the efficiency with which they are using resources, the extent of their capabilities in the context of a difficult fiscal environment and the extraordinary contribution being made both at home and abroad. Members of our Defence Forces are deployed in 14 different trouble spots across the world and engaged in global duties of a significant nature. In the context of a number of operations, members of our Defence Forces are in important leadership roles.
I was struck by the Minister's comment in the same speech that: "As defence is an area of public expenditure where the impact of cuts is not immediately evident to the general public, it is critically important that we clearly articulate the rationale underpinning expenditure and funding requirements." Does he accept that type of comment increases the pressure for defence cuts? He previously acknowledged in this Chamber that between 1997 and 2000 the Defence Forces were a model of public service reform. They have embraced reform across the board and made themselves relevant as a public service agency. His response as Minister has been to heap further cuts upon them. I exhort him to be a champion for the Defence Forces and seek additional funding rather than identify further areas in which cuts can be imposed in the budget.
I can only say to the Deputy that he has a brass neck. When I came into the Department the position was, based on the funding that his party agreed with the troika, we would have been to maintain a defence force of personnel across the three services of more than 7,000. This Government made serious decisions to maintain the operational capacity of the Defence Forces and maintain their strength at 9,500. In that context the Deputy is referring to a comment I made to the effect that because of the nature of the work the Defence Forces need to do, much of it is not in the public domain but is to the benefit of the general public. One of the issues I have in mind in that context is the substantial work done by the relevant group in our Defences Forces in dealing with improvised explosive devices and neutralising them at the request of the civil power, that is, the Garda. On a weekly basis members of the Defence Forces put their lives at risk unsung in this context. The reference was simply to emphasise the importance of providing reasonable resources to the Defence Forces to ensure they can carry out their tasks in circumstances in which the general public is not always aware of the importance of the duties in which they are engaged.
14. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Defence the locations to which Defence Forces' unmanned aerial vehicle systems have been deployed operationally in the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46645/13]
This question relates to the Defence Forces' unmanned aerial vehicle assistance, or drones as they are more commonly known. Drones have been in the news a lot in the last year or so. We do not have any offensive drones in the Defence Forces. I am interested to see where they have been used operationally over the past couple of years.
I am satisfied that the level of resources available to the Defence Forces, including training, equipment and up to date technology, enables the Defence Forces to carry out their roles both at home and overseas. All elements of defence expenditure were examined for the comprehensive review of expenditure in 2011. In response to these resource constraints, the defence organisation has undertaken further significant reorganisation and reform.
In dealing with the issue of the drones which was raised by Deputy Pringle, the last occasion on which they were required to be utilised in the context of operational use was in Chad. They are available to the Defence Forces for use should they be required and there are still training engagements with them. However, the nature of the UN duties in which troops are currently engaged abroad has not been such as to require the use of drones.