Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 Feb 2014

Vol. 829 No. 3

Other Questions

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Brendan Smith


6. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Defence his views on the use of unmanned drones in military operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1482/14]

Micheál Martin


25. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Defence his views regarding the recent decision made at the European Council in relation to drones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4836/14]

As a country we should clearly outline our total opposition to the use in combat of unmanned drones, also known as unmanned combat aerial vehicles or UCAVs. The EU must take steps, through the UN, to bring a halt to unlawful UCAV attacks. It should promote the agreement of an international treaty on UCAVs and the extension of the scope of the arms trade treaty to include UCAVs. The UN debate in October marked the first time member nations came together to discuss the rapidly expanding militarised use of remotely piloted aircraft and the fraught international legal issues it raises. Has the Minister discussed with his EU colleagues the discussions that took place at the UN in October?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 25 together.

The Defence Forces operate a system of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as an information-gathering asset. They provide a low-cost and low-risk means of increasing surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities. They also provide a forward observation and surveillance capacity of potential threats for deployed units on overseas peace support operations, thereby enhancing force protection. As the UAVs acquired by the Defence Forces are at the low end of the UAV spectrum, there are no weapon issues associated with them. The initial deployment by the Defence Forces of UAVs was with the EU-led mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, which commenced in February 2008 when the Deputy's party was in government. The deployment of Defence Forces UAVs with the UN follow-on mission, MINURCAT, continued until the withdrawal of the Irish battalion in April 2010.

The European Council meeting in December 2013 underlined the need to intensify EU-level co-operation on the development of remotely piloted aircraft systems. In this regard, the Council has asked the European Commission to establish a regulatory framework for the initial integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems into the European aviation system by 2016. The Council remains committed to delivering key capabilities and addressing critical shortfalls through concrete projects by member states, supported by the European Defence Agency. This support includes appropriate research and development activities for the integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems, which we refer to as UAVs, into European airspace as soon as possible. It also supports close synergies between the relevant bodies and agencies and member states engaged in the development of technologies needed in this capability area.

Remotely piloted aircraft systems have a wide range of civilian and military applications, particularly in the area of surveillance over land and sea. They have the ability to perform tasks that manned systems cannot perform for safety or economic reasons. Remotely piloted aircraft can efficiently complement existing manned aircraft or satellite infrastructure used in areas like environmental protection, maritime surveillance, natural disasters, crisis management and border control. While Ireland is not actively involved in this project, it endorses the work being carried out by the European Commission and the European Defence Agency.

I thank the Minister for his reply. When I said we should be opposed to the use of drones, I was of course referring to their use in combat rather than their use in surveillance work. Does the Minister recall whether the comments of the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism were discussed at EU level? The rapporteur, Mr. Emmerson, is engaged in an ongoing investigation into lethal extra-territorial counter-terrorism operations. He has concluded that 33 drone strikes which are known to have caused civilian casualties may have been carried out in violation of international law. Mr. Emmerson has told the UN that the "single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively". He has also urged UN delegates to consider whether an absolute ban is needed on secret deals cooked up between states for engagement in joint military actions. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on the discussions that have taken place at EU level. Is it proposed to discuss the legality of this activity, and the possible violation of international law, at the next EU Council meeting?

The substantial discussions I have engaged in with my ministerial colleagues regarding the use of drones have focused particularly on the areas I mentioned in my reply. Drones can undertake a range of useful functions in areas like maritime surveillance and troop protection. I am not aware of any conspiracy like that referred to by the Deputy. I reiterate that this State does not have any drones with armed capability. I recall a well-known and respected radio broadcaster being outraged one day when he heard, based on a misunderstanding, that we had drones. It was very helpful to have drones in Chad because they facilitated forward surveillance to provide troop protection. They were the circumstances in which the drones were used. Of course it is important that civilians do not lose their lives as a result of the inappropriate use of armed drones by any nation. Ireland is not engaged in such activity. Indeed, I am not aware of any such activity that happens on an EU-led basis. As far as I am aware, there is no EU mission at present in which drones are deployed in this manner on an EU or UN basis to target anybody.

Energy Usage

David Stanton


7. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence his plans to implement measures to conserve energy in his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department; and if he has appointed or intends to appoint a person or persons to oversee energy conservation. [5627/14]

David Stanton


27. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the policy and practices in place to promote energy conservation in his Department's offices and all the facilities under the aegis of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5626/14]

As the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces are large users of energy, I am curious to know what efforts are being made to conserve energy and reduce energy costs. I realise that a great deal of work has been done. I want to give the Minister an opportunity to tell us about that. Are there plans to make further reductions?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 27 together.

The Defence organisation has a strong record in the area of energy conservation. As the Deputy will be aware, the European Communities (Energy End-use Efficiency and Energy Services) Regulations 2009 oblige all public sector bodies to report annually on their energy usage and the actions undertaken by those bodies to reduce consumption. My Department is taking a proactive approach to make progress with energy-efficient initiatives. An energy team, which was established in 2010 and reports to the human resources manager, is responsible for identifying, driving and monitoring the effectiveness of energy-efficient initiatives throughout the Department in consultation with the OPW. The team is an active participant in the OPW's ongoing Optimising Power at Work campaign. Energy-saving initiatives which have been implemented in recent times include the introduction of a smart-lighting system, the installation of timers on water heaters and boilers and the shutting down of PCs outside office hours. The Department's new building in Newbridge has also contributed to an increased focus on energy conservation as it has advanced energy-efficient lighting controls and automated air conditioning systems and uses wood pellets as the main heat source. Since 2010, the Department has achieved an overall reduction in energy consumption of 32%. The figures for 2013 are being compiled.

The Defence Forces have established a robust energy management structure, which is active at all levels of the organisation. A senior energy executive committee, chaired by the Deputy Chief of Staff, is responsible for all energy matters, including energy conservation. In addition, energy management teams are established in each Defence Forces installation. The Defence Forces are proactive in pursuing initiatives to reduce energy consumption. Recent successes include the installation of a natural gas pipeline in Custume Barracks using a higher calorific value natural gas, the automatic shutting-off of boilers when the hangar doors are opened at Casement Aerodrome, the rescheduling of heating times in various barracks and the installation of new energy-efficient smart lighting systems.

The Defence Forces have set an annual energy savings target of 3% and reported a 7.1% saving in building energy use in 2011. Their overall energy use has been reduced by 12.3% since 2007. I am pleased to say that both the Department and the Defence Forces have received recognition for their efforts in reducing energy consumption. In 2012, the Defence Forces became one of the first militaries in the world to be certified to an internationally recognised energy management standard, ISO 50001. In 2013, the Department’s Renmore office won the best energy team category at OPW’s regional energy awards.

All feasible options to conserve energy across the defence organisation will continue to be explored. To this end, I am advised that as part of the construction plans for the new prison in Cork, a preliminary discussion has recently taken place between officials from this Department, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice and Equality to discuss the possibility of a shared energy generation system for the new prison and the adjacent Collins Barracks. Energy conservation is a key priority for me and for this Government and has a pivotal role to play in creating the conditions for a return to economic growth and job creation. As part of our commitments in this regard, we have set a challenging target to reduce public sector energy consumption by 33% in 2020. I am fully confident that the defence organisation will more than play its role in helping us meet this target.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. Much progress is being made. Has any research or thought been given to introducing combined heat and power plants in the various barracks and military installations across the country? I am told that significant efficiencies can be gained there, that they are 25% more efficient and the carbon footprint can be reduced. Would the Minister ask his officials in the Department and the Defence Forces to examine this and report to him and back to the House with any possibilities in this area?

I am very happy to ask my officials to explore further these matters. It is very important in the context of energy conservation that we achieve the maximum efficiencies and synergies between different parts of Government, such as the Defence Forces, other Government agencies of the Department of Justice and Equality or other Departments. I am very enthusiastic to advance the implementation of systems that make economic sense and will bring about energy conservation over a period of time, that are both environmentally sound and will ultimately save resources. I am very happy to raise further the issues the Deputy mentioned.

I thank the Minister. He referenced the Cork prison and the adjacent Collins Barracks. Regarding the systems that will be installed there, have they considered combined heat and power? Have they engaged with companies that would be in a position possibly to share the savings into the future? Major savings could be made in the wider brief of the prisons, which is a separate area.

Deputy Stanton has a very great and personal interest in the new Cork prison and Collins Barracks adjacent to it. Discussions are taking place. I cannot predict the outcome of those discussions but we are examining the matters the Deputy raised and in which I have a great interest. I hope benefits will accrue from the engagement that is taking place but it is a little early for me to say definitively to the House how we will proceed. I will be happy to keep the Deputy informed about progress being made.

Departmental Bodies Expenditure

Pádraig MacLochlainn


8. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence the budget allocation to the Civil Defence for the years 2008 to 2014, inclusive. [5625/14]

The Minister will appreciate that the Civil Defence has been busy again in recent times with all the severe weather we have faced. It is a fantastic resource to our communities across the State. I want to establish the extent of the impact of cutbacks on it in recent years.

The budget allocations from the Department of Defence Vote for Civil Defence for the years 2008 to 2014 are as follows:


Budget (€)


6.248 million


6.148 million


6.061 million


5.585 million


5.585 million


4.243 million


4.240 million

I am pleased to say that, in light of the overall economic challenges facing the country, from 2008 to 2010 my Department succeeded in maintaining a reduction in the order of only 3% to the allocation for Civil Defence in that period. In 2011 Civil Defence was managed at national level by the Civil Defence board and the reduction to €5.585 million in that year was brought about by a requirement in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 for all State agencies to reduce their operating costs by 10% for that year. Since 2011, in spite of the difficult overall budgetary situation, I have been successful in maintaining the allocation available for Civil Defence programmes at more or less the same level. The lower figures for 2013 and 2014 reflect the abolition of the Civil Defence board and the transfer of its responsibilities to my Department with effect from 1 January 2013. The provision for staff salaries and other administrative costs for these years has been absorbed into the general Department of Defence Vote. What appears on the surface to be a reduction is not one because of the manner in which the Vote has been dealt with.

The funding of €4.243 million allocated to Civil Defence in 2013 was expended as follows: 65% on grants to local authorities to support the operational and training costs of local Civil Defence units throughout the country; 21% on the central purchase of items of uniform and personal protective equipment, vehicles and other items of equipment for Civil Defence use; 8% on central training costs; 5% on insurance for volunteers, vehicles and equipment; and 1% on other miscellaneous expenses.

I commend the almost 4,500 active Civil Defence volunteers throughout Ireland for the ongoing support they provide to the front-line emergency services and also their dedicated service to their local communities. Last weekend’s serious flooding in Limerick was just one example of how, right across the country, volunteers have been assisting local authorities in helping communities cope with the effects of severe weather. Volunteers have been evacuating homes, pumping water, distributing sandbags, helping to distribute animal feed and re-directing onlookers away from affected areas. Also in recent weeks, Civil Defence volunteers have spent many hours supporting the Garda in searches for missing persons in several parts of the country. Here in Dublin, Civil Defence provided welfare and logistical backup to the fire service in dealing with a major fire in Ballymount.

I pay particular tribute to the engagement of members of Civil Defence across the country in the context of the floods experienced in recent days. Their dedication, volunteerism and professionalism are superb. We owe them a debt of gratitude across the community for the work they do. They have conducted themselves in an outstanding manner and are a crucial assistance when events such as the dreadful flooding we have seen take place. It is right that we use this opportunity to record our thanks to all members of Civil Defence who have been so engaged. There is a possibility that they may need to be further engaged in the coming days. I thank them for their commitment.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As I stated when I launched the winter ready campaign in November and again in my opening statement to the Oireachtas Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence last week, I am more than aware of the crucial role that Civil Defence plays in supporting all of the front-line services. For that reason I intend to ensure that an adequate level of funding is made available through the Civil Defence branch of my Department to support the efforts of local authorities and volunteers.

Thank you, Minister. We all agree with that.

Yes, absolutely. The Minister said in 2008 Civil Defence funding was approximately €6.8 million and it is down to €4.24 million this year. That would suggest a cut of approximately one third but the Minister suggests those figures do not give the full facts. Maybe we will tease that through. The Civil Defence came back under the remit of the Department of Defence in recent times, which was supported by all Members of the House at that time as a sensible enough move. The concern was that there would be an impact on training and resources going into those areas. Will the Minister engage with the Civil Defence Officers Association, the representative association? There is concern round the replacement of vehicles. They have different issues. I ask the Minister to make arrangements to meet that association in the near future if he has not done so recently to tease through the issues.

It is not enough for us in this House to thank them collectively. The people involved as volunteers in the Civil Defence or the Reserve Defence Force represent all that is best about being Irish. All of us in this House feel that, but it is not enough to say that to them.

We need to give them the vehicles, training and requisite supports they require. Will the Minister assure me that the budget figures are not as bad as they first appeared and meet Civil Defence representatives to establish what their needs are?

I am always happy to meet people where it is appropriate to do so. I will have no difficulty in meeting Civil Defence members and it is unnecessary to raise that issue in the House as a question.

As I mentioned previously, the apparent major reduction in funding, between 2012 and 2013, was simply a reflection of the abolition of the Civil Defence board. Many of the costs of Civil Defence such as the salaries of those working in Civil Defence headquarters and the training college were transferred from the former Civil Defence board to the Department of Defence. This had no impact on day-to-day Civil Defence activities throughout the country. Effectively, a portion of the moneys which formerly had been allocated to Civil Defence to meet various expenditure items is now part of the general expenditure of the Department of Defence. Therefore, there has not been a dramatic reduction in the budget, which is why I explained the figures in the way I did.

It is important to have regard also to matters relating to funding because not all of the funding provided for Civil Defence comes from the Central Fund. Civil Defence units throughout the country operate under the control of Civil Defence officers, CDOs. The CDO is a full-time employee of the local authority and activities are funded through a combination of the central grant from my Department and direct funding from the local authority. The central grant is normally approximately 70% of the expenditure on Civil Defence in the local authority area. As well as grant aid, the Department provides other supports for local Civil Defence units. For example, we provide for central training through the Civil Defence college in Roscrea. The Department also provides vehicles, uniforms and a wide range of equipment. If issues in regard to equipment are a cause of concern, I will be happy to discuss them. It is important that it is understood additional assistance is provided by local authorities for individual Civil Defence units across the country. Therefore, the financial figures I have provided do not give true and total visibility to the funding provided.

It is good to receive reassurance that the figures are not as stark as they first appeared. However, will the Minister invite Civil Defence representatives to discuss this issue? I have no doubt that he was sincere in his praise of Civil Defence and we all feel the same about it. Will he make contact with the organisation to invite its representatives to meet him to outline deficiencies in what they require in terms of training or vehicles? He may not be able to solve every problem but meeting the representatives would be a good gesture, particularly following the activities in which they have been involved in recent times. They have been helping communities throughout the recent weather crisis. The Minister should try to engage with them in the next month or so to tease out the issues. Many voluntary organisations do not want to shout and scream for help as they see this as political. I suggest the Minister invite them to come and thank them for the work they have done and see what more can be done to assist them. I urge him to do this.

In the context of organisational and assistance issues, these matters have, effectively, been centralised through the Department of Defence, rather than a separate board. Because of this, there is regular contact, on a daily basis when necessary, with members of Civil Defence. There is no difficulty in meeting a group representing members of the organisation, if they wish to meet me. There is no reason for it to be raised as an issue in the House because of the ongoing engagement that takes place. Should they wish to meet me, I am available to meet them on a mutually convenient date to discuss any issue of concern.

In the context of Department of Defence matters, I discuss issues with my officials on a daily basis and these discussions include matters relating to Civil Defence, the numbers within it, the nature of the work involved, its engagement when difficulties arise such as looking for missing persons, dealing with flooding or other issues. I receive regular reports on what is occurring and I am very interested in the work being done. I hold members of Civil Defence in high regard. They are a superb example of voluntarism the length and breadth of the country.

Foreign Conflicts

Dominic Hannigan


9. Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the decision taken by the EU to deploy a military mission to the Central African Republic; the rationale for this decision; his Department's rationale for not participating; if Ireland will deploy any personnel and the nature of their role; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5560/14]

We are all aware of the awful situation in the Central African Republic where a dreadful war is taking place and we see lynchings, the fleeing of women and children and rape being used as a means of war. At their meeting in January the European Council and the Council of Foreign Ministers agreed to deploy a force to the Central African Republic. Will the Minister outline the rationale for that decision and, also, the rationale for Ireland not participating in that force?

Some terrible atrocities have been committed in the Central African Republic and the news last night and the newspapers this morning reported on a dreadful event in which an individual had been lynched and killed by official army forces.

On the specific issues raised by the Deputy, the European Council, in its conclusions of 20 December 2013, expressed its concern at the continuously deteriorating crisis in the Central African Republic and its severe humanitarian and human rights consequences. It welcomed the French military intervention in support of the African forces to help to restore security. It also confirmed the European Union's willingness to consider how it might contribute towards the efforts under way to stabilise the country, including under the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP.

On 20 January 2014 the Council approved a crisis management concept for a military bridging operation in the Central African Republic to help to stabilise the situation. The mission will operate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2134 which was adopted on 28 January. The Council stressed the importance of close co-operation between the mission and partners, notably the United Nations, the African Union and the central African authorities, as well as with the supporting French operation in the Central African Republic. The operation will provide support for a period of up to six months to help to achieve a secure environment in the Bangui region, with a view to handing over to the African Union force once this force has reached full operational capacity. The force will protect civilians and create conditions for the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Ireland is fully supportive of EU actions in the Central African Republic. While Ireland, owing to current ongoing overseas commitments, including our engagement in 14 UN related missions across the globe, will not be contributing personnel to the mission, we will contribute to the common costs of the mission. Our contribution will amount to approximately €271,000.

We are all aware of the dreadful situation in countries such as Rwanda and the Balkans in recent decades and the failure of the international community to react appropriately and in time. Does the Minister think the reaction agreed to in January will be sufficient? Many question whether enough is being done. In regard to our decision, he has mentioned we are committed to missions in 14 countries, including places such as the Golan Heights. Is there a specific role for Ireland in the mission to the Central African Republic? In the area of humanitarian intervention, for example, we have specific expertise in crisis relief. Does the Minister envisage us playing a role in this area?

Our participation in a particular mission is always a matter for continuing review. The most recent deployment of our forces in large numbers was on the UNDOF mission to the Golan Heights in Syria where we now have approximately 125 personnel. We were specifically requested by the United Nations to take part in that mission because of the understanding our troops had of the region, our engagement there and the skills set we could bring to it at a time when troops from other states, including Austria, had decided to disengage from it. It is a time of great difficulty in the area in the context of the civil war taking place, the dreadful humanitarian disaster and the dreadful atrocities being committed by all sides. Some 130,000 people have died in the civil war, over 10,000 of whom were children. Approximately 40 journalists have been kidnapped or abducted by extreme organisations. With regard to UNDOF, we were asked if we could provide our niche skills and we are now doing this.

As Minister I must be conscious as to the number of missions in which we can engage. As I stated, we have engagements in 14 missions across the globe and I believe, but I am open to correction, this is the largest number of missions in which we have ever been engaged. In some locations there is a small number of Defence Forces members and in others there is a very large number such as in southern Lebanon. Decisions must be made in this regard. I do not think our EU colleagues, because of our commitments in the Golan Heights, southern Lebanon and elsewhere, expected we would contribute to this mission at this stage, but it is a matter of ongoing consideration and review and should it at some stage seem appropriate or should we conclude there is an engagement we should have it will be a matter for decision by the Government and the House under the triple lock mechanism. This is a UN-sanctioned mission so it is a mission in which we could participate with the agreement of the House and the Government, but as at this time the decision is we will not be participating in it.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.