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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 5

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Defence Forces

John Brady


1. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence if, following the publication of the report from the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces, he will outline a timeframe for the implementation for the recommendations contained in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13746/22]

Following the publication of the long-awaited report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, what is the timeline for its implementation? Key elements of it need to be implemented immediately, given the pressures relating to pay talks. I again ask the Minister to outline the implementation of the report. What will be the make-up of the implementation body, which will be instrumental in rolling out and implementing key elements?

The Commission on the Defence Forces was established on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government and the Government decision in December 2020, which also agreed its terms of reference and membership. The report was published on 9 February this year. The commission undertook a significant body of work encompassing its wide-ranging terms of reference. The report contains 69 main recommendations and, together with sub-recommendations, there are just over 130 overall. The commission's terms of reference included the consideration of appropriate capabilities, structures and staffing for the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service.

The report proposes significant changes for the Defence Forces, including its culture, high-level command and control structures, and the level of defence provision in Ireland. Clearly, these matters will require careful consideration and, in some critical aspects, interdepartmental discussion and agreement. This includes the level of resourcing that may be allocated to defence, legislative implications and the governance framework, which will require an underpinning in respect of changes and Government approval on foot of the commission's report.

It will also seek the views of the Department and the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces' representative associations will be consulted on all matters that fall within the scope of representation relating to the implementation of any approved plan. I will also engage with key stakeholders and the Oireachtas; I welcome the Dáil statements on the report that took place on 16 February. I firmly believe that this is an opportunity to have a mature debate around the type of defence capabilities we require and I am very much open to such a discussion. Current events are highlighting the importance of such a debate.

The intent is that following relevant consultation, and before the summer recess, I will revert to the Government with a proposed response to the commission's recommendations and a high-level action plan. This high-level plan will set out proposed timelines and oversight arrangements for its implementation. It would be inappropriate for me to give an outcome of the deliberations at this stage but, as I have said to the Deputy previously, I hope to be able to do that in June, if I can.

I also welcome the publication of the report. There are key recommendations in it that will go a long way towards addressing the major challenges of pay and retention in the Defence Forces, for which staffing levels are thousands below where the establishment figure should be. One of the key recommendations, which the Minister has been asked about a number of times now, including by me, is to implement associate affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, of representative organisations. The pressure is on because pay talks will commence in May. I am acutely aware that the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, has had to resort to the courts to try to force the Minister to implement this key proposal. PDFORRA has been very clear that if the Minister was to show some goodwill in ceding to its very legitimate request it would withdraw that court case. The Minister needs to show goodwill in the first instance and agree to allow PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, to affiliate with ICTU.

As I said, I hope to bring forward an action plan and implementation plan that I can bring to Government before the summer recess. I hope to be able to do that in June. Certainly, people who have studied the detail of this report will understand that quite a lot of consultation is required before we can do that. It is important to give it that time but we do not want to waste any time either. I assure the Deputy we are not doing that. I have started discussions with the representative bodies and others to put that implementation plan together.

The Deputy is correct that some of the recommendations, in particular that relating to associate membership of ICTU, should the representative bodies want that, is timely because a new round of public sector pay talks will start before the summer. I am conscious of that but it would certainly be helpful in those efforts, and I could speak in a much more open way with the representative bodies, if a court case was not happening in parallel to these discussions.

I ask everyone to keep to the times. We all run over, but please stick to the times.

I again ask the Minister to show some goodwill. That court case was initiated because of his failure, and that of the Government, to deal with the key issues in the Defence Forces. They are prepared to withdraw their court case, but the Minister needs to demonstrate goodwill in the first instance because if they withdraw that case, they cannot resubmit it. The Minister needs to be very clear to them that this is a key recommendation and is key to addressing the major challenges and shortcomings in the Defence Forces. In the first instance, he needs to act by stating he is very much open to this, he is very conscious of the time pressures, given the pay talks in May, and it is something he is willing to do. On that basis, it will show the Defence Forces he is prepared to act on this key recommendation. Again, it is critical. Certainly, we cannot wait until June. The Minister is acutely aware of that. It needs to made clear to the Defence Forces now to prepare for the pay talks beginning in May.

I have spoken to PDFORRA about this issue; I assume the Deputy knows that. There is no issue with goodwill. This is about trying to work our way through one of many issues we have to work through arising from the recommendations of the commission. I have said I have an open mind about PDFORRA's relationship with ICTU in the context of pay talks and that is my position. I have also said it is very difficult for me to talk to PDFORRA about the detail of that while a court case is ongoing. That is self-evident. There is no stand-off here and no manoeuvring is going on. I want to have an open discussion with the representative bodies on this issue so that we can resolve it to everybody's satisfaction and we can move forward. The court case just makes that more difficult because I am much more limited in what I can say. PDFORRA understand that and I hope we will see some progress in this space soon.

Departmental Expenditure

Gino Kenny


2. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Defence his views on Ireland’s defence spending into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13465/22]

The armaments industry's merchants of death have seen their stock prices rise dramatically in recent weeks as the brutal invasion of Ukraine has an impact and the arms race that began in its aftermath has accelerated. The Government, unfortunately, seems to be planning to join that arms race. Presumably, it will get a boost from the meeting in Versailles today. What is the Government's position?

I will respond to the question that was put in writing. On an annual basis, the overall defence Vote group allocation is determined within the overarching budgetary framework and the approval of Dáil Éireann, having regard to the level of resources available to defence policy requirements. Thus, for 2022, the total gross allocation provided to the defence Vote group, as set out in budget 2022, was €1.107 billion, comprising €836 million for Vote 36, which is defence, and €271 million for Vote 35, which is pensions.

Capital funding allocations are also framed by the multi-annual national development plan. The White Paper on Defence, updated in 2019, highlighted the importance of capability development and the necessity for continued renewal, upgrade and acquisition of military equipment and infrastructure. To this end, the national development plan, NDP, has allocated multi-annual funding of €566 million to Defence out to 2025, with an allocation of €141 million per annum provided for 2022 and 2023 and €142 million per annum for 2024 and 2025.

Many of the military equipment projects are complex, multi-annual and have long lead-in times, so the funding certainty now provided by the NDP is welcome, as it will enable the Department and the Defence Forces to plan, prioritise and deliver on scheduled projects over the coming years.

I know what the Deputy wants me to get to rather than giving a long, drawn-out, factual answer, namely, whether we are likely to increase spending on defence on the basis of what is happening in Ukraine right now and the serious questions of security issues on the continent of Europe and, of course in parallel with that, the report that we got from the commission. I think we are likely to increase defence expenditure on the back of the commission report, primarily. Some of that will be military equipment such as ammunition and weaponry but it will also be upgrading standards within our barracks and improving training facilities, armour and so on.

To be clear, we are in favour of spending to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are not living in conditions of poverty. Only €20 million of the €500 million and €2 billion extra recommended in the report relates to that. We are in favour of doing that but we are not in favour of trying to win an arms race that cannot be won. It certainly cannot be won by Ireland. We are not in favour of increasing spending by €2 billion a year for buying an intercept capability, the acquisition of a squadron of jet combat aircraft, naval ships, etc., or even the additional €500 million a year. One simple reason for that is 2,000 homes could be built every year instead. If the Government makes the choice to give the money to these big military industries, primarily in the USA presumably, then it is making a choice to prioritise that over homes, healthcare, education or whatever else.

I do not know if the Deputy has had a chance to read the report but the recommendation is that we would increase our level of ambition around defence and defence resourcing. Specifically it asks us to improve troop protection for more demanding roles overseas. Does the Deputy disagree with that? It asks us to enhance situational awareness with primary radar capacity; significantly strengthen military intelligence and cyberdefence capabilities; to increase naval presence by essentially double crewing so that we can have ships at sea more often to do the work that it has been asked to do; or to enhance mobile and lift capacity in terms of long-range lift capacity should we have to get our people or troops out of parts of the world quickly because they are in danger. Does the Deputy disagree with any of that?

This is the practical reality of capacity improvements that the commission is asking us to consider and spend money on so that our troops are better equipped, better armed, better protected and have better training facilities and are increased in number so that they can do the job that we ask them to do.

Yes, I have read the report and I disagree with it. I disagree with close to 50 mentions of NATO, all talking about the need for interoperability and so on. That makes me suspicious. I disagree with buying a squadron of jet aircraft or buying warships.

That is not recommended.

It absolutely is recommended in paragraph 6.11. It is recommended; the Government likes to shy away from it. I also see it in a certain context, which is that a war on neutrality is being launched by the Government and by right-wing media commentators. Military spending will be ramped up and as a logical consequence of that, it is going to be used for something. Instead, we are saying that we need to copper-fasten and protect neutrality. We will bring forward a Bill to insert neutrality into our Constitution. I will be interested in the Government's response to that. We think that is a much better way of going than engaging in this arms race that simply cannot be won and the only winner of which is the big military industrial complex.

The report does not recommend that the Government moves to purchase a squadron of fighter aircraft. There are three options for the Government: level of ambition one. which is to stay as we are; level of ambition two, which is to add the kind of capacity that I just put on the record; and level of ambition three, which is to increase military capacity more significantly in line with what most countries, in fact virtually all countries of the EU, have been doing for many years. The recommendation in the report is for us to move to level of ambition two, which is what I itemised a few minutes ago. Let us not get into conspiracy theories about so-called right wing media commentators. I am not quite sure who the Deputy is talking about when he starts using that kind of ideological language. Ireland is rightly having a discussion right now, both publicly and within Government, on how we respond to changing security circumstances across the Continent of Europe, given the brutality and aggression that we are seeing coming from Russia at the moment.

Defence Forces

John Brady


3. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the overseas peacekeeping missions the Defence Forces are currently deployed in; if there are plans to expand these missions; if concerns have been expressed to him in regard to the capacity of the Defence Forces to fulfil their overseas role; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13747/22]

As there is increasing focus on military neutrality, my question is on our position and involvement on peacekeeping missions and our establishment numbers, mandate and responsibilities to these missions. I believe in active neutrality, which means taking active participation in these missions. What impact are the serious challenges around pay and retention having on our capability to honour our commitments to these missions?

I am glad that this question was asked so that I can put some of the data on the record. As of 1 March, Ireland is contributing 569 personnel to nine different missions throughout the world. The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 344 personnel and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria with 132 personnel.

In addition, three personnel are deployed to the MONUSCO stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 14 are in MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali; five are with the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina; 20 are deployed to the EU-led training mission, EUTM Mali; 13 are in the NATO-led mission KFOR in Kosovo; 12 are with UNTSO, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in Israel and Syria; and three personnel are in the EU naval mission, Operation Irini. Ireland also contributes observers and staff to various UN and OSCE missions and personnel to staff appointments at UN, EU, NATO-PfP and OSCE headquarters.

With regard to any future deployments of Defence Forces personnel overseas, Ireland receives requests from time to time regarding participation in various missions and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. The changing nature of demands and potential future mission profiles need to be considered in the context of assets and capabilities that can be made available by the Defence Forces for overseas deployment, given existing operational demands at home and overseas.

I am aware that concerns have been raised, particularly with regard to overseas commitments. In this connection, I can advise that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces jointly review the overseas deployment of Defence Forces personnel on an ongoing basis. Following a review of overseas deployments in 2021, a decision was taken to withdraw two Defence Forces personnel from the MINURSO mission on completion of their tour of duty in July 2021. This decision was taken in order for the Defence Forces to undertake a process of consolidation with regard to their overseas commitments.

We have a very proud tradition of peacekeeping missions around the world, as the Minister noted. Many members of the Defence Forces have volunteered to participate efficiently and effectively in these missions. However, it has become increasingly challenging. Last year, RACO identified key challenges on members of the Defence Forces to volunteer for these missions. They have highlighted this with the Minister and nationally.

This has led to a serious problem where many members of the Defence Forces, because of the shortage of specialist members, such as officers, are now being mandatorily selected for these missions. I ask the Minister to outline the number of Defence Forces members who have been mandatorily selected for these missions, given the challenges they have, like coming back from missions etc.

What is happening with the review process, which is a civil-military process where we are looking at our presence overseas, is we are anticipating that later this decade we would like to be able to have the capacity to make contributions, primarily to UN missions, that are potentially more complex, particularly ones on the continent of Africa that may involve chapter 7 missions. In order to do that, there is of course a lead-in time with equipment, training and so on. It is no secret that because our numbers are not where they should be in the Defence Forces we must, in order to do that, prioritise where we focus those resources and look at our existing peacekeeping footprint around the world. That process is under way. One of the areas under consideration at the moment is Mali. We have two missions there. One is a training mission to which we have just given a renewed mandate for another 12 months. The other is a UN peacekeeping mission. Both are becoming more complicated because France has decided to pull out of Mali. Perhaps I will get a chance to come back on that.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate that but I asked him specifically about the issue of mandatory selection. I asked him recently via a parliamentary question for the number of personnel of all ranks who have been mandatorily selected, those who have appealed the decision and the number of cases that have been upheld. I find it astonishing that information is not looked at or held within the Department in order that it might analyse the key challenges within the Defence Forces. I find that absolutely astonishing. It is true we are 1,000 members below the establishment figure but it is challenging for members of the Defence Forces and their families when they are selected again just after coming off a tour. Due to those challenges some decide to appeal it but we do not keep that information. It is not analysed to see how much of a challenge it actually is. That is a massive failure.

That information is a topic of discussion. When I was in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, the last time, we had a number of conversations on mandatory selection, that is, where people are asked to serve overseas when they have not volunteered to do so. That is because there are pinch points with skill sets and specialists that are needed for overseas missions. That is not an ideal situation and is why, from a recruitment and retention perspective, we must increase the numbers in the Defence Forces overall but also increase specialties in certain areas. There may be a role for the Reserve Defence Force in this space as well, as within it we have significant skill sets that can perhaps plug some of the holes for overseas missions if we have a skill set shortage in a certain area. We would like not to have to ask people to serve overseas on a mandatory basis but in the short term that is necessary for maintaining the operability of some of those missions.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.