Other Questions

EU Battle Groups

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

35. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the proposed participation of Defence Forces members in the German-led EU battle group; the rationale for same; the expected number of Defence Force participants in the battle group; if Army Rangers will be deployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10382/18]

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

47. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the detail of the proposed Defence Forces participation in the German-led EU battle group in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10386/18]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

58. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the implications of the decision to approve participation in the German-led EU battle group. [10202/18]

Again, we are facing the prospect of Irish troops taking part in an EU battle group. It has been reported that the Army Rangers will be taking part in their first overseas deployment since the peacekeeping mission in Chad in 2008. Will the Minister of State outline the range of military equipment that our forces will be using? How does he consider that such training and activity is compliant with Ireland's role as a neutral country?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 47 and 58 together.

EU battle groups are designed to give the EU a rapid response capability which can be deployed in support of crisis management or humanitarian operations under the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy and in support of UN-mandated missions. Battle groups are designed to have the capacity to deploy within five to ten days of a Council decision and to be deployed for 30 days, extendible to 120 days. The UN strongly supports the development of EU battle groups as a capability that could be made available in support of UN-mandated missions. It supports the development of rapid deployment skills and capabilities in the Defence Forces, together with improved interoperability with like-minded states. Ireland's participation in EU battle groups supports Defence Forces capability development and interoperability and demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to the development of EU crisis management capabilities.

Ireland's continuing active engagement in EU battle groups enhances our capacity to influence the ongoing development and evolution of the EU's rapid response capacity. I refer particularly to the role battle groups can play in reinforcing UN operations. Participation in EU battle groups supports Ireland’s international security and defence policy and enhances our bilateral relations with other contributing member states. Ireland has participated in EU battle groups on a number of occasions, commencing with the Nordic battle group in 2008. Ireland participated in the German battle group in 2012 and 2016. On 6 February last, the Government approved Ireland's participation in the German-led EU battle group 2020, which will be on standby for the second six months of 2020.

The proposed Defence Forces contribution to the German battle group will involve a special operations task group. The group will comprise a special operations forces platoon - Army ranger wing, engineer specialist search capability, explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, capability, and a security platoon together with staff posts at both the operational and force headquarters. The exact numbers and composition of Ireland's participation remains to be finalised and is a matter of ongoing discussion with battle group partners. The total number of Defence Forces personnel expected to be involved will be approximately 148, which has yet to be decided upon. However, this level of resource commitment will only arise should the battle group be called on to undertake an operation and should Ireland agree to participate. The battle group will also involve Ireland’s participation in a joint field exercise-manoeuvre training of all the German battle group elements, which is planned to take place in Germany in early 2020.

The Government decision to participate in the 2020 battle group does not presume any future decision on deploying the Defence Forces on an actual battle group operation. Ireland's participation in an actual battle group operation would, as always, be subject to the usual triple lock requirements of a UN mandate and Government and Dáil approval, as appropriate, in accordance with the Defence Forces Acts. Ireland continues to retain the absolute right to determine for itself, on a case-by-case basis, whether it will participate in any particular battle group operation.

Discussions are ongoing on the battle group memorandum of understanding, MOU, which is an agreement between the participants comprising the battle group, namely, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Croatia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This sets out principles regarding the operation, deployment and management of the German-led battle group. While the advice to me is that Dáil approval of the MOU is not required, in the interest of transparency, I have decided to proceed on the basis of a voluntary invocation of the procedure under Article 29 of the Constitution and to seek the approval of Dáil Éireann for the MOU once it is finalised.

The Deputies who tabled questions in this grouping will have one minute each. I call Deputy Wallace.

Many Members of the Dáil have been raising the issue of Ireland's participation in EU battle groups for a while now and how our involvement is in accordance with our stated principles of neutrality but the Government's response is to always hide behind intentionally opaque language. Last month, we even had the Taoiseach translating the term "battle group" into the French term "force tactique" and saying that would be a better term to use, presumably because even the term "battle" is too much of an indicator of the purpose of these groups.

When the Government talks of any military matters, it is always in terms of peace, security, stability, crisis management and the progress of our forces in the area. While that skewing of the language of war carries on, the arms industry tightens its grip on policymakers in Europe and we trundle on towards the objective of an EU military. Will the Minister of State clarify exactly the type of crisis for which we are preparing? Our involvement in battle groups has seen our troops being trained in the use of armoured personnel carriers armed with 13 mm cannons, grenade launchers and other such advanced weaponry. What application does the Minister of State see for such training in the future?

I am very much supportive of our participation in battle groups. It is worth noting that we participated in Nordic-led battle groups in 2008, 2011 and 2015. We participated with the UK in 2016 and, to date, no battle group has ever been deployed in a military operation. It is worth noting these matters when people start to scaremonger and say the flood gates will open, we are heading into battle and this is an EU army. It is not any of those things. It is about being prepared to deploy our troops on UN-mandated missions in which we will be involved in peacekeeping, peace enforcement, conflict prevention and in providing assistance to humanitarian operations. That is what the Irish Defence Forces do and what we are committed to doing. It is what we have always done and will continue to do.

Will the Minister of State confirm to the House if eight to ten persons will be involved? That is what has been reported. I understand that Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia and the Netherlands are also involved. Will the Minister of State confirm to the House if that is his information?

I thank the Deputy for her co-operation in keeping to the time. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Just because the Nordic battle group or the UK battle group were not deployed does not mean that the German battle group will not be deployed. It is appropriate it is called a battle group given the history, the way this was starkly outlined recently in a European Commission document on the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, and the way it was also quite starkly outlined by Jacques Delors that the intention of those who are at the helm of the EU project is an EU army. Therefore, the term "battle group" is quite appropriate. Will the Minister of State confirm what exactly are the tasks that fall under the peace enforcement task, to which Deputy Chambers referred, that this battle group may take upon itself in the near future?

I also thank the Deputy for his co-operation in keeping to the time.

(Interruptions).

The Deputy has the right to vote Tá or Níl when that proposal would come to the Dáil.

Each Deputy has a final minute starting with Deputy Wallace.

That vote does not give me any comfort given that the two largest parties in the State are both of a hawkish nature. The Minister of State is saying that the term "battle group" is unfitting. That reminds me a little of PESCO. The Government pretends when it comes to this but the Europeans do not pretend in the same way. They are a bit more open about it. They do not call it a battle group for nothing. If the truth be told, we may end up in a battle situation. The Minister of State cannot guarantee that is not possible. The Europeans admit that. In the same way, PESCO is a far more serious animal than our State wants to acknowledge.

To keep up with our gung-ho allies, Ireland will have to spend more on military technology. Our defence budget is going to increase and it will not be spent on the wages of the Defence Forces. As for the idea that being involved in a battle group is good for our Defence Forces and prepares them for peacekeeping missions, our Defence Forces already have a very high reputation in peacekeeping without ever going near a battle group. That argument does not hold water.

We do not think that Ireland should have anything to do with the military affairs of European countries which like to promote the arms industry.

It has become a self-sustaining industry. The Minister of State knows that the global military spend this year will be the highest since the start of the Cold War. It is madness.

Deputy Wallace has said that the Dáil vote would not give him any comfort. What would not give me any comfort is sending our troops out on peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions without having been properly trained or without the experience they need. That is why it is important to participate in battle groups and to engage with other like-minded member states. To give an example of where this has worked very effectively, we worked with the Finns in the Nordic battle group. We then went on to partner with them in Chad and Lebanon. We trained with another member state and another country, worked together and went on to serve on a peacekeeping mission. This is a very clear example of the benefit of working within an EU battle group.

We have a triple lock in place. There are no absolutes in this life. We have very clear checks and balances. If ever a battle group is to be deployed, the Dáil must vote first. We will have our say in this House as the democratically elected representatives of this country. That gives me great comfort because it is how our country is run and has always been run. To date, we have only ever participated in UN-mandated missions and the UN fully supports these battle groups.

I do not underestimate the ability of the Irish Defence Forces to train their own troops. They have done so for many years and that training has stood the test of being on UN duties around the world. The honourable tradition of the Defence Forces' deployment on those duties is being undermined by the actions of this Government and the previous one in aligning themselves with EU battle groups and the proposals that I believe go towards an EU army, as I have outlined in the past. Does the Minister of State not accept that the title of "battle group" was not unfortunate but was quite deliberate, given what I said earlier about the Commission and those who are at the helm of the EU? They are not daisy pickers. It is a battle group in terms of the idea and the tasks. I ask the Minister of State what tasks exactly are involved such that a battle group can be sent. It is not just about peacekeeping. There is peace enforcement, taking sides, going into battle with an opponent if it is not willing to accept the diktats of the EU.

The possible missions in which we can participate include crisis management, humanitarian missions and issues surrounding that. Before we actually participate in such a mission, it has to come under the triple lock. It will come back here for Deputy Ó Snodaigh, every other party and every other Member of this House to vote on. That is only right and proper. Deputy Wallace spoke about the two largest parties voting in favour of this. That is democracy. If he had a party of about 100 members who thought like himself, then we would be voting differently. That is the way it is. We have to respect the democracy of the Chamber and the people who participate in an election to return Members here.

People say that members of the Irish Defence Forces can train themselves. Members of the Defence Forces on the ground who are actually participating in UNSO, UNDOF and UNIFIL, whether in Mali or any other mission, will say that the experience they got from participating in the Nordic or German-led battle group or whatever was really beneficial as they were able to work with like-minded nations when they went out on UN peacekeeping duties.

Defence Forces Deployment

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

36. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times the Defence Forces engaged in aid to the civil power duties with regard to US military aircraft present at Shannon Airport during 2017; the number of Defence Forces personnel involved; the cost of these engagements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10383/18]

I remind the Minister of State of a definition of democracy, that we can say what we like but we will do what we are told. When Alan Shatter was Minister for Justice, he claimed that the Garda Síochána had no role in the inspection of foreign state or military aircraft at Shannon or other airports because they enjoy sovereign immunity. In effect, this means the Government allows the US military to take whatever or whoever it wants through Ireland, regardless of the human rights, security and other consequences. I know the Defence Forces are not responsible for inspecting the planes but they are playing a role in facilitating the US use of Shannon Airport as a military base to go on to destroy lives and places in other regions without us giving a damn.

I will take the Deputy up on one point. He talked about members of parties being told to do what they are told. I think he should actually join a party. He would see that everyone can participate fully in whatever way they want to.

When was the last time the Minister of State voted against Fine Gael?

Fine Gael is always right so I do not have to vote against it.

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power, ATCP, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. On each occasion that the support of the Defence Forces is required, An Garda Síochána issues a form C70 to the Defence Forces to request their assistance.

Since 5 February 2003, the Garda has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The cost of the presence of Defence Forces at Shannon Airport performing aid to civil power duties with regard to United States of America military aircraft landing at Shannon Airport in 2017 is €180,579.81 for 293 deployments. For security reasons, it would not be appropriate to disclose the details regarding the number of personnel assigned to each deployment. The costs relate to security duty allowance paid to members of the Defence Forces, rations and fuel. The cost of ATCP operations are met entirely from the Defence Vote.

I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, and between my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security matters generally, including the Defence Forces' ATCP roles.

The planes are not being inspected; we do not care what the Americans do in Shannon. Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The role this country has played in facilitating the destruction not just of Iraq but several other countries in the region is an absolute shame. We are still doing so. We should learn some lessons from Iraq and should remember it. Not only do we still owe an enormous debt to the people of Iraq, the war's goals also remain in place, namely, expanding US military domination, controlling oil and pipelines, facilitating US business, promoting the arms industry, and building an empire of military bases. The wars raging across the Middle East today find their origins in the Iraq war. We need to remember that it was Bush's occupation of Iraq that gave rise to ISIS. That terrorist organisation germinated in the cells of prisons in which Iraqis were being held. Is Ireland ever going to learn that America is not going to the Middle East to promote democracy? It has supported dictators there for many years. It is creating untold hardship, destruction and misery.

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. The Defence Forces are deployed on the basis of aid to the civil power, in practice on the request of An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, any security assessments that the Deputy has mentioned or decisions to seek support from the Defence Forces are matters totally for An Garda Síochána. Members of the Defence Forces assist An Garda Síochána under the provisions of aid to the civil power. I have repeated this in the Chamber on numerous occasions, although the Deputy might not agree with me. In the first instance, the security of the State is the total responsibility of An Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces assist. During the weather crisis, there was an incident in Tallaght when the Defence Forces responded to a request by An Garda Síochána under aid to the civil power.

The former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, said that the Garda had no role in inspecting military aircraft because they have sovereign immunity. The writer, Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi living in New York, said this week that the invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a blunder or even a colossal mistake but that it was a crime and those who perpetrated it are still at large.

Fianna Fáil and the former Progress Democrats, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party and, now, Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance have facilitated the US using Shannon as a military base to create unbelievable destruction and hardship. More than 1 million civilians who were not involved in any armed struggle have been killed by the Americans and Ireland was party to it. It is a bit like carrying the murderer to the scene where the killing takes place. In allowing Shannon to be used for military purposes we are facilitating a crime. We need a rethink on this issue.

I respect the Deputy's personal feelings on this issue. However, the issues raised by him are not matters for the Irish Defences Forces or the Department of Defence. Rather, they are matters for the Department of Justice and Equality and, in the first instance, An Garda Síochána. I ask that the Deputy table a similar question to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.

In terms of the issues raised, the Defence Forces respond to An Garda Síochána as an aid to the civil power, which assistance we provided during recent weeks of major weather crises. The Defence Forces have no role in the security of the State. That is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

37. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the development of a new anti-malarial drug, Tafenoquine (details supplied); the measures he will take to ensure that this drug is safe; and his plans to ensure that it is not prescribed to Defence Forces personnel unless it has been established that it is appropriate for prescription. [10200/18]

This question is a follow up on an issue I have been raising for a number of years in this Chamber, namely, the administration of anti-malarial drugs by the Defence Forces on unsuspecting soldiers. Following on from the withdrawal of the sale of Lariam in Ireland by Roche Products (Ireland) Limited, I am seeking a commitment from the Minister of State that no new drug will not be provided to the Defence Forces unless it has been deemed safe, taking into account the experience of armies abroad.

I am advised that Tafenoquine is being developed for the prevention of relapse of Plasmodium vivax malaria and is currently not available in Ireland. As I have indicated to the House in the past, fundamentally the choice of medications for use in the Defence Forces is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. In the Defence Forces, these are decisions for highly qualified medical officers having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces. I have been advised by the military authorities that currently the Defence Forces has no plans to include Tafenoquine in its formulary of medication.

I am not a medical expert and I cannot make findings in regard to new or previously used drugs, but I have seen the affects of a drug that was previously deemed fit for purpose but has had devastating affects in defence forces across the world, namely, Lariam, or mefloquine as it is medically known, which it is now proposed to replace with a sister drug, Tafenoquine. I am asking that at the very least an instruction be given that this drug be tested for prolonged use in military circumstances. We know only too well the detrimental effect that the use of Lariam has had not only on Irish soldiers but on others in larger military organisations around the world which no longer prescribe Lariam. Before we go down the road of even looking at any new drug, we should look at the experiences of larger defence forces.

On the Deputy's point regarding the withdrawal from sale in Ireland of Lariam by Roche Products, I understand that decision was based on a commercial assessment. As Minister with responsibility for defence, my first priority is to ensure that Irish personnel deployed to missions where malarial issues arise are given the best medication possible, and in this regard I am dependent on the advice of medical personnel. The advice I have been given on this occasion is that they are supportive of the medication that is currently being prescribed.

We have massive problems in this country arising out of the prescription of Lariam. Even with international evidence mounting, the withdrawal of the drug from the market for ordinary consumers, the admission of the UK armed forces that they made a mistake in prescribing it and that it has caused serious harm to soldiers, we still have not made any moves to address the issue. That is remarkable. The issue has been raised many times in this Chamber, including by others before this Dáil was constituted. Why are we are ignoring the evidence that people's health is being severely harmed by this particular drug and why is it not the drug of last resort? There is always an argument for retaining it lest nothing else works, but something needs to be done.

The Minister of State has been to countries where there is a malaria threat. Has he ever taken Lariam?

There is a Dáil motion which instructs the Government to end the use of Lariam. In withdrawing the sale of Lariam from the Irish market, Roche Products (Ireland) Limited has taken that decision for the Government. I do not foresee the Defence Forces trying to source Lariam on the black market when soldiers are being sent abroad. My question is in regard to Tafenoquine which is being touted around the world as a replacement for Lariam. According to the experts in medicine, medicines ending in "quine" are not suitable for prolonged use. We are not medical experts but we can make findings based on the evidence presented to us, not only in this House but from inquiries in Canada, England, Australia and the United States. I ask the Minister of State to heed those findings, please.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. In response to Deputy Wallace's question, I have not taken Lariam. I was not prescribed Lariam for my visit to Mali or other missions because Lariam is not suitable for short-stay visits. I can give the Deputy the name of the medication that I was prescribed.

On the issues raised by Deputies Chambers and Ó Snodaigh, we are not ignoring any evidence. Medical experts make the decisions.

I accept that they are making the right decisions. They have the training, expertise and qualifications to prescribe. If I, as a political representative or Minister of State, were to tell the Defence Forces it could not prescribe Lariam, it would be to reject the medical advice provided to me by the medical experts. I have to accept the advice given to me by the medical experts.

I am not sure where we get the Lariam from but I can find out for Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

The Minister of State does not know. He has 400 in stock.

I do not micromanage. I leave that matter totally up to the medical experts.

Question No. 38 replied to with Written Answers.

Naval Service Strength

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

39. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if more than 30 members of the Naval Service requested to apply for discharge during January 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10385/18]

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

42. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the new initiatives to retain Defence Forces personnel that are being undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10388/18]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

53. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which he plans to address the exodus from the Defence Forces due to poor conditions and pay as articulated by soldiers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10376/18]

More than 30 members of the Naval Service applied for a discharge in January. Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 42 and 53 togther.

The Naval Service continues to fulfil all roles assigned by Government and, on a day-to-day basis, undertakes a broad range of tasks, including fishery protection, security operations, diving operations and other supports. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government recently approved the deployment of Naval Service personnel and assets in support of Operation Sophia. The establishment of the Naval Service is 1,094 and, as of 31 January 2018, the strength of the Naval Service is 1,051. The military authorities have informed me that the Naval Service was administering 17 applications for discharge in January 2018.

The manpower requirement of the Defence Forces is monitored on an ongoing basis in accordance with the operational requirements of each of the three services. The White Paper on defence recognises that continuous recruitment is the lifeblood of the Defence Forces, providing young, motivated and enthusiastic personnel to replenish military formations for operational deployments. In this context, there is significant ongoing recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces and this is a long-term trend. Recruitment plans have been developed to address vacancies in the establishment and also to replace personnel who have exited the Defence Forces. There is also an ongoing programme of human resources development within defence organisations, part of which is aimed at ensuring that there is an appropriate work-life balance. The Chief of Staff is actively addressing matters to this end and I have initiated a review of the criteria governing contracts for enlisted personnel and a comprehensive skills gap analysis across the Defence Forces.

There have been significant improvements in pay for members of the Defence Forces under the Lansdowne Road agreement, with the focus of increases being on the lower paid. Both PDFORRA and RACO have signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which provides for further pay increase of between 6.2% and 7.4% over its lifetime. Under my direction, the Department of Defence has previously brought issues relating to recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. The commission is further examining these issues in its next tranche of work. A departmental civil-military submission is currently being prepared and I am aware that the representative associations have also been requested to make submissions by the commission. I will continue to work closely with my Government colleagues and civil and military management to ensure that the Defence Forces can continue to deliver the capabilities required to discharge all roles assigned by Government.

At the end of last month, a newspaper report claimed that in January 2018 more than 30 members of the Naval Service had asked to apply for discharge. The situation was described as "unprecedented" and "worrying" by PDFORRA. Concerns have been expressed at the wealth of experience being lost at one end of the scale and at the number of younger personnel who are jumping ship only a couple of years into their careers. PDFORRA president, Mr. Mark Keane, says that only a couple of the 33 members who had so far sought to be discharged in the past month were actually eligible to retire this year. That suggests young, able and very experienced personnel are getting out fast. The figure cited averages to approximately one member per day. If that continued, the Naval Service would lose one third of its personnel in one year. Mr. Keane says seasoned petty officers and leading seamen with a wealth of experience are among those seeking to leave the service, which will have a serious effect on the level of corporate knowledge within the service.

What is the Minister of State doing to address this serious loss of experienced personnel from the Naval Service? What is he going to do to train new persons coming into the service given that extent to which middle management and those with experience are leaving and unavailable to train recruits?

As I stated in my original reply, there are a number of initiatives and pay increases in place. The establishment of the Naval Service is 1,094 and on 31 January 2018 its strength stood at 1,051. Recruitment is ongoing within the Naval Service. As with the Air Corps and the Army, there are vacancies and I understand that there is recruitment for skilled people. I am happy to confirm to the House that the Defence Forces assures me it can carry out all the duties assigned by Government and set out in the White Paper on Defence. I am confident that the Naval Service is carrying out all requests and assignments related to sea fisheries protection, participation in Operation Sophia and drug interdiction.

This is a little bit like Groundhog Day. We keep talking about pay restoration and ongoing recruitment, but while recruitment has been stepped up, we are running to keep still and not actually increasing numbers. The Minister of State has not addressed the very clear issue that over 30 personnel in one month have sought a discharge in circumstances where only a couple of them were actually at retirement age. Clearly, the measures the Minister of State has adopted to date are not having the required impact. The Minister of State has also not addressed what we are going to do to train new personnel if experienced personnel are lost. What are we going to do to address the brain drain and the loss of corporate knowledge? Taking in new personnel is one thing, but how are we going to retain the personnel we have? The White Paper on defence is not being implemented properly. A Defence Forces climate survey was published in 2015 but we have seen no marked change in the approach of the Department or the Minister of State's office to address the issues which were highlighted in that. It is nearly three years since its publication. What is the Minister of State doing to address the fact that more than 30 personnel have sought a discharge in one month?

I have introduced a range of measures on foot of the climate survey, including a review of contracts, a review of the CNA scheme and a review of pay and conditions. The Defence Forces themselves have advanced a more structured and monitored mentoring programme, improved notice of courses and improved transparent selection of courses, more direct communication between senior leadership and the general body of personnel, improved internal communications, improved notice of travel requirements for duties and a review of centralisation and duration of career courses. These are all issues that were highlighted in the climate survey and they are being monitored. A working group has been put in place in the Defence Forces and I have brought in a range of measures. The full strength of the Defence Forces should be 9,500 and they are fully funded to reach that level. I have actively arranged recruitment meetings to see exactly where we are on the figures in the Defence Forces but it is a matter for Defence Forces management to ensure they are brought up to that strength of 9,500. The Government provides the budget for that.

Army Barracks

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

40. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to introduce a new Army barracks in Counties Cavan and Monaghan or the greater Border region in view of Brexit and the possible reintroduction of a hard border; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10198/18]

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

41. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for the reinstatement of troops in the Border counties in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10199/18]

Does the Minister of State have plans to reintroduce an Army barracks in County Cavan or County Monaghan or in the wider Border region in view of Brexit?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 41 together. As part of a whole of Government approach, my Department is engaged in forward planning with the other Departments involved in addressing all issues relevant to the UK decision to leave the European Union. The progress made as part of the first phase of the Brexit negotiations offers encouragement in relation to Border issues whereby a significant commitment has been made to avoid a hard border.

Of itself, the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union does not give rise to additional Border control requirements at this time. Therefore, there is no reason to revisit earlier decisions on the closure of barracks. The closures enhanced the operational readiness and deployability of Defence Forces personnel and, with other measures, involved the redeployment of personnel from barracks, headquarters and administrative posts to front-line operational units. This has improved the effectiveness of the Defence Forces without in any way reducing the quality of the military contribution. In that regard, as I have outlined previously, it is, of course, important to note that primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security aspects of Border control rests with An Garda Síochána, while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities related to their particular mandate.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid for the civil power which, in practice, means providing assistance and support for An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support for the Revenue Commissioners, again, when requested to do so. There is ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces on security matters and regular co-ordination and liaison meetings take place. My Department will, of course, continue to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that both it and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address potential issues that might arise in the area of defence as a consequence of Brexit.