Other Questions

Military Medals

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

33. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when he plans to award medals to the surviving veterans and next of kin of the deceased veterans who served with distinction during the siege of Jadotville in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1961; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32263/17]

This question arises from a welcome announcement that was made by the Minister of State in June. When I asked the Minister of State about this matter on 21 June last, he said he was not sure whether legislation was required to issue medals to the survivors of the siege of Jadotville and the families of those who fought there but have since died.

The Cabinet and I decided on 13 June last to award medals to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the next of kin of deceased members in full and due recognition and in honour of the courageous actions of the men during the siege at Jadotville in September 1961. This decision fully recognises their bravery and courage during the unique circumstances of the siege of Jadotville. I had been working on this initiative for some time. I was privileged to be able to decide to award a medal to the men and women of A Company.

The UN peacekeeping operation in Congo was the first time the UN deployed a significant military force. It was also one of Ireland’s earliest UN peacekeeping operations.  The siege of Jadotville was a seminal event during this deployment. The collective bravery of the members of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion deserves recognition. One of the first decisions I made on my appointment to the office of Minister of State was to honour the men of A Company by presenting a unit citation in recognition of their collective actions during the siege.  The decision that has now been taken to honour these men with medals is an exceptional step. It builds on last year’s ceremony and gives full recognition to the performance of these men during the siege.

Civil and military officials have commenced planning for the medal ceremony. The exact date has not yet been determined. I assure the Deputy that all reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that the medals will be awarded without delay. I anticipate that this will happen in the autumn.

As I said at the outset, I welcome this decision. It is a pity it was not made 56 years ago. More than two thirds of the members of A Company, 35th Battalion have passed away. Their next of kin will receive their medals on their behalf. My colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, along with Senator Craughwell, has proposed a motion on this issue in the Seanad. I think the Minister of State's decision to award these medals has the support of Deputies on all sides of the House and of everyone outside it. If anything can be done to speed up the awarding of these medals to ensure it happens early in the autumn, in line with what the Minister of State has indicated, it will help to ensure as many survivors as possible can part in the event, which will recognise for once and for all the heroism of the Irish troops in the face of the odds they faced.

This specially commissioned Jadotville medal will be attached to the unit citation that was presented in September 2016. As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, I decided - in conjunction with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny - to award medals to all the men of A company in recognition of the significance of their actions at Jadotville. We made this decision on the basis of our increased knowledge and understanding of the unique and exceptional circumstances of the siege of Jadotville. I agree fully with the Deputy that it is unfortunate. I said for many years that if I ever had an opportunity to recognise the men and women of the Irish Defence Forces who fought in Jadotville, I would do my level best to do so. I am delighted to be able to recognise them in this way. It is unfortunate that many of these people have passed away in recent years and will be unable to receive their medals in person. I know their families are delighted and honoured to receive the medals on their behalf.

This is a welcome move towards vindication, once and for all, that the stance taken by the Irish troops was heroic. Their heroism stands despite commentary by some people, including some Ministers in this House, over the years that suggested otherwise. It is right and proper at this stage, in the interests of undoing the damage that has been done over 56 years, that this recognition is given as soon as possible.

Absolutely. A team from the Department of Defence and the military has commissioned the medal and is working on the ceremony. It will probably be late September or October before we have a date set for the ceremony. I intend that it will be similar to the event that was held in Athlone when the citation was presented. It will be a day for the surviving members and the families of the deceased members. They will be duly recognised in a fashion in which they have not been recognised up to now.

Defence Forces Deployment

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

34. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the Defence Forces' participation in the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32510/17]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

35. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Question No. 7 of 29 March 2017, the details of the engagements he has had at UN level regarding the ongoing deployment of Irish peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, particularly regarding the merits of this operation and its long-term effects on the region; his views on whether the UNDOF peacekeeping mission could be facilitating the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation in the region, particularly in view of the calls from members of the Israeli Government to increase the Israeli settler population in the Golan Heights by 100,000 over the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32521/17]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

55. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if there has been or will be a change in the mandate of the peacekeeping force posted in the Golan Heights, particularly in view of the recent ongoing fighting between Syria and Israel in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32520/17]

Clare Daly

Ceist:

68. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will begin the process of withdrawing Defence Forces personnel from the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights in view of recent comments by a person (details supplied) and given that their presence is being used by Israel to legitimise its annexation. [32347/17]

It appears from reports we are hearing back from the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights that a full-scale offensive is taking place in Quneitra. Since I tabled this question last week, it has emerged in media reports that heavy machine gun fire from the Syrian civil war has landed in the Irish base in the Golan Heights and that mortar rounds have hit just outside the camp. I understand that during five days of intense local fighting, Irish troops were forced to take cover repeatedly in their base. Will the Minister of State provide an update on what is happening there? Will he brief us on what is being done by the Department and by military management?

Two of these questions are in the name of Deputy Wallace and one of them is in the name of Deputy Clare Daly. I will allow them to ask supplementary questions.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 35, 55 and 68 together. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, was established on 31 May 1974 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 (1974) following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights in May 1974. UNDOF was established to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, to supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and to supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as provided in the May 1974 agreement on disengagement. Since 1974, the mandate of UNDOF has been renewed every six months, most recently in June 2017. In a recent report on UNDOF, the UN Secretary General stated that the presence of UNDOF in the area continues to be essential and recommended that the Security Council should extend the mandate of UNDOF for a further period of six months until 31 December 2017. The Syrian Arab Republic gave its assent to the proposed extension and Israel also expressed its agreement. A contingent of the Permanent Defence Force has been deployed to UNDOF on the Golan Heights since 2013. The contingent operates in the role of a quick reaction force. The current contingent - the 55th Infantry Group - deployed to UNDOF in early April and the next contingent is due to deploy in October.

I had the privilege of visiting Irish personnel based in the Middle East in March 2017. I met the UNDOF head of mission and force commander, Major-General Shanker Menon of India, as well as Irish personnel deployed to the mission headquarters. It was a valuable opportunity to be briefed on the mission and to see at first hand the challenges facing troops in the mission area. On 26 April 2017, while representing Ireland at an informal meeting of Defence Ministers in Malta, I met the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix. We agreed that the presence of the UNDOF mission remains an important element in ensuring the continuing ceasefire between Israel and Syria and in the wider Middle East region. The valuable contribution the Defence Forces are making to this mission was acknowledged. The UN Under-Secretary General took note of the security concerns I outlined to him regarding the return of troops to the area of separation. Pending the full return of UNDOF to the area of separation, UNDOF has continued to maintain a credible presence in the Golan Heights in line with its mandate. On 14 November 2016, UNDOF completed the initial phase of the incremental return of the mission to Camp Faouar on the Syrian side of the area of separation where Fijian and Nepalese troops are now based. The incremental return to the area of separation will be considered in the light of the security assessment and other required assurances. As with all missions, deployments and developments in the UNDOF area of operation are kept under ongoing review.

Will I get back in for a second supplementary question?

In one instance, the mortar fire landed so close to the Irish base that it shook the ground and Irish troops thought they had been hit. Informed sources are saying that fighting in the area has always been a constant.

However, the scale of what happened last week was unprecedented. Much of the fighting has centred on Quneitra, less than 2 km from the Irish camp in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Informed security sources say that at no time were the Irish camp or UN personnel deliberately targeted. However, the fighting was so close to the Irish camp and so intense that many Irish military personnel are concerned at what they perceive as a lack of response from the Government. I am concerned that there has been no publicity about this and no official response. I am also concerned that there has not been more briefing on it and that it was not acknowledged, particularly in light of the scale of the offensive action that took place. A number of our troops in the area are clearly concerned about this matter. Why has the Minister of State not briefed the Dáil about this before now and why did he wait to be prompted? What measures are the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade taking in light of what we have learned? Has the Minister spoken to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney?

The rationale behind the original UNDOF deployment to the Golan Heights in 1974 was to maintain the ceasefire between the Israeli and Syrian forces and to supervise the implementation of the disengagement agreement. Today, we are facilitating the ongoing illegal occupation of the Golan Heights by Israel. The Israeli Government recently called for an increase in settlements by 100,000 over the next five years. This is scary. We have watched what Israel has got away with in Palestine but is it going to get away with the same behaviour in the Golan Heights? The Israelis have taken advantage of the civil war in Syria to strengthen their position there and the fact that our troops are there makes it look as if we are facilitating them. Our forces could be better deployed in other regions. No one doubts the quality of our forces and the good work they do but we and a lot of other people think they would be better used in other regions.

The situation is deteriorating and even the UN General Assembly has called on the Israeli Government to stop settlements and repressive measures against the Syrian population of the Golan Heights. Has the Minister of State had any talks at UN level about the fact that the situation is deteriorating and growing more problematic? The days of us being out there should be behind us and we should move on. There is a lot of trouble coming down the tracks and we are only facilitating Israel's illegal occupation.

It is an odd type of ceasefire when it is an established fact that Israel has been giving material aid to ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and others in the Golan Heights. I speak of the very same al-Nusra Front from which Irish Defence Forces personnel sheltered for five days and which kidnapped 44 Filipino peacekeepers in the region three years ago. The most recent UNDOF report on the Golan Heights, released in May, pointed out that large artillery weapons had been observed within the 10-km ceasefire line, multiple rocket launching systems and Iron Dome systems had been seen within the 20-km ceasefire lines and there had been multiple violations of the ceasefire. It is quite clear that the ceasefire has been and continues to be used by Israel as a cover for its annexation of the region. The public comments by the Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, to that effect last month, when he said the Golan Heights would always be theirs, lends weight to that assertion. We are legitimising annexation and there should be a withdrawal.

I answered questions from the media on this last week. I was asked a number of frank questions and I responded to them. No member of the Opposition contacted me to outline their concerns about what happened last week. Our ability to protect the health and safety of our personnel is my paramount concern when considering any mission and it is policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their missions. Unfortunately, no mission is without danger. I am assured by the Chief of Staff that appropriate security measures are in place for Defence Forces personnel serving with the United Nations disengagement observer group. During my visit to the UNDOF mission area earlier this year, I met the head of mission and the force commander, Major-General Menon, who briefed me on the ongoing situation and the challenges facing the mission. I was also briefed by, and voiced my concerns to, the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping when I met him in Malta at a European Council meeting.

I tabled a question last week but the offensive operations started a number of weeks ago. I assume the Minister of State would have been aware of them before last week. There is concern that the US Government is undermining the UN missions on which its personnel serve in both Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, at a time when the security situation is already incendiary. The US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on a visit to the Middle East last month that the UN had bullied Israel for too long, and welcomed the reduction in funding from the US Government to the UN. I have also heard reports that when Ms Haley was visiting a position in north Israel, at the behest of the Israeli Defence Force, IDF, the Irish general in charge, Mick Beary, of the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, was invited. However, the IDF then sought to undermine him, and the mission, in front of Nikki Haley.

There is concern in the Defence Forces that more is not being done on the international stage by governments to raise the deteriorating security situation and to defend our people and our position. Has the Minister of State raised any concerns at Government level about this? Has he pressed the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to raise it with the US through diplomatic channels? In light of his experience as Minister of State at the Department of Defence, he will know the value of UN peacekeeping missions and our participation in them. There is concern that Ireland is not pressing the UN about the impression that the Americans are undermining UNDOF and UNIFIL, which involve some 600 Irish personnel. At the very least, I ask the Minister of State and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to write a strongly worded letter to the ambassadors of both countries to express our dissatisfaction at the clear undermining of UN missions and our personnel in the area.

According to al-Marsad, the Arab human rights centre in the Golan Heights, the 23,000 Israeli settlers in Golan occupy 95% of the land, leaving just 5% for the 25,000 Syrians living there. In 1989 only 600 Israelis lived there but now there are 23,000 and there are plans to expand further. Given the recent reduction in US funding to the UN, is the US undermining UN missions? Does the Government have any concerns about this? What Israel is doing in the Golan Heights is reminiscent of what it has been doing in Palestine and we should have no hand, act or part in it. It is time we took our troops home or put them somewhere else where they would be better served.

The civil war in Syria is being actively used by Israel to make its hold on the Golan Heights permanent. That is in flagrant breach of the UNDOF mission. By keeping our troops there, we are legitimising that illegal act. The last time we raised this matter, the Minister of State said he did not recognise Israeli sovereignty in the region. He might not, but it is an absolute fact and that is not much comfort to the 25,000 Syrians crammed into five overcrowded villages, while Israeli settlers have spread themselves out over 95% of the land. It is not going to stop Israel hoovering up the profits from a recent massive oil find in the area either. By staying there, not only are we legitimising what is happening, we are also standing by and facilitating them doing it. It has been no secret that the Israeli Prime Minister has been lobbying to legitimise this annexation and by staying we are undoing a lot of the good work that Irish peacekeepers have done in the past. There are many other places around the world where our personnel could be much better and more appropriately deployed.

I will state again that no mission comes without its dangers and I do not believe it would be in the best interests of peacekeeping to pull members of the Irish Defence Forces out of the Golan Heights. I believe they are doing very important work there on an ongoing basis. To respond to Deputy Chambers, I received a brief from the general staff on the ongoing situation regarding UNDOF and have asked the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, General Brennan, to keep me abreast of all ongoing situations out there.

Deputy Wallace stated that the US is undermining UN peacekeeping efforts. Ireland is absolutely, steadfastly committed to UN peacekeeping, and this informs our interactions with all partners at the UN and elsewhere regarding the issue the Deputy has raised. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed that during the discussions on the UN's budget for peacekeeping operations in 2017-18, Ireland's priority was to ensure that those engaged in peacekeeping operations have the resources available to carry out their mandates fully, safely and effectively. I have been assured by the Chief of Staff that our own personnel are equipped to carry out safely and partake in any mission in which they are involved.

Air Corps Operations

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

36. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his Department contacted the companies or persons that carried out the 1990s safety reports into aspects of the Air Corps' safety procedures at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, on behalf of the State agency Forbairt in order to ascertain if they might still have copies of the reports that his Department claims to have lost. [32262/17]

This is a simple question and, to some degree, a follow-up to an earlier question. It seeks to nail down what actions the Minister, the military authorities or his Department have taken to track down at least four health and safety reports on Air Corps installations which were carried out in the 1990s and have vanished. Are we to depend on the Irish Examiner's Joe Leogue's investigative journalistic skills to unearth more information, as has been the case to date?

As I have previously indicated to the Deputy, I was advised by the military authorities that a report on measuring carbon monoxide fumes from aircraft was complied by Forbairt in 1995. A further report on monitoring air contaminants in workshops in 1997 was also compiled by Forbairt.

Unfortunately, following an extensive search and the military authorities having consulted with Enterprise Ireland, which superseded Forbairt, and having also conducted a broad range of searches within the Department, it has not been possible to locate these reports. I understand that Enterprise Ireland advised the military authorities that records were not kept beyond ten years and that records had been disposed of in 2007.

The military authorities have indicated that the Defence Forces have neither hard copies nor electronic copies of the Forbairt reports. The military authorities have indicated that there are a range of potential causes of the loss of these reports, such as the changeover of electronic recording systems in 2004 or that the reports were misplaced over time. However, this is purely speculative.

This matter was raised with me in recent correspondence in which certain allegations were made that the documents had been destroyed. The correspondence in question was also addressed to the Chief of Staff and to the Deputy, and I have requested a report from the Chief of Staff on the actions taken on foot of the accusation. When the report is to hand, I will consider it further and consider whatever steps may be required.

I may be of some assistance to the Minister. He has answered some of the questions I was going to ask. He has asked the military authorities about the reports. I do not know how in-depth that query was. Did they ask the key personnel involved in commissioning these reports whether they recalled commissioning them, whether they had sight of them, whether they ever had possession of them or whether they perhaps put them into the National Archives where, as the Minister said, all the files on Jadotville are? He said his Department contacted Enterprise Ireland directly. Perhaps I can be of some assistance in this regard. One of the reports was Dr. Joe Kearney's 1997 report on monitoring air contaminants in the workshop. He did the report on behalf of Forbairt, which carried it out on behalf of Lieutenant Colin Roche of the engineering wing of the Air Corps in Baldonnel, and it was given to the Air Corps on 9 January 1997. Did they contact Conor Tonra, an environmental consultant who carried out the ambient air monitoring for health and safety at work at the engineering cleaning area, the welding shop and the paint shop? The publication date of that report is 2 August 1995. It was carried out on behalf of the noise and vibration section of Sound Research Laboratories Limited; Environmental Engineering Limited, which had an address in both Cork and Dublin; and Forbairt. Principally, however, it was carried out on behalf of Captain John Maloney. As far as I know, the military personnel I have indicated and both the consultants who carried out these reports are still with us today and some are still operating. Has any contact with them been made to find out whether they have their own copies or whether those organisations have copies that might be useful to the Minister? Only two of the four reports that we know have been carried out have come to light so far. As I said earlier, perhaps the Minister might ask the whistleblowers we met recently whether they will give him copies of at least two of the reports.

As I have stated, I have written to the Chief of Staff and asked him to investigate the reports that were alleged to have been carried out by Forbairt. I await his reply but I note in the reply to a parliamentary question given earlier today that Deputy Ó Snodaigh has stated he has copies of some of the reports. I do not have copies of those reports but I would very much appreciate having them. If we are to progress the health and safety issues in the Air Corps, and if we are all concerned in this House about the health, safety and well-being of the men and women of the Air Corps, it is in all our interests that the Deputy give me a copy of those reports. As he will be aware, there are ongoing litigation issues at present and I am limited in what I can state but I will say that it would be in all our interests if the Deputy has copies of the reports that I get a copy of them and that the health and well-being of our members in the Air Corps is satisfactory.

Personally, I would have no problem acceding to the Minister of State's request but, like him, if someone gives me something as a whistleblower, I am not at liberty just to hand it over. I will contact the whistleblowers and ask if they wish me to pass the reports on to the Minister. However, the Minister had sight of them, I am told by the same whistleblowers, when they met him. I do not know whether he asked them at that stage for a copy of them. Perhaps he can do so if he contacts them. There are other reports from 2014 which he might be interested in and about which he should also ask the military authorities because I can guarantee him that those reports have not been shredded, as was the intention with the two reports I cited earlier. I would be happy to comply with the Minister's request if the whistleblowers allow me to do so. There is legislation in place that prevents me from disclosing anything other than the fact that I have the reports. I would love to share them with the Minister to be helpful, and I encourage the whistleblowers to be as helpful as possible, but the people I mentioned earlier are still living and working. They should be contacted to see whether they have copies. These are only two of at least four reports that we know were carried out in the 1990s.

There are four reports from different reporting periods. I fully accept that the Minister did not shred or mislay these reports, but he was the individual tasked with explaining what may have happened to them. He will understand why we - and I think the public - find it difficult to believe the suggestion that all four may have been lost in translation over to the electronic system or that, over time, they just coincidentally disappeared. In the absence of a realistic and reasonable explanation, people will draw their own conclusions. The Minister mentioned the ongoing litigation. One must ask the question if there is a sinister motive as to why these reports are not available where they should be. Is there some reason or some motivation why some body, person or group may have wanted to destroy these reports? These are the questions being asked. We have access, we believe, to perhaps two of these reports. There may be more. Getting copies now is not the problem; the issue is that we potentially have four reports that could bolster the cases being taken against the State - four reports that, potentially, were purposely destroyed.

We do not know who did it or why it was done but the public is drawing its own conclusions and ultimately, Deputy Kehoe is the person responsible.

The buck will always stop at the Minister's desk, but I am glad that the Deputy has said that I did not destroy the reports. I absolutely did not destroy the reports. I had not seen any of these reports, and I have stated to both Deputies that I have written to the Chief of Staff, who has primary responsibility for the Defence Forces. These reports were carried out under the auspices of the Defence Forces and within the Air Corps. I have asked when these reports were carried out, what detail is available from the reports and who carried out the reports. The Deputy informed me of a number of names today. I will bring that information to the Chief of Staff and will write to him either this evening or tomorrow with the names of the people that have been passed to me today.

I am not sure if this is sinister. I cannot comment on that, but I have asked the Chief of Staff to look into this, find out where the reports are and investigate this thoroughly. We are all interested and concerned about the health and well-being of members of the Air Corps. If people have reports I ask them, as Minister of State at the Department of Defence, to provide copies of these reports in order that I can look at them when I am making a decision on the independent reviewers and the further actions I must take. These reports would be very handy to have when I am deciding.

Questions Nos. 37 to 40, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Common Security and Defence Policy

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

41. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on efforts by France and Germany to get EU member states to sign up to a new pan-EU defence scheme; if he will attend the ministerial conference in Paris on 13 July 2017 when this matter will be discussed; and if Ireland will reject the plans for a pan-EU defence scheme and refuse to participate or contribute to the scheme. [32265/17]

This question concerns the conference that the Minister of State is scheduled to attend later this week. What are his views on the efforts by France and Germany to get other EU member states to sign up to an EU defence scheme? Will he comment on that and will he reiterate Ireland's rejection of such plans and our refusal to co-operate with, contribute to or participate in such a scheme?

I presume that the Deputy is alluding to an article in EUobserver.com of 22 June, following the European Council of the same date. As the Deputy will be aware, discussions within the EU in the area of defence and security take place in the context of the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, including at regular meetings of Heads of State and Government. The European Council of 22 June last reviewed the progress report on the overall implementation of the EU global strategy, as well as the implementation of the EU-NATO declaration of July 2016. The development of the EU’s security and defence policy received particular attention, reflecting the focus on the security environment. The Heads of State and Government committed themselves to strengthening the capacity of the Union to deliver on its international security and defence commitments. This, in turn, contributes to the security of our own citizens by addressing at their source threats, such as terrorism, which have their roots in instability in our neighbourhood. The Council sought to give impetus to those existing security initiatives agreed in the Lisbon treaty and the EU global strategy, focusing on crisis management planning structures, capability development and defence expenditure.

The upcoming Franco-German meeting taking place on 13 July in Paris is part of ongoing bilateral relations between France and Germany. The Franco-German joint ministerial meetings have been taking place since 2003 and the meeting scheduled for Paris on 13 July is the next scheduled meeting in that format. Participation encompasses the ministerial cabinet of both the Government of Germany and the Government of France.  It is not unusual for EU member states to meet in bilateral or multilateral formations to discuss priority areas where they would hold views in common, including in the area of security and defence. These engagements do not prejudice the formal EU decision making processes.

Within the EU, it is accepted that the area of defence and security is a national competence. Ireland continues to have an equal voice on defence issues within the EU institutions. The treaties require that the EU respects the specific and different policies of member states in the area of security and defence and that has not changed. Ireland always seeks to be constructive and realistic in EU discussions in this area and we continue to strongly support the CSDP and any initiatives that strengthen the EU's capacity to act as an international peace provider, particularly in support of the United Nations.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. This is an ongoing battle, involving myself and others who believe in Ireland's neutrality. Virtually every single meeting of EU Defence Ministers or EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers continues to erode our stand-alone policy on neutrality and our vision of the primacy of the UN. Each meeting contributes to the concept of fortress Europe. Whether it is at the behest of this Government or with a nod from this Government, it has continued apace. The Minister of State mentioned defence expenditure and already this year, there have been major moves to increase defence spending in each of the member states and contributing part of the EU budget towards military research. These things will contribute to poverty and instability in the world and therefore contribute to further wars, as well as some of the actions the Minister of State mentioned that have been focused on fortress Europe.

I know the Deputy has concerns. He has raised these concerns with me on numerous occasions. We operate within the structures of common security and defence. Any contribution I make at EU level always comes back to Ireland's neutrality. Our policy on neutrality, in any decision we make as a Government in the future, will not be compromised in any way. It is a primary concern for me at EU level that we always maintain and retain our policy on neutrality.

While I accept that the Minister of State has a stated policy in this House of respecting our neutrality and supposedly fighting for it, this goes beyond our neutrality. It is the fact that we are a part of the European Union, and every time the European Union speaks as a single voice our neutrality is ignored, forgotten about or put to one side. When the EU decides to use Turkey as a vehicle for part of the common security policy on the issue of the refugee crisis, we get tainted with that because we do not speak out as a voice. Regardless of whether it is a voice in the wilderness, we should at least speak out and call a halt to this or at least be seen internationally to be that lone voice. We have to put that across and that does not come across in the reports from any of the EU Defence Ministers' meetings or any of the other EU meetings at which decisions are taken to further erode the position of neutrality that we have taken and that we have encouraged other nations around the world to take.

If the Deputy looks at any of the contributions I have made at those meetings, it is clear that I have no issue with being out in the wilderness. I also, however, look for inclusiveness in any of the policies going forward, be it permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, the co-ordinated annual review of defence, CARD, or any decision making relating to common security and defence. Our policy of neutrality is our absolute priority on any decisions that are taken in the area of common security and defence.

Questions Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

46. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason the defence sector did not engage during pay talks in addressing the concerns and issues raised by the defence representative associations similar to those other sectors that agreed side deals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32507/17]

Why did the defence sector not engage during pay talks addressing the concerns and issues raised by the Defence Forces representative associations similar to those other sectors that agreed side deals? Will the Minister of State make a statement on this?

As I have stated, the Department of Defence, in conjunction with the Defence Forces, made a submission to the Public Service Pay Commission. This is specifically mentioned by the commission in paragraph 6.13 of the report. Following the publication of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission on 9 May 2017, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road agreement ahead of budget 2018 considerations.

Both the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, were invited to the negotiations which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. The Defence Forces representative associations attended and participated in all plenary sessions which were attended by public sector trade unions, representative associations and management. Senior officials from the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Defence Forces representative associations also had their own meetings, which were chaired by officials from the WRC.

The issues raised by the Defence Forces representative associations were considered in tandem with those raised by other public sector representative associations and trade unions. The Defence Forces have received the benefits of collective agreements in the past and it is intended that future remuneration of Defence Forces personnel will continue to be dealt with within this process.

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 contains proposals for a 7.25% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning less than €30,000 per annum, a 6.75% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning under €32,000 per annum, and a 5.75% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning over €32,000 per annum. The proposals have been presented to both PDFORRA and RACO, which participated in the negotiation process. They will now be subject to ballot by members of the associations.

Officials in the Department continue to engage regularly with both representative associations. An example of one of the benefits of these negotiations is that an agreement was reached earlier this year between the Department of Defence, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and PDFORRA on a revised pay scale for general service recruits and privates who joined the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 2013.

It appears that other sectors engaged and were able to conclude side deals that benefited them more than the defence sector. It is clear to me from media reports that the representative associations are not happy with the way the pay talks went and do not feel their concerns have been adequately addressed. RACO has stated that these side deals, in addition to a range of additional deals secured by those unions and associations which either took or threatened industrial action or whose sectoral management negotiated added benefits to accept the Lansdowne Road agreement, undoubtedly have secured greater pay advantages relative to those serving in the Defence Forces. That is unacceptable. Everyone should be on the same level playing field. The Defence Forces feel they are not getting the same hearing and level of commitment to having their concerns heard. When we see other sectors getting additional side deals and the defence sector not doing so, one has to ask if this is fair.

Prior to the recent pay talks I spoke to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, asking that PDFORRA and RACO be very much involved in the pay talks, and they were present for the full duration of the talks. PDFORRA signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement in March and its members will have significant salary increases. The benefits which accrue to PDFORRA members are an increase of 2.5% from 1 January 2016 for annualised salaries of up to €24,000, 1% for annualised salaries between €24,000 and €31,000, and I understand this and the back pay were included in last week's payroll, and an increase of €1,000 from 1 April 2017 on annualised salaries of up to €65,000, which will be a further increase of approximately €19 gross per week and which is due to be paid in next week's payroll. In real terms this means that privates who have completed their 29 weeks' training will benefit in the region of €1,500 gross per year in the first three years of service. A deal was done for post-2013 recruits who will have an increase of 8% and 24%, depending on their point in their pay scales. This is significant and positive news for members of the Defence Forces. I instructed the Department of the Taoiseach and Defence to make a recommendation to the pay commission when it was carrying out its review.

While I welcome any increase in pay restoration to members of the Defence Forces, there were other cuts to their pay as well as increased taxes, which every public servant bore. The Defence Forces suffered cuts to technician pay, duty pay and various allowances, and the cumulative effect was that their weekly wages were down substantially. One of the major difficulties is that those allowances are not being restored properly.

RACO's comments highlight the fact the Defence Forces cannot go on strike, and while I would not condone their going on strike, that is not what the representative associations are asking for. It is important, however, that we do not take advantage of that fact. While other sectors can use the threat of strike or embark on industrial action, which is well within their rights, the Defence Forces cannot. We cannot use that against them or take advantage of that. The fear in what is happening here is the fact that side deals were done with other sectors and the Defence Forces appear to have been left behind. Better representation for the Defence Forces is required in public sector pay talks.

Given the report yesterday on the terms and conditions of the men and women in the Defence Forces, will the Minister of State again consider the industrial relations legislation to allow RACO and PDFORRA to engage more fully in collective bargaining in discussions around pay and conditions, which it is to be hoped would address some of the issues that emerged yesterday?

I am not sure the Deputies are aware that a committee has been set up by the Department of Justice and Equality with a representative from the Department of Defence. We are keeping abreast of anyone getting rights on industrial relations. There were also side deals for members of the Defence Forces and the new Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, which was negotiated recently, contains a proposal for further increases: a 7.25% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning less than €30,000 per annum, a 6.7% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning under €32,000 per annum, and a 5.75% increase over the period of the agreement for those earning more than €32,000 per annum. It is up to the representative associations to sign up to the newly negotiated settlement for their members. There are great benefits for the members of PDFORRA and RACO if they sign up to the new agreement.

We go now to Question No. 47. I note that this is a matter that is before the High Court and I am sure the Deputy will be very careful in her comments.

That makes it more interesting.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Clare Daly

Ceist:

47. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Question No. 262 of 30 March 2017 and the clarification of 13 June 2017 (details supplied), the year in which the Defence Forces were first of the view that the specific reactions of anxiety, restlessness or confusion, if declared by a member of the Defence Forces to be present, would necessitate withdrawal of mefloquine. [32348/17]

This follows a previous question that was answered thanks to the good offices of the Ceann Comhairle, about listed side effects of Lariam. We asked the Minister of State to say whether they were deemed minor, tolerable or intolerable. This is important because that is the basis upon which the Defence Forces define whether someone can serve or not, and whether Lariam should be withdrawn.

The State Claims Agency is currently managing 55 claims which have been made by members and former members of the Defence Forces who allege personal injury as a result of their consumption of mefloquine, also known as Lariam. The first was scheduled to be heard in the High Court on 4 July 2017 and has now been adjourned to 3 November 2017. The question raised by the Deputy would engage me on matters that relate to the litigation. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment on the matter.

It is interesting that it took an inordinate length of time to get the Minister of State to provide some clarity on the matter prior to the case being listed before the High Court. In any event, the position of the Defence Forces on the matter has been that if someone is going to sub-Saharan Africa, he or she must be given the drug at least two weeks prior to departure to accommodate either minor or tolerable side effects or to determine whether the side effects are intolerable. The problem has been that the Defence Forces have never defined what was tolerable and minor and what was intolerable until, with the intervention of the Ceann Comhairle, the Minister of State answered a previous parliamentary question admitting, and there is no secret about this, there were adverse reactions which mandated that Lariam would be discontinued. My question today sets out a list of specific reactions, including anxiety, restlessness or confusion, which terms were used as early as 1995 in the newsletter of the Irish Medicines Board, as well as by the manufacturer of the drug in its list of side effects. When did the Defence Forces become aware that the side effects required the discontinuance of Lariam? The Minister of State has already admitted to me that there were other side effects that were deemed to be intolerable and which required the discontinuance of Lariam.

The choice of medication is a matter for the medical professionals within the Defence Forces, namely, the medical officers. It is not up to Members of Dáil Éireann to decide on what is the most appropriate medication to be taken in sub-Saharan Africa. All personnel are screened prior to deployment to ensure they are suitably fit for whatever medication is prescribed. It is the medical professionals who assess each individual. I expect that the report of the review group will be given to me shortly. At that juncture, I will consider the findings of the review group and whatever recommendations are made in the report. Due to High Court litigation which has been adjourned from 4 July to 3 November 2017, I am precluded from commenting any further on the individual cases.

The decision is, of course, a medical one, but it is a decision based on medical advice which the Defence Forces themselves take. As such, it is not a theoretical, abstract or political question. It is a factual medical situation. The Minister of State has stated in previous correspondence that there is a list of adverse reactions that would mandate the discontinuance of Lariam. I ask the Minister of State when the Defence Forces were first of the view that the specific listed side effects would necessitate the withdrawal of Lariam. The answer is a date or a year. The reason for this is that if someone presents with side effects which are deemed to be intolerable, he or she is told that Lariam will be discontinued and he or she will no longer be allowed to serve in places like sub-Saharan Africa. This is an area that has not been adequately or publicly defined previously. It is a simple matter of providing a date and time answer. That is not impacted on by litigation or anything like it. It is obviously based on medical knowledge.

This is not a question on the administration of Lariam per se. The Minister of State made a comment that it was not up to the Dáil to make a decision on medical advice and the administration of Lariam. Given that the Cabinet regularly issues funding based on HSE advice on medicines, it is a political issue as to whether the Dáil takes a decision which is not complied with by Cabinet or the military authorities. The Minister of State was wrong in what he said, unless he elaborates further on it.

It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on the decision-making of the medical professionals within the Defence Forces. Prior to deployment, all personnel are screened as to the medication it is most suitable to prescribe for them. If there are issues around the medication prescribed during deployment, that is a matter for the medical professionals who will take the most appropriate course of action. This is about the safety, health and well-being of members of the Irish Defence Forces and protecting them from malaria. I stated in the House last week what the dangers of malaria were. We are very lucky to have lost no members of the Defence Forces to malaria, which means someone must be making the right decisions. That is totally up to the medical professionals.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.