Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Defence Forces Strength

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

52. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of discharges from the Defence Forces to date in 2019; the number of inductions over the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53207/19]

What is the number of discharges from the Defence Forces to date in 2019 and the number of inductions over the same period? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter? As the Minister of State knows, we have had very worrying levels of turnover in the past two to three years. Perhaps the Minister of State will update the House on the percentage level of turnover for this year based on the data.

I thank the Deputy for his question.

The military authorities have advised me that, as at 30 November 2019, 605 personnel had been inducted into the Defence Forces and ten serving soldiers were awarded a cadetship. At that date, 793 personnel had exited the organisation. They further advised that, as at 30 November 2019, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force whole-time equivalent across all services was 8,751 personnel.

I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment and I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500. This will require improved retention and recruitment.

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 Permanent Defence Force are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. In light of the particular difficulties being 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 Permanent Defence Force.

The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by Government on 4 July 2019. The report contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. The immediate benefits include a 10% increase in military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will cost around €10 million per annum.

The increases in military service allowance and the restoration of the rates of the other allowances as recommended by the Public Service Pay Commission are in addition to measures relating to core pay, which are in the current public service stability agreement. The recommended increases in the allowances and any back money due have been paid to officers and enlisted personnel. I welcome the fact that RACO and PDFORRA have accepted these recommendations.

The report contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The report also recommends an examination of pay structures in the Permanent Defence Force-----

I thank the Minister of State. He will get an opportunity to come back.

The figures are very concerning. Last year, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett stated the turnover in 2018 at 8.1% was crippling us and that there were serious gaps in the organisation. I have had it confirmed by military forces that we are heading for 10% this year. We have a worsening level of turnover. The Minister of State has given the figures that the exodus is greater than recruitment and we have no retention policy. Morale is on the floor. When will we see the gaps filled? The Minister of State mentioned in the summer that the Naval Service ships having planned maintenance would be back out to sea in the autumn. Do we have the permanent retirement of these naval ships under the watch of the Minister of State? The net loss in the Naval Service this year is one crew. Next year, if we see this ongoing level of turnover, we will have more ships docked. We have seen the consequences of the turnover in the Air Corps with regard to the reduction of the air medical service. Will the Minister of State confirm the turnover this year will be close to 10%, as I have had confirmed based on the figures of the Minister of State? Will he also outline when he will see the restoration of some of the services that have collapsed under his watch? The Naval Service is one, with the ships that were docked, and another is the air medical service.

The most important issue from me as Minister of State is the safety of all of our personnel, no matter what service they carry out. I have never disputed that we have retention issues. Contrary to the remarks of the Deputy we do have retention policies. I have stated here with regard to the independent pay commission report that PDFORRA and RACO recently accepted its recommendations. It will take time for members of the Defence Forces to feel the benefits of accepting those recommendations.

The Deputy mentioned the Naval Service. We had serious challenges in the Naval Service this year in specific areas. It was not with regard to the overall numbers, it was where there were key challenges and key pinchpoints for specific areas in the Naval Service. We are working to solve the issue with military management and Naval Service management.

I thank the Minister of State.

The Deputy mentioned the air ambulance. I stated this was an issue with regard to safety and we were cutting the service for a number of days for November, December and January-----

I thank the Minister of State. I am conscious of time. I want to get the questions in.

-----but it will be back up and running from 1 March.

The Minister of State's record in 2019 is a double-digit level of turnover of 10%. This is an increase of 25% of the turnover from 2018. It is up from the turnover of 7.5% in 2017, with regard to which the University of Limerick stated there was a dysfunctional cycle of turnover. The Minister of State said the ships that were docked would return in the autumn but they did not. He is now telling us the air ambulance service will be back in the spring. How can we believe him if the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla are not back as he said they would be, so that he could get himself out of a gap?

The reality is the retention policies under the watch of the Minister of State are resulting in an ongoing exodus of personnel. He cannot recruit his way out of this retention crisis. We have serious health and safety concerns. This is an absolute fact. Some of the ships that are leaving our shores have a minimal bare bone level of staff. Will it take a serious terrorist incident or a serious incident on a ship or during an operational deployment for the Minister of State to take this retention issue seriously? With a double-digit level of turnover, which is increasing year on year, and with record levels of turnover on the Minister of State's watch, we are facing an ongoing collapsing level of structure and safety risks.

I met Naval Service personnel last week to look at the ongoing challenges we have in the Naval Service. I have stated the number one priority for me as Minister of State is the safety of our personnel. I do not want a situation where there is an incident because of the lack of personnel in a specific area. I hope the Deputy will agree with me on this. I will not back away or shy away and state I should not have made them. It is paramount for any organisation. I have been given reassurances from the Naval Service and military management that they have taken my concerns on board and that for any operational issue being carried out all of the safety risks will be taken into account. This is only right and proper. I have never stated we do not have the challenges or the retention challenges that we have. The independent pay commission report was published earlier this year and Defence Force members are feeling the benefits, including the tax credit that I negotiated in the budget with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for members of the Naval Service.

We have to watch the time. The Minister of State is way over time.

The Naval Service tax credit will be worth €1,270 per annum to individuals who spend more than 80 days at sea.

We have to be mindful of other Deputies who want their questions to be heard. We have allocated time and I am trying to be flexible and reasonable but it is being taken to the extreme and we cannot have that.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

53. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he has taken further to the motion passed unopposed in Dáil Éireann on 28 June 2017 which instructed his Department, along with others, to draw up a plan of action to help alleviate and address ongoing concerns regarding the anti-malaria drug Lariam issued to military personnel serving on overseas missions in sub-Saharan Africa. [52726/19]

What action, if any, has the Minister of State taken on foot of the Dáil motion, passed unopposed on 28 June 2017, which instructed him to draw up a plan of action to help alleviate and address the problems of people who are affected by the anti-malaria drug Lariam, which is given to Defence Forces personnel acting overseas on behalf of this country, in particular in parts of Africa?

As I indicated to the Deputy in response to the Private Members' motion of 28 June 2017 regarding the anti-malarial drug Lariam, the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter to be decided by 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.

There are three anti-malarial drugs, namely Lariam, Malarone and Doxycycline, used by the Defence Forces. The selection by a medical officer of the most appropriate drug for use is a complex one and dependent on a number of factors. Significant precautions are taken by the medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of personnel to take any of the anti-malarial medications. It is the policy of the Defence Forces that personnel are individually screened for fitness for service overseas and medical suitability for all missions and not just those to sub-Saharan Africa.

As the Deputy will be aware, the second report of the malaria chemoprophylaxis working group was completed in 2017. This report set out a number of recommendations relating to planning, training and education, information-sharing and for the establishment of a medical advisory group. An implementation group has been established and is progressing these recommendations.

The intent is that the medical advisory group will further inform internal and external expert medical advice to the Defence Forces on a range of medical matters, including malaria chemoprophylaxis. This will provide further supports in the ongoing evolution of Defence Forces medical policy. These actions will ultimately serve to enhance further the existing medical care provided to all members of the Defence Forces, including those posted overseas.

In addition to access to a wide range of primary care supports, a number of other supports are provided to members of the Defence Forces. For example the personnel support service makes confidential services, including critical incident stress management and psycho-social support available to all Defence Forces personnel through its network of barrack personnel support service officers and occupational social workers at formation, unit and barrack level.

In addition, my Department has arranged the provision of a confidential counselling, referral and support service on a wide range of personal and work-related issues for serving members of the Defence Forces.

Does the Minister of State believe he and the military authorities are acting undemocratically given that the Dáil, with the exception of the Fine Gael Party, passed a motion instructing him to take action to help alleviate and address the suffering of those who have had an adverse effect because Lariam was issued to them while overseas? A "yes" or "no" response will suffice.

The Minister of State referenced medical experts in his reply. On 30 September 1989 the World Health Organization warned that the new anti-malaria drug Mefloquine, which is Lariam, may cause severe mental disturbance and other psychiatric or neurological side effects and that airline pilots and others whose jobs involve fine co-ordination and spatial discrimination should not use Mefloquine to prevent malaria. It went on to say that there were reports of 300 of several thousand patients having experienced neurological and psychiatric side effects associated with the drug. That was stated by the WHO in 1989. I have been raising the issue in this House since 2010. The Minister of State has continued to allow the military authorities to use a drug which is no longer for sale in this State and has been withdrawn by many other military authorities throughout the world.

I have reminded the Deputy on numerous occasions that one of the reasons Lariam is no longer manufactured here is that Roche pulled out of Ireland for economic reasons. Medical policy in the Defence Forces is monitored constantly and reviewed when deemed appropriate. I understand the Deputy's point regarding the Private Members' motion but it would be irresponsible of me as Minister of State for Defence to go against the medical advice I am being given by the professionals within the Defence Forces. The director of the medical branch, DMB, advises the general staff on matters of medical policy in the Defence Forces. His instructions further provide policy guidelines on medical and ethical issues in the Defence Forces and to medical officers. Medical officers in the Defence Forces operate in accordance with the Medical Council's Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners. We are working in line with the UN and the WHO.

If a branch of the State is causing hurt to citizens it is the duty of Deputy Kehoe, as Minister of State at the Department of Defence and a Member of Cabinet, to step in and protect them. This has been happening since I first raised this issue in 2010 and probably prior to that. The Minister of State said that it is his job to heed medical advice. The European Medicines Agency report of 2014 states that there is enough evidence from the presented drug safety reports and the submitted literature report and the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA, assessment report supporting a casual relationship between Mefloquine, which is Lariam, and the occurrence of long-lasting and persistent neuro-psychiatric side effects. This, too, is medical advice. I also quoted the WHO earlier. When will the Minister of State take action to prevent citizens within the Defence Forces being prescribed the poison known as Lariam which is causing them long-term damage, psychiatrically and neurologically? At this stage, the Minister of State has had sufficient warning. On his head be it if people continue to die, as they have, as a result of this drug.

As stated in my initial reply, medical policy in the Defence Forces is monitored constantly and reviewed when appropriate. I have been given the advice by military authorities, namely, the director of the medical corps, that this is the most appropriate drug when required. Prescription is dependent on the needs of the person and the mission in which he or she is participating. I hope that the Deputy understands that I am restrained in what I can say today as there are a number of litigation cases ongoing, two of which have been settled and another of which has been withdrawn by the plaintiff. It would be inappropriate for me not to accept the medical advice I have been given by the director of the medical corps.

Defence Forces Properties

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

54. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the funding being allocated for the upgrade of facilities for personnel in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53208/19]

This question relates to the Curragh Camp, the heart of the Defence Forces, the standard of accommodation there for recruits and the investment that is needed to bring the camp to a standard suitable for the men and women who serve this country.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

I am fully committed to the development and improvement of the physical environment and living conditions in military installations throughout the country. This year some €28 million was allocated towards the maintenance and development of new building projects for the Defence Forces. This represents an increase of over €10 million compared to 2018 and I can confirm to the Deputy that it is intended that the budget allocation will be matched in the coming years to ensure that the level of building activity is in line with requirements.

In this context and looking to the future, I can confirm that a five-year built infrastructural plan is now at a very advanced stage of development and will be completed in the coming weeks. The plan, developed together with the military authorities, will provide a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a multi-annual timeframe. The plan will ensure that the required capital funding is prioritised. The list of projects for delivery will be updated annually to form the basis for the selection of capital projects under the programme into the future.

In relation to the Defence Forces training centre, I can confirm that over the period of 2016 to end 2018, some €17 million was spent on various capital projects and ongoing maintenance of buildings and facilities. Most notably, this included the refurbishment of Blocks B and D of Pearse Barracks, as well as the provision of a newly constructed ammunition storage facility.

The upgrade and refurbishment of Plunkett Block 7 in the Curragh Camp, Defence Forces training centre, involves the refurbishment of an existing building to provide accommodation for 58 personnel to modern standards. Work on this project is advancing well and is expected to be completed in quarter 2, 2020 at a cost of €2 million.

In 2019, it is intended that some €3.5 million will be expended by year-end on ongoing maintenance and improvement works in the Defence Forces training centre. In addition, construction will commence on a new Cadet School headquarters building in the Curragh at a cost of €2 million. The project involves the construction of a new building to provide office and ancillary accommodation for management, lecturers and support staff. Key ongoing projects are now under way to improve our Defence Forces accommodation and living standards across our military installations.

I begin by wishing a very happy Christmas to all the men and women serving this country as peacekeepers within or outside the State, as well as their families. I appreciate that it is a challenging time, particularly for those serving abroad and their families. Of course, there are many challenges throughout the year for the Defence Forces, particularly in regard to recruitment and retention. Deputies who visited the Curragh Camp had the opportunity to engage with members of every rank. We very much appreciated the opportunity to so do. The visit was arranged on foot of a request I made to the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence.

On accommodation, which is the focus of my question, I was shocked and appalled by the standard of some of the accommodation at the Curragh Camp. The Deputies who visited it saw mould on the walls and rotten floorboards in dormitories housing between ten and 14 recruits. There are no locks on the doors and, in some cases, no bathroom facilities. Some of the recruits have lockers 600 m from where they shower, while others have no locker at all. Cathal Berry has done great service by highlighting these issues, as has Sarah Walsh of Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces. What investment will be made for recruits? The current situation is appalling.

I welcome the trip by the committee to see the Curragh Camp at first hand. As I stated at a recent meeting of the committee, it would cost hundreds of millions of euro to renovate the Defence Forces training college complex fully, as the Deputy will be aware having seen some of the very old buildings there. Between 2016 and 2018 some €17 million was spent on built infrastructure in the Curragh Camp, with the bulk of the spending in the latter two years. This year, €3.5 million has been spent on a range of facilities within the camp. I would love to spend more on it but I must give consideration to other barracks which experienced a lack of investment for several years from 2008 or 2009 onwards. It is my intention to maintain the current level of spending.

I welcome that €3.5 million was spent on the Curragh Camp. It was spent wisely and well. However, that does not take away from the appalling conditions in which many of our men and women serve. As the centre of the Defence Forces, the Curragh Camp merits more investment. The situation is all the more galling given that the Department of Defence handed back €23 million last year. It would have been far wiser to have spent that money on renovations.

At the meeting of the committee on 28 November, I made the point that the insufficient defence budget may be due to the lack of a full Minister for Defence at the Cabinet table. The Minister of State may have taken offence at my remarks, but no offence was intended. I maintain that it may be the reason for the underfunding. As a representative of Kildare South, in which the Curragh is located, I extend an invitation to the Minister of State and the Taoiseach, who has ultimate responsibility for defence and the defence budget, to visit the Curragh Camp as early as possible in January.

My colleague, Deputy Jack Chambers, has sought a full commission report into the future of the Defence Forces. That is absolutely vital. It has never been needed more than now both in order to address the issues of retention and recruitment which he raised, as well as the physical environment in which members serve. They are suffering and we must support them.

I acknowledge that the Deputy was present at the recent meeting of the committee at which there was discussion of the money that was handed back. The Deputy has come up with a fantasy of more than €20 million being handed back each year. I am not sure whether she is listening, but I repeat that in 2014 to 2016, inclusive-----

The figures I quoted come from the Department.

The Minister of State should read his own replies to parliamentary questions.

The Deputies should allow the Minister of State to answer.

In 2014 to 2016, inclusive, and 2018, €4.5 million, or 0.1%, of a total budget of €4.15 billion was handed back. I assure the Deputies that the money allocated to this issue has been well spent, as Deputy O'Loughlin recognised. I have been in the Curragh Camp on several occasions and have seen the facilities there. It would cost hundreds of millions of euro to upgrade it. When Fianna Fáil was in Government, it had the opportunity to upgrade the camp while the country was flaithiúlach, but it did not do so.

It is nine years since we were in government.

We are coming from a recovering economy. If there had been a booming economy for the past nine years as was the case when Fianna Fáil was in power, we may not be in this situation.

Defence Forces Veterans Associations Funding

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

55. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the supports offered towards the provision of services by organisations (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53372/19]

I refer to the supports offered towards the provision of services by certain organisations. I salute our serving soldiers, including those on peacekeeping missions, as well as members who have retired. The organisations to which I refer try to represent former members as best they can. The veterans gave gallant service under the Irish flag through the United Nations in the Congo and many other places and put their lives at risk. We need to support and look after them and thank them in some small way.

I recognise the valued public service given to the State by retired members of the Defence Forces. I and officials from my Department hold regular meetings with three veterans’ associations, namely, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel, ONE, and the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers, ARCO. The veterans’ associations raise issues of concern to their members at the meetings.

As part of the supports currently offered to veterans, my Department has service level agreements with ONE and IUNVA which set out the services the Department provides to these associations. Under the terms of the SLAs, my Department provides financial support by way of an annual subvention to ONE and IUNVA to support their work and the range of services they offer to ex-service personnel. Under my direction, the annual grant given to ONE increased from €44,000 to €100,000. This significant increase in funding has made a substantial additional contribution to the work of ONE, which provides accommodation to homeless, elderly and disabled ex-members of the Defence Forces in Athlone, Letterkenny and Smithfield in Dublin. The subvention to IUNVA is €11,000 per annum. The funding provided by my Department is to support the general overheads of the organisations.

I am strongly supportive of ONE’s plans to increase the number of its veteran support centres, VSCs, around the country and, where possible, I have permitted the use of premises in functioning barracks to accommodate such centres. The purpose of a VSC is to provide a location for veterans to receive information and advice, as well a welcoming place to meet former comrades. The availability of VSCs can assist in preventing homelessness through early intervention. They also serve a critical function in addressing loneliness and isolation.

I wish to acknowledge that the Department has provided €300,000 towards the funding of services offered by ONE and IUNVA to former members of the Defence Forces. I seek clarity and a guarantee that the funding will be ring fenced. I ask the Minister of State to provide further detail on the nature of the services that will be resourced from that allocation. Specifically, I ask him to detail the funding for Post 24, the south Tipperary branch of IUNVA. It was formed in 2004 and initially held its meetings in the famous Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, which has since closed. It does tremendous work and is a link for the former members, some of whom have been left in poor circumstances after many years of service.

I ask the Minister of State to join me in offering sympathies on the death of Jimmy Cagney, a member of the Clonmel branch and a veteran who served in the Congo. He passed away in November.

I offer my condolences to Jimmy's family and thank him for the service he gave to this country on peacekeeping duties for many years. I recently announced I had secured total funding of €300,000 to be awarded to ONE and IUNVA. I recently held a meeting with Ollie O'Connor from ONE and Jim Casey from IUNVA and explained how I would like to strand this funding to both organisations. It is only right and proper that we look after both associations, as well as the officers' association.

IUNVA has a drop-in centre in Clonmel, Post 24, which is located at the former stationmaster's house in the town. I understand that it is leased on a ten-year basis from Iarnród Éireann. There is an office and a meeting room, manned daily by its members. It appears to attract many visitors. If its members seek assistance, they can put their project forward through the IUNVA leadership to apply for the additional funding.

In 2011, after many months of frustrating work, Post 24 took up residence in the former stationmaster's house at the railway station in Clonmel, as the Minister of State noted, where it continues to improve and develop its highly regarded drop-in service. Many functions have been held there, and this week, as Christmas approaches, dinner is being provided in the same building by volunteers to less fortunate people who will not have their own dinner, such as those who are homeless.

The group's primary role is providing support, advice and counselling to members of the Defence Forces and their families who have been affected by overseas service. That is why I ask the Minister of State to provide a guarantee that funding assistance for the wonderful organisation of the south Tipperary branch of IUNVA will continue. As veterans of UN operations worldwide, the Clonmel branch continues to support current soldiers, gardaí and civilian personnel who serve in often dangerous and difficult circumstances, such as retired personnel in the UN service, who have represented their country in the best possible way, sometimes at a cost to their health, mental welfare, personal relationships and, in some cases, lives.

The association has the approval of the Government. It is non-denominational, non-sectarian and non-political. It does what it says on the tin and looks after current and retired members of the Defence Forces. It is trying to help itself, and all its members want is to be allowed to support one another. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

I fully agree with the sentiments the Deputy expressed. I meet representatives of both IUNVA and ONE and former officers of the Defence Forces yearly, while officials at the Department are in regular contact with them. I recently secured funding to address an issue at the IUNVA building in Arbour Hill, where we installed a new roof, and for the museum’s roof, which will undergo renovations. It is very welcome that visitor centres and support centres have opened throughout the country, including at the barracks in my constituency of Wexford, where a new support centre will be manned by former members of the Defence Forces. It is only right and proper that there are facilities for them where they can seek support. Furthermore, other services are offered through the Department.

Naval Service Vessels

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

56. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the lack of controls in place at his Department that allowed the former Naval Service patrol ship, LÉ Aisling, to be sold on to a participant in the civil war in Libya in view of the fact that it is in breach of a UN arms embargo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53373/19]

My question relates to the decommissioning and sale of the LÉ Aisling for €100,000. It was subsequently sold for €1.3 million and is now involved in conflict in the Libyan civil war.

The former Naval Service vessel, LÉ Aisling, was the subject of a report by the UN panel of experts on Libya. The report found that the decommissioned vessel, which was sold by public auction on 23 March 2017 and subsequently disposed of to a Libyan military commander, Khalifa Haftar, represents a breach of a UN arms embargo by a company in the United Arab Emirates. There is no lack of controls at the Department regarding the disposal of obsolete equipment that is no longer fit for its intended purpose, including the former Naval Service vessel, LÉ Aisling.

Naval Service vessels are withdrawn from service when they have come to the end of their useful life, which in the normal course is expected to be approximately 20 to 25 years. The decommissioned vessel, LÉ Aisling, was withdrawn from service in 2016 after being in service since 1980, having well exceeded her notional life expectancy. In engineering terms, the equipment on board was obsolete and the reliability and capability of the ship was impacted. In order for the Naval Service to carry out its roles as assigned by the Government, the fleet must be capable, reliable and safe to operate in the often hostile north Atlantic Ocean, where sea conditions during prolonged winter storms are not surpassed anywhere in the world.

Following her decommissioning in 2016, I made the decision to sell the former LÉ Aisling by public auction to the highest bidder to maximise the return to the Exchequer. This was in keeping with the Department's standing policy for the disposal of surplus defensive equipment, and in accordance with the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 2015 report, which stated:

[A] competitive sales process or auction should normally be used for the disposal of State assets with a significant market value. Such a process helps to ensure transparency and is more likely to achieve the fair market price.

All weaponry systems, defensive equipment and specialist naval equipment were removed in their entirety from the decommissioned vessel prior to the sale.

It first struck me that it was thought the sum the vessel was sold for was modest, and there was a question at the time as to whether it represented good value for money. The major concern now relates to what it is being used for and how it was subsequently sold for multiples of the earlier price. It was recommissioned and is now part of a conflict. Are there any trailing obligations? How does the Department ensure that when equipment is sold for scrap or whatever, it will not end up being used in a conflict? What safeguards has the Department in place to ensure that does not happen? Has the UN Security Council made contact regarding the breach of the arms embargo? While the Minister of State addressed that to an extent, he might comment further on whether there are challenges for us in that regard.

The approach taken for the sale of the LÉ Aisling was the same as that taken for two other Naval Service vessels sold by public auction, in 2001 and 2013. When we sold the vessel by open auction, it fully satisfied the requirements of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Deputy is a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and understands how sales happen. In the same way that if she sold her car tomorrow morning, she could not guarantee that some criminal gang would not use it to rob a bank in three years' time, we sold this vessel and it was re-registered as a pleasure yacht. The ownership changed, as did the registration of the ship after a period. Where it has ended up is regrettable, but we have responded fully to the UN report and to any queries asked of the Department.

The vessel was recommissioned to use it in the disturbing way it is being used. Was it properly decommissioned in advance of the sale? That would have reduced the risk of this happening. It is clear there is an issue in that regard.

Yes, my understanding is that the vessel was decommissioned and re-registered as a pleasure yacht. I reiterate that if the Deputy sold her car tomorrow morning, she could not guarantee that it would not be used in a bank robbery or other criminal activity in a year or two years' time. Similarly, we could not make such a guarantee in respect of the vessel.

We sold this vessel on the open market in a fully transparent manner. We got the best possible price for it, just as we did when we sold vessels previously in 2001 and 2013. As I said in my initial reply, all equipment that might have had any military activity linked to it was decommissioned and removed from the ship. All the correspondence we received from the UN was forwarded to the Department of Defence last week. A comprehensive reply addressing the questions raised about the sale of the LÉ Aisling has been issued to the UN.