Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Army Barracks

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

6. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the dilapidated condition of accommodation blocks that recruits and soldiers are required to live or stay in while receiving training in the Curragh; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the Cadet School is operating out of prefabs and that the Army Ranger Wing is located in old stables with no running water; and if a five-year demolition, restoration and construction strategy will be developed in order to address the needs of a modern military training school. [45677/19]

This question relates to the dilapidated condition of accommodation blocks for recruits and soldiers while receiving training at the military training facility in the Curragh. Is the Minister of State aware that the Cadet School is operating out of prefabs and that the Army Ranger Wing is located in old stables with no running water?

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department, together with the military authorities, are actively developing a five-year built infrastructural plan. I am advised that this plan, which will address infrastructural requirements for all military installations, is now at a very advanced stage of development and will be completed in the coming weeks.

The plan will provide, for the first time, a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe and will ensure that the required capital funding is allocated in order to ensure that the plan is implemented as intended. The list of works identified as part of this project will be prioritised for delivery based on military needs and will be updated annually to form the basis for the selection of capital projects under the programme into the future.

I am fully committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. The Defence Forces built infrastructure programme is compiled on a priority needs basis by my Department in conjunction with the military authorities.

Some of the key ongoing projects, now under way in improving Defence Forces accommodation and living standards across military installations are as follows. The upgrading and refurbishment of block 7 at Plunkett Barracks in the Curragh Camp, Defence Forces training centre involves the refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. The works have now commenced. Work on the upgrading and refurbishment of the existing accommodation for 80 personnel in blocks 1 and 2 at Cathal Brugha Barracks has also commenced. The refurbishment of the apprentice hostel accommodation block at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, is well advanced and will be completed in early 2020. It will provide classrooms, an auditorium, recreation and improved living in accommodation for 75 personnel. The refurbishment of the dining hall at Custume Barracks, Athlone, started in 2018 and I hope to open it in early 2020. The scope of the works includes the refurbishment and upgrading of the existing dining hall.

I am confident that this increased level of building construction will continue into 2020. Last week, I announced two new gymnasia in Kilkenny and Limerick. The refurbishment and upgrading of block 8 at the naval base in Haulbowline will deliver additional accommodation on top of the existing provision of 210 bed spaces that are already provided at there. It is intended that the work on the block 8 site will commence in 2020. Work will commence on the upgrade of the former university student administrative USAC complex in Galway. The building is designed to accommodate 120 persons living in single rooms.

While both projects are at an early stage of design development, it is expected that construction works will commence in late 2020. The level of investment illustrates the importance I attach to ensuring that the quality of the Defence Forces built infrastructure meets with the expectations of serving personnel.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On the specific points raised by the Deputy, I am advised by the military authorities that there are ablution facilities available for Army Ranger Wing personnel. I also understand that the Cadet School's offices are currently housed in modern prefabricated buildings. The Defence Forces are developing proposals for the procurement of a design team to develop proposals for a long-term building solution. I have already referenced the works under way in terms of the upgrading and refurbishment of block 7 at Plunkett Barracks in the Curragh Camp.

This year, €28 million was allocated towards the maintenance of existing buildings and the development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. This represents an increase of more than €10 million compared with 2018. I can confirm that it is intended that the budget allocation will be matched in the coming years in order to ensure that the level of building activity is in line with Defence Force requirements.

I welcome all those projects. I visited several barracks recently, not just to the Curragh Camp, to which this question specifically relates, and seen the dilapidated state they are in. There is a need for a blueprint for the refurbishment and construction of facilities. I welcome the fact that, after 11 and a half years in the job and as this Government nears the end of its term of office, the Minister of State is finally putting together a five-year plan.

Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence visited the Curragh Camp recently and we saw for ourselves the dilapidated conditions there. We saw the sewage stains that had run down the walls of some of the shower blocks and toilets in quarters in which raw recruits are supposed to live. I accept that part of joining the Army or the Defence Forces is to be toughened up but I would not expect anybody to have to live in the conditions I saw. I also accept hat there have been improvements in some blocks but the conditions in others are a complete disgrace in this day and age. It is not just the living quarters, the Cadet School operates out of prefabs. The military hospital is not fit for purpose in any shape or form. The supposed elite unit, the Army Ranger Wing, is operating out of old stables with no running water. That is a living disgrace in this day and age. More than 100 buildings on the site need to be demolished. While the Army might have the explosives required to demolish them, there is no point demolishing old buildings unless there are replacements. When will a plan and funding be put in place to address dilapidation at the Curragh Camp?

Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence were taken on a detailed tour of the accommodation in the Curragh Camp. They got to see areas that have been the subject of significant investment, a matter that Deputy Ó Snodaigh failed to mention. While some areas need significant investment, the refurbished blocks are of a good standard. The portfolio of Defence properties includes many buildings that are very old and that require significant investment. We are catching up on increasing the amount we are spending following the period between 2008 and 2016, when funding was very limited.

We have invested heavily in the Curragh Camp in recent years but I accept more funding is needed. Anyone going through the Curragh Camp will see the extent of old buildings that require millions of investment. Between 2016 and 2018, we spent €17 million on projects in blocks B and D of Pearse Barracks. Even Deputy Ó Snodaigh will accept that is a significant amount of money. This year, we are putting €3.5 million into maintenance and improvements in the Curragh Camp. We commenced a €2 million project at block 7 of Plunkett Barracks.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned the Army Ranger Wing. I understand that the committee did not visit the wing's accommodation or go inside its walls. The Army Ranger Wing is not located in old stables. Running water and appropriate ablution facilities are available to members of the Army Ranger Wing. I do not know where the Deputy got his information but it is incorrect.

In response to the final comment of the Minister of State, I can only go on the information I was given by the staff in the Curragh who brought us on the tour. It was not just me who heard the comments relating to the Army Ranger Wing. We were not allowed on that part of the campus because we were only there to visit the training wing.

When will the Minister of State increase the number of maintenance staff to address the broken windows, showers and sewerage facilities? The number of maintenance staff in the Curragh Camp was 200 but it is now 30. The sum of €3.5 million will not address that. When will the Minister of State increase the number of maintenance staff to the previous level given the size and number of buildings to be maintained until such time as the five-year or ten-year plan is introduced or whatever length of time it will take to address the dilapidation and disgraceful living conditions. Raw recruits, cadets and sometimes overseas cadets from Malta, for example, some of whom we met, are expected to live, work and try to survive in those conditions. When will action be taken to address the level of dilapidation?

Deputy Ó Snodaigh knows that a significant amount of investment is going into Army barracks, education, health and other facilities. His party is becoming like Fianna Fáil in that it is just looking for more money and there is no accountability for anything. They just want to spend, spend, spend.

The sum of €25 million was left over from last year.

Are they not worth it?

I have seen Sinn Féin's spending document and if I were Deputy Ó Snodaigh I would not comment.

A total of €25 million was left from last year's budget.

Let us have some order. The Minister of State should be allowed to speak without interruption.

There has been significant investment in the Curragh Camp in recent years. When we entered Government, no money had been spent on the camp since 2008 and no money was spent on it in our first five years in government, so we had to play catch-up in respect of the eight or nine years when no money was spent. We are spending millions of euro on the Curragh Camp to upgrade its facilities. The Deputy should recognise that there has been significant investment, rather than talking only about the negatives.

I have no problem recognising that.

There are significant positive aspects too. I hope the Deputy recognises that a large number of buildings are outdated and not fit for purpose.

I said 100 buildings needed to be destroyed in the morning.

Unfortunately, we cannot destroy them for heritage and other reasons.

There is €30 million left over from the Defence Vote that could be spent.

There is not €30 million left over. If the Deputy examined the figures, he would see the correct amount of money.

It was €29 million last year, €20 million the year before, €24 million the year before that and €25 million prior to that.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

5. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will accept the affiliation of a union (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45762/19]

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

10. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the progress being made in considering Defence Forces representative organisations' affiliation with a union (details supplied) as a means to address the interests of Defence Forces members in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45766/19]

Questions Nos. 5 and 10 are being discussed together. As Deputy Bríd Smith is not here, Deputy Heydon may take the question.

We were caught in traffic this morning due to the rain. Will the Minister of State provide an update on the progress made in considering the Defence Forces representative organisations' affiliation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, which has been discussed and is under review as a means to address the interests of members in the future? What are the Department's considerations in that regard?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 10 together.

Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union. To compensate for these limitations, a range of statutory redress mechanisms is available to serving members, including the redress of wrongs, an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces and a conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Defence Forces.

In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike but concluded that Ireland was in violation of Article 5 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of the prohibition against military representative associations from joining national employee organisations and in respect of Article 6.2 of the charter regarding the right to bargain collectively.

It should be noted that the basis for this complaint predates a number of significant Government initiatives. With regard to collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force representative associations were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations which led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. The findings of the European Committee of Social Rights were considered as part of an independent review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, which was completed last year. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association or affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.

Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine this matter further and defence management, both civil and military, has engaged in discussions with ICTU. Defence management has met the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association to discuss this matter. I have also discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation or association with RACO and PDFORRA. I am aware of PDFORRA's long-standing desire to affiliate with ICTU. I am also aware that RACO has a conflicting position on this matter. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.

I thank the Minister of State. The Public Sector Pay Commission report, which has now been accepted by the representative bodies, provides for a €10 million additional package for the Defence Forces. This is welcome but it is not a solution in itself. It will not fix the recruitment and retention issues, although it is an important step in the right direction. I recently visited the Curragh Camp with other members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. Not only did we see the buildings in the Curragh Camp, we had meaningful engagement with key personnel, from privates through to colonels, including when senior management left the room and left the politicians with the troops. A number of issues arose. The review of pay is a key consideration. Even members who do not want to leave the Defence Forces referred to the extra stress and strain being placed on them as a result of the loss of personnel in their units. Affiliation with ICTU was also raised. While this is not something a soldier necessarily wants or desires, there was a recognition that something has to change.

In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights considered a complaint submitted by the European Organisation of Military Associations and Trade Unions, EUROMIL, on behalf of PDFORRA, concerning the lack of certain rights for military representative associations in Ireland. I am acutely aware of everyone's concerns in this regard, including those of military management and RACO, and I am considering the matter. I am aware of the concerns of the Chief of Staff and I am engaging with him on this matter. I informed him I would speak to him before making any decision regarding the association of PDFORRA with ICTU. This is a sea change and I am being careful regarding any decision the Government will make. I am also aware of the comments made by ICTU officials at the PDFORRA annual delegate conference in this regard. We have to take into consideration the ruling in the EUROMIL case. All Members of the House voted in favour of a Private Members' motion tabled by Fianna Fáil which proposed to facilitate affiliation with ICTU. I supported the motion, as did Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and Independents.

I am aware of the concerns among general staff, including the concern raised by RACO that this approach would not be its first choice. ICTU has an opposing view and sees this as the right way to go. Ultimately, the public sector pay talks have failed personnel in the Defence Forces in the past. That is at the heart of whatever we decide to do. I do not think there is any fear of soldiers ever engaging in a green flu protest or striking. It is not in their nature or in the oath they take. When I say that there has been a failure in public sector pay talks, that is not a slight on the representative bodies. The structure is wrong. Some have suggested that we could have an independent pay review. That would again leave the Defence Forces outside the room when everybody else was talking, which would be a mistake. The idea of soldiers being treated the same as everybody else and being at the heart of the pay talks is key. Do other EU countries allow military personnel to have trade union status or affiliate to national trade union bodies? What is the experience of those countries? We should make such an international comparison before making a substantial decision on this issue.

There are other countries with associate and full membership. The Belgian Armed Forces have full trade union status. Belgium allows affiliation to national trade union bodies. Danish Defence has full trade union status but not the right to strike. Denmark allows affiliation to national trade union bodies. The Swedish Armed Forces have full trade union status. They have the right to strike but that right is curtailed in times of crisis. They are allowed to affiliate to national trade union bodies.

If the Defence Forces were to affiliate to trade unions, I would be totally opposed to them having a right to strike. Affiliation would be related to pay and having ICTU representation at the public service pay talks. We have to improve PDFORRA's and RACO's representation at the public service pay talks. They should be at the table with every other representative association. There are terms and conditions related to ICTU allowing them to come to the table because they do not have full affiliation. I am not talking about full affiliation, since the representative organisations are seeking associate status. I assure Deputy Heydon, the Chief of Staff and this House that, whatever decision I make, I will consult widely about trade union status, affiliation or association with ICTU.

The ICTU has also come back on this and meaningful negotiations are going on between my Department and ICTU on the specific case. I have spoken to PDFORRA and also to RACO about its concerns.

Thank you. It is a bad day at the office. We are only moving to the seventh question. I call Deputy Chambers.

White Paper on Defence

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

7. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will provide a report on the White Paper on Defence update; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45728/19]

I ask the Minister to report on the White Paper on Defence update. It is four years since the White Paper was published. It states:

The Government intend to put in place a new fixed cycle of defence reviews. These are common practice internationally and give reassurance that policy remains up to date and relevant to changing...circumstances... Under this programmed approach, the first White Paper update would commence in July 2018...

Will the Minister of State give an update on that? Did it commence on time? Are there any revisions to the White Paper? We need a full update.

I thank the Deputy. The White Paper on Defence sets out the Government's decision to put in place a fixed cycle of defence reviews. These are common internationally and give assurance that policy remains up to date and relevant to changing future circumstances. The White Paper provides that these reviews are to have a three-yearly cycle, with every second review being more comprehensive in nature and styled a strategic defence review. The White Paper specified that the first in this new cycle of reviews would be a White Paper update.

A joint civil-military working group formally commenced work on the White Paper update in July 2018, as laid down in the White Paper, and work on the update is now complete. The completion of the update was led by me, while the process was managed by a high-level joint civil-military steering group. Beneath this, a working group comprising civil and military representatives has worked in support of the steering group.

The process undertaken to carry out this update looked at three broad strands. The first of these strands was a security environment assessment. An interdepartmental and inter-agency defence and security environment assessment group was established to review and update the security environment assessment. The work of this group was led by the Department of Defence and also comprised representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach; Justice and Equality; Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Communications, Climate Action and Environment; as well as the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. This was done in order to situate appropriately the defence policy response in terms of the lead or supporting roles that defence plays.

The second strand dealt with progress on White Paper implementation. Since publication of the White Paper, a total of 95 separate projects have been identified for completion over a ten-year period. The White Paper update includes a review of overall progress on all 95 White Paper implementation projects broken down by their chapter in the White Paper and categorised based on their life cycle, from "not initiated" through to "closed".

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The third strand concerned consultation with the Oireachtas. The Government’s view has been that defence matters should ideally attract all-party support and there is an acknowledgement in the White Paper of the strong tradition within the Chambers of the Oireachtas of support for national interest defence issues. In this spirit, I met with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, on 5 March 2019 in regard to both the White Paper update and the process of establishing the fixed cycle of defence reviews. Following my consideration, the White Paper update will be placed before Cabinet and subsequently published on my Department's website.

What impact has that had on the retention crisis in the context of the implementation of the White Paper? There is a serious concern that all of the commitments mentioned in the White Paper have taken a complete back seat since the Minister of State published the Public Service Pay Commission report, and there is a complete information vacuum for the representative associations. The Minister of State has given little detail about what the outcome of the White Paper update is. Will he publish it? Many of the remarks he made at the Oireachtas committee were that he is reviewing the White Paper, and there is this ongoing review nonsense that he mentioned previously. He should publish it, review it and then update it, but that has not happened under his watch, despite the commitments. We have had no progress or update on the White Paper and there is a clear vacuum, as I said.

The representative associations want an update on the technician pay 2-6 review. Instead of it being another review, when will the outcome be outlined for the representative associations? To go back to the issue of the Army bomb disposal unit, which is a retention issue in the White Paper, the reason there can be a response is that people have to work 168 hours a week, 365 days a year, when they are not paid for that. This is why the Minister of State can respond. However, if he was to measure the capability, it is simply not there.

I presume the Deputy's text message was a bit delayed coming in. First, one of the reasons the White Paper has not been published is that despite the fact I wrote to the committee, on which the Deputy sits, in early 2018, the earliest I could get in to discuss the White Paper was 5 March 2019. That delayed it for a considerable number of months. I tried and I wrote to the committee again. When I did get to the committee, however, Deputy Chambers never spoke to me about the White Paper and he spoke to me about everything else bar the White Paper. In fairness, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Maureen O'Sullivan were the only two who actually spoke about the contents of the White Paper.

Is the Minister of State saying it is the committee's fault?

The White Paper update has not gone to Cabinet-----

-----so it would be totally inappropriate for me to discuss the details within the update prior to Cabinet scrutiny. I can assure the Deputy that recruitment and retention remains one of the key priorities for me, as Minister of State. It is entailed in the White Paper, it is in the implementation plan and it is in the Public Service Pay Commission report. There is much work ongoing on recruitment and retention because this is a major challenge for Government, for the Defence Forces and for me, as Minister of State.

We are over time. I call Deputy Chambers for a final question. It has been a very bad morning and we are only on Question No. 7.

At that committee, I asked about the recruitment and retention crisis in regard to the White Paper. If that does not fit the Minister of State's priorities on the White Paper, what on earth is he doing in his ministerial office? Can the Minister of State outline the successful projects that have concluded as a result of the White Paper? Can he outline the position on the tech 2-6 review and when it will be completed? This is the problem: the Minister of State said he would update the White Paper in 2018 and we are at the end of 2019 and he has not even brought it to Cabinet. If that is going to be the outcome of the review process for the Public Service Pay Commission timeline, which is already delayed, and the Minister of State has admitted he has not even matched the outcomes that were mentioned, then we are going to see the collapse and exodus continue. The Minister of State is not matching the timelines he was supposed to adhere to - that is the issue. He should list the successful outcomes of the White Paper, list the outcome of the tech 2-6 review and tell us when he is going to publish the update, rather than just attacking back. He is the one who has to be held to account.

I have no issue whatsoever with being held accountable. What I am saying is that it was within the agreement of the White Paper that I would have to bring it to the committee, a committee on which the Deputy sits. I waited for months and months to get into the committee to have this signed off on.

It is not the committee's fault.

Had I got into the committee when I wrote to it originally, I would have had this published. The Deputy is failing in his responsibilities as a committee member.

I am not a committee member. I attend on defence issues.

The Deputy is not a member of the defence committee. He is the spokesperson on defence but he is not a member of the defence committee. That says a lot.

I am bringing the White Paper update to Cabinet and it would be totally inappropriate for me to discuss it here in the Chamber before bringing it to Government. However, I have no problem whatsoever in discussing the update of the White Paper with the Deputy or anybody else once I bring it to Cabinet.

UN Missions

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

8. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the new United Nations missions he expects the Defence Forces to undertake in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45727/19]

I want to ask the Minister about the new United Nations missions he expects the Defence Forces to undertake in 2020.

On the previous issue, I will have to raise that with the Chairman of the committee, my party colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, who I think the Minister of State has smeared here today by saying he would not facilitate the White Paper review, and given the fact Minister of State is pinning the blame for the lack of outcomes from the White Paper on the Oireachtas committee and on the Members of this House. The failing in defence rests with the Minister of State. He has absolutely collapsed our Defence Forces. He has no confidence among the military community, and no one has any praise for any of the measures he has announced. Stop trying to project blame onto other people. I think it is a shocking smear on the Chair and I am sure he will respond to the Minister of State on that.

I have the correspondence to hand. I wrote to the committee and I had to wait a number of months to get into the committee.

Let us focus on Question No. 8.

I did not smear anybody. The Deputy should talk to his party leader and ask to see if he could become a member of the committee.

The clock is ticking. Let us move on.

As of 3 October 2019, Ireland is contributing 692 personnel to ten different missions throughout the world and also to a range of international organisations and national representations. The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 459 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria, with 135 personnel. The UNIFIL mission in Lebanon continues to represent Ireland's largest overseas deployment.

Ireland deployed an additional contingent of approximately 106 Defence Force personnel to the UNIFIL mission following the departure of the Finnish-Estonian contingent in November 2018.

Arrangements are in place with the United Nations for Poland to partner Ireland in UNIFIL from November 2019. Ireland will reduce its contribution of troops in UNIFIL from 459 to approximately 340 personnel, and Poland will provide some 220 personnel. Hungarian personnel will also deploy as part of the Polish contingent.

Government and Dáil approval was received last June for the deployment of a contingent of the PDF to participate in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA. The latter was established under UN Security Council Resolution 2100 of April 2013. The mission is tasked primarily with providing support to transitional governmental authorities in Mali in efforts to stabilise the country.

In September, two officers deployed to Bamako, where the MINUSMA force headquarters are located. An additional 11 personnel drawn from the Army Ranger Wing deployed with the German armed forces to Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, and are carrying out assigned tasks in accordance with the mission mandate.

The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas. Ireland receives requests from time to time to participate in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. There are currently no requests for the Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

As of 4 September, Ireland was contributing 651 personnel to UN missions and 27 to a range of international organisations and national representations. This compares with 761 in 2009 but is greater than the 426 personnel deployed overseas five years ago. Are there any other deployments in the pipeline? Opportunities to serve on UN missions, as the Minister of State knows, are popular with members of the Defence Forces because of the experience they offer and for financial reasons. We all know that, now more than ever, incentives are important in order to retain personnel in the Defence Forces. It is also important to note the Naval Service's role in the Mediterranean and the rescuing of refugees, which is important in a political context. Has the Department conducted any discussions at an EU level in order that the Naval Service may have a role in this regard in the future? Is there an examination of this for 2020? It helped to retain personnel when Operation Sofia ended, which had a negative effect in the context of retention.

I reiterate that, as of 3 October last, 692 personnel were on ten different missions: 441 in UNIFIL; 12 in Israel and Syria; three in MINURSO, in Western Sahara; 135 in UNDOF; 13 in MINUSMA; five in EUFOR, in Bosnia and Herzegovina; 20 in EUTM Mali; 12 in KFOR; and three in the Operation Sofia headquarters. The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas, and Ireland receives requests from time to time to participate in various missions. These are considered on a case-by-case basis by the Department and the Defence Forces, having regard to the safety of the mission. Currently, however, there are no requests for the Irish Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

I will meet Jean-Pierre Lacroix when he comes to Ireland at the end of November. He is the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.

I will give the Minister of State another opportunity.

I will talk to him-----

The Minister of State is depriving Members of the opportunity to ask questions.

-----about the missions that are in operation and whether there are any other requests.

What is the optimum number of personnel we can have deployed at any one time, taking into account especially the retention crisis? Is there a concern that we cannot deploy as many as we have requested? This is often raised in the public domain. Can the Minister of State clarify the matter? Is there scope to provide additional numbers abroad if the demand is there? As we know, the UN missions tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by the Army. Are there any other new avenues of participation for the Air Corps or the Naval Service? As I mentioned, our role in the Mediterranean was very positive for the Naval Service. It would like to participate in that operation again. Operational involvement assisted with retention of personnel. Has the Minister of State been obliged to reject any requests for participation in UN operations in recent times because, following discussions with military management, he has not been able to provide the personnel requested by international organisations?

I will allow two further supplementary questions, one from Deputy Broughan and one from Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

The Minister of State has given an answer about the requests for this year, but have there been any further requests from the UN or European Union colleagues? President Macron, I think, and Chancellor Merkel recently spoke about northern Syria and protecting the Kurdish and Yazidi peoples there. Are we part of an international force to do that?

I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer my question in the positive. Can he reassure us that in 2020 there will be repeat of the cock-ups that occurred last year regarding personnel travelling out to and returning from UN missions whereby people were left waiting because the return of their loved ones was delayed by a week or so?

I will respond to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question first. Much of that is totally beyond our control. The Deputy wants to blame the Government - that is what one does when in opposition - or blame me-----

I was not blaming the Minister of State for once.

-----but I assure him that I have spoken to Jean-Pierre Lacroix and our ambassador in Lebanon about this issue. If the deployment finishes on the first day of a given month, we should never specifically state that it will finish on the first day but rather that it will finish in and around that week because, crossing the border, very significant diplomatic incidents happen and problems and issues arise. On the most recent such occasion, I had to contact my counterpart in Lebanon directly , who was able to resolve the issue for me. When we go out on peacekeeping duties under the blue helmets we should be accommodated in every way. Unfortunately, the smooth running does not always happen.

To answer Deputy Broughan's question, there are currently no requests for the Defence Forces to participate in any new missions in 2020.

To answer Deputy Jack Chambers's questions, we have responsibilities at home and overseas, so in any overseas deployment or mission in which we participate we must consider our responsibilities on this island as well. More importantly, we must look at the security situation of any mission. That is my number one priority. It is also a priority for the Defence Forces, the Department and Government.

Defence Forces Strength

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which retirements from the Defence Forces have been filled by new recruits with a view to ensuring that the strength of the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps remains in line with targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45735/19]

I am seeking to ascertain the extent to which resignations or retirements from the Defence Forces are being compensated for by recruitment in order to keep the strength of the forces at optimum levels.

The military authorities have advised that the strength of the PDF across all services on 30 September 2019 was 8,654 personnel. While I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment, I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500 personnel.

The 2019 recruitment campaign for the Defence Forces is ongoing, with 528 new entrants having been inducted so far this year. The Defence Forces recruitment process is subject to continuous monitoring and appraisal to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that must be addressed. It is a fact that members of the PDF are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. In light of the particular difficulties faced by the defence sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of recruitment and retention issues in the PDF.

The commission's report, which has been accepted by Government, contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF as well as initiatives that will lead to further improvements. Immediate measures include a 10% increase in military service allowance, MSA; the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances; the restoration of premium rates for certain weekend duties; and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.

I very much welcome the fact that both RACO and PDFORRA have accepted these recommendations, which are being implemented.

The report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The report also provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and identifies further retention measures within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.

The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the pay commission's recommendations. Work on implementing the plan is under way and, under my direction, is being prioritised by civil and military management.

I am confident that all the measures contained in the plan, coupled with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1 September, will address the recruitment and retention challenges experienced by the PDF.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It should be noted, however, that as the Government's plan contains short-, medium- and long-term measures, the full impact of these measures will take time to determine. There are also a range of external variables which impact on recruitment and retention and which can change. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the tasks assigned by Government will continue to be carefully monitored, having regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the pay commission and other actions which are under way.

Has the Minister of State set particular targets or specified a timeline for achieving targets on an ongoing basis to catch up through replacing retirees with new recruits?

I absolutely have. A plan is being implemented in conjunction with the Public Service Pay Commission. There is a joint civil and military working team working on that at the moment in a dedicated office, looking at all the recommendations of the independent pay commission report. We are also looking at non-pay issues such as hot-desking, family-friendly overseas appointments, family-friendly measures for couples, career breaks, a shorter working year, coaching and mentoring.

I spoke previously about a review of recruitment within the Defence Forces. We can improve on recruitment. I have asked for an independent person, Mr. Padraig Love, to look specifically at recruitment and I have signed off on his appointment. My priority is to get back to 9,500 personnel, and we are doing everything we can to get back up to that number.

Will the Minister of State indicate when that target of 9,500 might be reached? Will that be in six months or a year? Such an indication could eliminate the doubt about the direction in which the strength of the Defence Forces is going.

We are competing against a buoyant economy with full employment. The trend over many years has been that, when the country has full employment, the Defence Forces suffer. It will be of concern to the Deputy, and all Members, that we are preparing a detailed submission and argument for the next round of the public service pay talks. The Defence Forces are a unique organisation. I am looking to make sure that we have everything credible ready for the next round of talks. That is part of the implementation plan that was a part of the independent pay commission report.

Question No. 10 answered with Question No. 5.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

11. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that members of the Defence Forces are the only soldiers in the various missions in Mali that are required to take Lariam; and when he will abide by the instructions of Dáil Éireann to cease the use of the drug of first choice in preventing malaria in view of the fact that most other military authorities have switched to alternative anti-malaria drugs and that already some of those in the latest deployment have had an adverse reaction to a drug no longer on public sale here. [45675/19]

The Defence Forces are currently providing support to two separate missions in Mali. EU Training Mission, EUTM, Mali is part of a wider EU effort in support of international peace and security in the wider Sahel region. The mission is being undertaken at the request of the Malian Government and has the support of a UN Security Council resolution.

In addition, Government and Dáil approval was received in June of this year for the deployment of a contingent of the Defence Forces to participate in MINUSMA, the United Nations authorised operation in Mali. MINUSMA was established under UN Security Council Resolution 2100 of April 2013. The mission is tasked primarily with providing support to transitional governmental authorities in Mali in efforts to stabilise the country.

I am advised that there are three anti-malarial drugs, namely, Lariam, Malarone and doxycycline, which continue to be used in the Defence Forces. As I indicated to the Deputy in response to the Private Members' motion of 28 June 2017, the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. In the Defence Forces, these are matters for highly qualified medical officers having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces.

I would also like to point out that there are a range of support services, both medical and non-medical, available to the Defence Forces personnel. These include access to Defence Force medical officers as well as to psychiatric, psychological, social work and personnel support services. A strictly confidential 24-hour care line, manned by trained counsellors, is also available to Defence Forces personnel.

The Deputy will be aware that the State Claims Agency manages personal injury claims, including personal injury claims relating to the consumption of Lariam taken by current and former members of the Defence Forces. Given that there is litigation pending in these matters, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

I did not ask the Minister of State to comment on current cases or in any way stray into those cases. I am well aware of them, as is the Minister of State, because we have raised those issues in the House.

One part of this question is to do with Mali. The information I have is that a number of the 33 members of the Defence Forces in Mali have had to switch from Lariam to doxycycline because of a reaction to Lariam. It is good that they are on a different drug, but the fact that Lariam was there in the first instance shows that a poison is being given regularly to Defence Forces members on missions overseas, endangering them and possibly also endangering civilians, as has happened in the past. We have seen that from international and parliamentary inquiries in other jurisdictions, including Canada.

The key part of this question is why the Government has not complied with the directions of the Dáil, which passed a motion acknowledging the serious side effects of Lariam on members of the Defence Forces, the failure to implement a comprehensive screening programme to monitor the effects from 2000 onwards, the fact that many world militaries have banned Lariam, and that those who take it are three to five times more likely to be at risk of suicide. A majority of the Dáil specifically called on the Government to instruct the military authorities to cease the administration of Lariam immediately. That was more than two years ago. When will the Minister of State implement those calls from this Dáil?

I have stated to the Deputy on many occasions that, fundamentally, the choice of malaria chemoprophylaxis for use in the Defence Forces is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals. I hope the Deputy accepts that it is up to a medical professional to prescribe whatever medication anybody should take. It would be totally inappropriate to recommend that someone go to a Member of the Oireachtas, rather than a GP, for medical advice. I have stated to the Deputy, this House and many others on numerous occasions that neither I, nor Deputy Ó Snodaigh, nor the Members of this House are medically qualified to prescribe what drug anybody should take. Everybody has different circumstances depending on the mission in which they are engaged, and these factors are all carefully considered when people are prescribed any sort of medication.

I would never suggest that we should take on the role of medical professionals. I ask the Minister of State to look at the evidence throughout the world where the medical profession has told other militaries that there is a major concern over Lariam and that those who take it are at considerable risk of suicide and other mental health effects. That is why it is banned by other militaries: not on the basis of their parliaments or military authorities but on the basis of medical evidence. I have asked the Minister of State, and Ministers who have preceded him, to look again and instruct the military authorities to carry out a review. That has not been done. The Dáil passed a motion asking the Minister of State to do that and asking him to ensure that a plan of action was drawn up to help those who have suffered the consequences of taking a drug, a poison, that the Minister of State has allowed the military authorities to continue to administer. The State has, on other occasions, banned poisonous substances that were administered by the system, such as thalidomide. There have been occasions when political offices in Ireland have stepped in and demanded the end of the administration of a product that is killing people or having a severe effect on them. This is such a case.

I restate something I stated at the time of the Private Members' motion and have stated on numerous occasions in the Dáil. The prescription of drugs is a matter for the medical practitioners within the Defence Forces.

As the Deputy knows, the work of the Lariam report implementation group is ongoing. It is doing a lot of work. The group was established to implement the recommendations of the second report of the malaria chemoprophylaxis working group, which was established to review various issues, including those arising from the use of Lariam, particularly in the context of current and potential litigation. The recommendations focused on a number of-----

It was withdrawn from sale by the company.

As I have said on numerous occasions, the company did not pull out of Ireland as a result of the use of Lariam by the Defence Forces-----

Is the Government buying it off the black market then?

-----but for reasons of its own accord.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas Website.