Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 5

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Defence Forces

John Brady


6. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the plans that are in place to address the former married quarters housing stock in the Curragh, many of which are lying empty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13232/22]

Patricia Ryan


21. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Defence his plans to bring the derelict homes at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare back into use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13286/22]

I ask the Minister about the many boarded-up houses in the Curragh Camp that were formally used as married quarters. What is the plan for the use of those houses? What is the plan to bring them back into use? Have any conversations taken place about changing the policy or indeed, have any taken place with Kildare County Council with a view to making the houses available to deal with the housing crisis we are experiencing?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 21 together.

The Deputy will be aware the provision of housing for members of the public is a matter primarily for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and my Department assists in any way it can in support of such applications for housing assistance, when requested to do so. Additionally, I point out my Department continues currently to occupy premises in a sympathetic manner on a case-by-case basis.

It has been a long-standing policy to discontinue the provision of married quarters to serving Defence Forces personnel. It is not intended to reverse this long-standing policy which was introduced in the early 1990s and was implemented on a gradual basis in recognition of the sensitivities involved for those personnel and their families.

With regard to former married quarters in the active military installation at the Curragh Camp, the future use of such buildings' facilities is primarily a matter for the Defence Forces to consider in the context of their operational and training requirements. To be clear, it is not intended to reverse the policy on the provision of married quarters. This is particularly relevant in the context of the Curragh Camp which is now a training centre and not a self-contained military community, as was the case in the past. Where appropriate and required it is open to the military authorities to consider their conversion to single living accommodation for serving personnel in the Defence Forces Training Centre. To this end, the Deputy will be aware that I recently announced the biggest allocation for the Defence Forces built infrastructure of €45 million for 2022, of which €35 million is specifically targeted at the progression of major capital projects. A further €10 million is being provided to the Defence Forces on a fully delegated basis for the purposes of maintenance of the current building stock.

I assure the Deputy my Department will continue to resolve matters relating to those overholding in properties in a sensitive manner, particularly those properties that may be occupied by vulnerable persons.

It is absolutely scandalous that in the midst of a housing crisis, any house should be left boarded up and lying vacant. This is especially true when we are dealing with, I believe, between 50 and 60 houses in the Curragh. Many of them have now been lying vacant for 30 years. That is a scandal in its own right. To hear there are absolutely no plans to look at bringing these back into use, either within the Department to be used for members of the Defence Forces or indeed by the local authority, is another scandal.

I have spoken to many members of the Defence Forces. I have spoken to the representative bodies. They said because of the challenges within the Defence Forces, there are many young members who could use that accommodation. That could be when they are coming up for training in the camp. Many officers stationed there for up to a year could utilise that accommodation for their families as well. To hear there is no plan is a massive failure. It is shameful that anyone driving through the Curragh sees between 50 and 60 houses lying vacant in the midst of a housing crisis.

I was asking the same question around the dereliction at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare. I am very disappointed to hear there are no plans. The Minister says it is the policy of the Minister with responsibility for housing but previously the Department of Defence said it had engaged with Kildare County Council about a number of houses in the Orchard Park estate on the Curragh and was prepared to work with the council on some remaining properties. I am asking whether it is in fact prepared to do so. We have a housing crisis in this country and must look at every opportunity available. I am dealing with people on the Curragh Camp and soldiers need homes too. We have 6,600 people on the housing list in County Kildare at present.

When one visits the camp, it is disgraceful to see how badly run down it has become. It was once a vibrant town with many people and a great community. This issue needs to be sorted.

The Curragh Camp is a military training facility and the decision was made many years ago by a previous Government that having married quarters with families on a military training facility was not appropriate. That is not to say that there are not individuals, some of whom are in vulnerable circumstances, still accommodated there. We are trying to deal with that situation and are speaking to Kildare County Council about their needs. That conversation is still open.

Thirty-eight married quarter houses are occupied in the Curragh - 11 are occupied by military and 27 are occupied by overholders. We want to work with them on finding appropriate housing solutions for everyone.

I agree that we need to change the dereliction of the Curragh, and we are changing it. We are investing heavily in the Curragh, but change will not happen overnight. I can outline in some detail the significant amount that we are planning on spending in the Curragh this year and again next year.

The Minister stated that 38 houses were occupied, but his plan is to get everyone out of them and make them derelict as well. He has not answered the question as to how many houses are lying in a state of dereliction. Although we are focusing on the Curragh, I am conscious of the fact that married quarters are being closed down across the State, which means that hundreds of units that were formerly used for housing may be lying vacant now. That there is no plan whatsoever to bring them back into usage is shameful.

Will the Minister outline the total number of current and former residential units in the Curragh? It is all well and good blaming a previous Government for the decision that was taken, but the Minister is in charge now and it is incumbent on him to act and put in place a policy to bring these units back into usage, be it for members of the Defence Forces or for the wider community.

I visited the Curragh Camp three weeks ago and saw the dereliction at first hand. I am sure the Minister has visited it several times. He will be aware of the filling in of the hollow at Donnelly's Hollow there. It seems to contain the remains of demolished buildings, although there has been a cover-up subsequently. I have asked several parliamentary questions on this matter but am not waiting for a reply any time soon.

The Curragh's community has suffered greatly and is now losing a school as well. We have soldiers sleeping in cars because they cannot afford to find anywhere else to live. I ask that this situation be dealt with, please.

If the Deputy has evidence of soldiers sleeping in cars, I would like to hear it. I have heard that accusation before and it has never been followed up with me in terms of details.

I certainly will. That will be no problem.

If she has those details, I would like to speak to the individuals concerned and we will try to work with them.

I have visited the Curragh and will continue to do so regularly, but the Deputies may wish to note that the following major capital projects are planned in the coming years at a combined cost of €32.7 million: the cadet school, which is scheduled to commence this year; engineering stores, scheduled to commence this year; communications and information services, CIS, workshops, scheduled to commence next year; the Army ranger wing headquarters, scheduled to commence in 2023; the military college auditorium suite; a new bonded warehouse; military freefall, MFF, facilities; and a medical school upgrade. We have a substantial plan of works for the Curragh and have in recent years been investing in upgrading buildings there. As the Deputies know, it is a large complex. The overall Curragh military facility is approximately 5,000 acres. We are incrementally going to upgrade the Curragh, deal with dereliction and ensure that it is an appropriate military training facility with a significant military community operating to modern standards.

The Curragh is the headquarters and, in many ways, the flagship of the Army. I am conscious of that. There are too many derelict buildings in the Curragh and we are setting about addressing that, but I do not believe that the way to do so, which seems to be suggested by the Members opposite, is to put more and more housing into the middle of a military training facility. That would not make sense. Previous Governments have agreed with this policy position, unless Sinn Féin proposes to change it.

Asylum Seekers

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill


7. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Defence if the Irish Defence Forces will be involved in supporting refugees arriving from Ukraine in terms of settlement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13364/22]

I wish to ask about the role of the Defence Forces in responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. We have major financial and humanitarian programmes of support, but as we expect more and more people to come to Ireland, I would like the Minister to outline the anticipated role of the Defence Forces in the major logistical programmes of support.

Ireland is continuing to provide strong political and practical support for Ukraine as we continue to assert Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Government has stated that Ireland will play its part in assisting people from Ukraine and has lifted visa requirements to allow people from there who want to seek safety in Ireland to do so as easily as possible.

The European Union has agreed a package of €500 million in military assistance for Ukraine. While Ireland has constructively abstained on the lethal equipment element of that package, we are paying our full share - approximately €10 million - and our funding will go to non-lethal supports. The Taoiseach recently confirmed that the Government would provide a further €10 million in humanitarian aid, adding to the €10 million announced a few days earlier.

The Government acknowledged the scale and scope of the potential implications for the State of the war in Ukraine and agreed that a co-ordinated, whole-of-government response would be essential to minimise those impacts. Discussions have taken place on the humanitarian response required to welcome people from Ukraine fleeing the war and seeking protection in Ireland. Significant planning and preparatory work is taking place across the Government to provide accommodation and other essential supports to those who have arrived here already as well as to the large number of further people expected to arrive. These include preparations on healthcare, education, social welfare and so on. The Government agreed that temporary crisis measures may need to be taken in order to deliver a response to this humanitarian emergency at the scale involved and within the short timeframe in which we have to operate.

As part of these discussions, there has been engagement with my Department and the Defence Forces on land use and temporary shelter options. Logistical support that could be provided by the Defence Forces is also being explored. The Defence Forces, as always, stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary and possible within their capacity and capability. This is an evolving situation but the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence are very much involved in a cross-departmental response that is being assessed on a weekly basis.

I thank the Minister. Throughout my constituency, I am hearing stories of children from Ukraine joining various schools. It is great to hear that this has happened for them so quickly. As I dropped my son off this morning, a young boy was joining junior infants and high-fiving the kids around him. He had settled in nearly immediately. I hope that persists because there will be a very traumatic change for people arriving here and every element of logistical support that can be provided to them to minimise that trauma - the trauma of moving countries, of what they have left behind, of who they have left behind - and make the transition easier and smoother for the children and their families is positive and welcome.

It is good to hear about the cross-departmental work. The best way to think about this is to do so from the perspective of the people arriving - what do they need, how quickly can it be given, what is the package of documents that they need, where do they need to go and how easy can all of that be made? As the Minister mentioned, the Defence Forces have the opportunity to contribute to that logistically.

This is a war-time situation and we need to get into that mindset to make the kind of contribution that Ireland wants to make to these efforts. So far, considerably more than 2 million people have come across the border from Ukraine into the EU, primarily into Poland, but also into Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, all of which border Ukraine. Of course, Moldova is under major pressure as well. That number is likely to continue increasing.

If this war continues, we could see somewhere between 4 million and 6 million refugees coming out of Ukraine into the European Union. Ireland wants to, and will, ensure we are part of those efforts in terms of accommodating Europeans who are fleeing war. That potentially means tens of thousands of people coming to Ireland at a time when we have many pressures of our own in terms of housing need and so on. I believe we are up for that. We are already putting in place solutions that can ensure that people are safe and welcome here.

I, too, believe we are up for that. When one looks back, we have already successfully put in place and operated many major logistical operations. I refer to the vaccination programme and how quickly that had to be mobilised and rolled out from a standing start. We have the capacity to do these different things. We have a little head start in terms of the relatively small numbers of people here now, but that is going to increase over time. The cross-departmental work is going to be crucial to that. Every effort that can be made to activate land use, accommodation and temporary shelters is a big part of that. I welcome the Minister's comments and I thank him for his work.

For me, it was very reassuring to see the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, at Dublin Airport yesterday meeting refugees as they arrived into Ireland. Instead of being asked to fill out forms and show their visas and passports, they were being given toys, mobile phone chargers and SIM cards. This is the message that Ireland wants to send, namely, that we are acting, preparing and resourcing in solidarity with a country that is being torn apart by brutality and an illegal war, which is undoubtedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, in my view, and which will be proven to be the case in time with evidence-gathering and so on. While this war continues and the refugee flows continue, Ireland needs to play its part and we will.

Defence Forces

Fergus O'Dowd


8. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Defence the status of the Commission on the Defence Forces report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13191/22]

Jim O'Callaghan


11. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Defence when he will announce the appointment of the independent chair of the Commission on the Defence Forces implementation body. [13475/22]

Peadar Tóibín


39. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Defence the timeline for the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces by the Government; the recommendations that will be implemented; and the level of capability of the Defence Forces the Government will adopt based on the report. [13159/22]

Cathal Crowe


41. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Defence if he will provide details of the stages that lie ahead in terms of actioning the Commission on the Defence Forces report. [13310/22]

John Brady


53. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the person he intends to appoint to the implementation body for the Commission on the Defence Forces report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13233/22]

Alan Dillon


59. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Defence the next steps regarding the Commission on the Defence Forces report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13330/22]

What is the status of the excellent and very timely report of the Commission on the Defence Forces? This is a very important issue now given the invasion of Ukraine, the concerns worldwide about militarism and the lack of capacity in our own country to defend our shores.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 11, 39, 41, 53 and 59 together.

The Commission on the Defence Forces was established on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government and a Government decision in December 2020, which also agreed its terms of reference and membership. The report was published on 9 February last. The commission undertook a significant body of work encompassing its wide-ranging terms of reference. The report contains 69 main recommendations and, together with subrecommendations, there are 130 recommendations in total. 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 to the Defence Forces' culture, high-level command and control structures, and for the level of defence provision in Ireland. These are matters that 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 that will be required to underpin any changes the Government approves on foot of the commission's report.

I will also be seeking the views of my 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 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 in terms of broader security questions. The intent is that, following relevant consultation and before the summer recess, it is hoped in June, I will revert to 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. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into what will be in that report.

We now have a really good and detailed commission report on the Defence Forces and their future, which is evidenced-based, looks at international benchmarks in an appropriate way, shows up, in my view, a significant underinvestment for decades in the Defence Forces, and capacity constraints and capacity gaps that need to be filled and responded to. For the first time in a very long time, we have a clear set of recommendations that I believe make sense and now need to be turned into a Government action plan for resourcing, change and reform across the Defence Forces. We need to invest in and build a Defence Forces that are fit for purpose now and into the future.

If ever we needed a reminder and a context as to why that is necessary, we see it now in terms of the war in Ukraine, where the security architecture of the Continent of Europe is being turned on its head. We have seen countries like Germany change foreign policy and defence policy overnight. We are seeing countries like Sweden and Finland seriously considering NATO membership for the first time with the support of the majority of their populations. Like other countries, Ireland needs to consider its place in the European Union, how we deal with defence issues, how we assess what is neutrality and military non-alignment today in the context of EU security, Irish security and the well-being of Irish people, and how we do that in the context of new and developing threats such as, for example, cyberthreats, which ten years ago were a non-issue but now probably are the most significant threat we face. In the middle of the pandemic we had a cyberattack on our health system that put lives at risk and cost the State well over €100 million to resolve and which is still not fully resolved. We face a combination of new types of threats, a changing geopolitical situation and far less stability on the Continent of Europe in terms of basic security but, in my view, there is a resolve and a new determination within the European Union to address and protect the kind of quality of life we expect and have built over the past five decades or so together within the European Union, which quite frankly is literally under attack right now with bombs, bullets and bloodshed.

With all of that in mind, we need to have a mature and evidence-based discussion on how Ireland moves forward in this space. The combination of that new context as well as probably the most significant report on defence in my lifetime, which I have now in front of me with a set of very clear recommendations, can, I hope, allow us to make informed policy choices and resourcing choices before the summer recess in terms of how we progress the defence agenda. I hope we will be able to achieve cross-party support for that. This is about designing a Defence Forces and a defence policy for the next 20 or 30 years. It is not just about the lifetime of one Government or one political party's view. That is the way I will be approaching it.

The Minister outlined clearly the priorities, namely, the security of our State, our capacity to defend ourselves against external threat and, particularly important right now, the security of Europe. I welcome the Minister's commitment to come back to the House before the summer recess with a level of ambition which we will all, it is hoped, agree and support fully and will, I presume, include a commitment to increasing our defence spend significantly.

We cannot allow Russian warships to enter Irish-controlled waters, as they did recently, as we look on in astonishment rather than act in a military capacity to deter them should they attempt to do further or other acts.

We cannot be the weak spot in Europe. We cannot be the place where the vector of attack will come to attack the rest of Europe. I fully support a proper and appropriate debate. A citizens' assembly would make a lot of sense to discuss the implications.

I commend the members of the Commission on the Defence Forces for producing such a thorough report. It is a credible and realistic report. It is credible because it highlights the significant lack of funding that has been put into our Defence Forces and how this needs to be rectified. The report is also realistic because it recognises Ireland never wants to be, and never will be, a heavily militarised state. I believe this represents the views of the majority of the people.

The report sets out a timeline of 2025 as a reasonable target date for the delivery of the transformation. Page 146 of the report sets out some steps that need to be taken relatively urgently by the Government. Although I would recommend and agree that the Department and the Defence Forces be consulted for their views, it is important we do not get engaged in too lengthy a debate. I ask the Minister to proceed with the appointment of an implementation oversight group, the appointment of an independent chair, the establishment of an implementation management office, and the appointment of external change management support.

There is a lot of focus here on neutrality and what neutrality means to people. This comes on the back of the horrendous actions in Ukraine. This report is also being used to further that political conversation. The underinvestment in our Defence Forces by successive governments, including this Government, has eroded what Ireland is supposed to be, which is militarily neutral. I would call out not just the Russians for using our waters but also the British, and the Americans for using Shannon Airport. If Ireland is neutral, then neutral means neutral against all countries and their militaries. We need to have that conversation but neutrality needs to be invested in. Neutrality comes at a cost. This is why the commission report is so important. Critical to that is the implementation of the report. Will the Minister clarify who will be appointed as the independent chair and will he also clarify the make-up of the implementation body?

I commend the Minister and the commission on its work on the independent commission's report on the Defence Forces, and the commitment of the Government to ensure the Defence Forces are fit for purpose in the immediate term and seeking to develop a long-term vision beyond 2030.

There have been calls for quick movement on the recommendations within the report, and I am aware the Minister is keen to do so, where possible, while understanding there are significant recommendations that must be discussed and considered fully and their possible implications examined. Will the Minister provide some detail on how he intends to move forward with the report? Will he also look at how the recommendations that will impact significantly on current governance structures will be overcome?

There are a lot of questions there and I will try to get through them as quickly as I can. Deputy O'Dowd asked about the security of the State, the security of Europe, and Ireland's commitment to it. These are all very important questions

Neutrality does not mean we stay out of these debates. Deputy Brady has just said that neutrality means against all countries and against their militaries, equating the UK, the US, and Russia as if they were all in the same space. That is not neutrality to me, just to be clear.

They are using our airspace.

Neutrality and military non-alignment to me mean that Ireland decides when and where we intervene, who we partner with, and what side we take on debates and in conflicts and so on. We decide and we are not tied into those positions by alliances we have signed up to. That is what non-alignment and military neutrality is for me. On the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are not neutral. We have made it very clear we are taking sides here, from a humanitarian point of view and from a military support point of view, to allow Ukrainians to defend themselves, as best we can. Ireland is making a modest contribution towards those efforts. It is important to put some of those issues on the record.

I will come back to the other points.

I welcome the Minister's comments. I must say to Deputy Brady over there that you raised funds in New York. I do not know if you raised them in Moscow. The reality is I would very much welcome American-----

I never raised funds anywhere.

I did not interrupt Deputy Brady.

I never raised funds anywhere. The Deputy needs to withdraw that comment.

Your party does. Your party raised a lot of money from the United States-----

The Deputy has made an accusation.

-----and I am quite sure that some of the companies in the defence business contribute to your accounts as well.

The Deputy is accusing the military industry of funding my account.

Not your accounts. Your party; your Sinn Féin account.

The Deputy said my account.

We cannot be neutral-----

The time is running on and we are not given extra time.

I want to make it very clear-----

That is okay but Deputy O'Dowd has made a specific point in relation to Deputy Brady. Deputy O'Dowd might withdraw that, please.

Obviously I am not talking about his personal account. I am talking about his political party fundraising.

That is just false as well. The Deputy is talking rubbish.

I just want to make the point that we cannot be neutral about the threats to our State. We cannot say "No" to our defence and to be part of the defence of Europe.

We will move on. Perhaps Members could use the time for the questions. It is up to them but the time is running.

I ask the Minister to take on board what is contained in page 146 of the report that refers to the fact that, "During the course of its work, the Commission encountered significant scepticism from military personnel, representative associations and concerned members of the public about the likelihood of the recommendations of this report being fully implemented." The Minister is the only person who can answer that scepticism and convince the members of the commission and the public this is going to be different. There have been reports that have simply gathered dust on shelves. There is a complete recognition now, and not just as a result of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia but also in terms of an objective assessment of Ireland's military capacity, that we need to do more. We need to strengthen our Defence Forces and we need to do it in a variety of ways, as recommended by the commission.

On the point of neutrality, I do not believe we should necessarily integrate both topics into the one debate, but neutrality does not mean as a country that we are neutered. We have strong political opinions in this country and it is important our Government expresses them. The Minister has expressed it. We need to condemn continually the illegal, unlawful and brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I asked a question. Can I come back on that?

I ask the question on the implementation of this report because it needs to be a pivot point in the funding of our Defence Forces to stop the haemorrhaging of members from them. Implementation will be key, which needs a very strong implementation body. The independence of the chair to be appointed to that body will also be key, and critical to that body are the representative organisations such as PDFORRA, RACO and the Reserve Defence Force representative body, so that their voices are heard and are able to be articulated on that implementation body. Will the Minister give a commitment that those bodies will be represented on the implementation body once it is established?

On a day that an expert-led discussion on cybersecurity is happening in Dublin around new attack vectors and around geopolitical tension, I draw the Minister's attention to how we should be significantly strengthening the military intelligence and cyber defence capabilities of our Defence Forces. The commission believes cyberspace is a dynamic and rapidly evolving area and will be a key military domain in the period to 2030 and beyond. I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on the joint cyber defence command managing cyber defence, defence IT services, encountering of hybrid aggression, and emergent technology.

I thank the Minister for his response. In recent decades we have been very much at peace with our geopolitical system and we have not yet felt any threat whatsoever. We are on notice now that everything is different and will be different for the decades to come. We must respond differently and this commission's report is a timely intervention in that.

Deputy O'Callaghan said this is ultimately up to the Minister, but there is a broad swathe of political opinion and political support developing for the sorts of changes that are needed, while recognising the resource implications involved. What I am hearing from my constituency and the people I represent is a very strong desire that Ireland be capable of protecting itself, its people, its cybersecurity and its territory. We will consider whatever happens after that, but as a baseline we need to be sure we are able to protect ourselves. We are on notice now, in a way we never were before, that our previous assumptions about how we might be protected in the event of some aggression are finished.

I hope the Acting Chair will give me a little extra time given the number of Deputies in this grouping. The scepticism around whether this report will be implemented in full is fair. Even though there is a significant body of work on this and most people I have spoken to accept it is necessary to implement these recommendations now, there is understandable scepticism because this would mean a complete change in the setting of the resource base for defence, that is, where we start from. Effectively, the report is recommending we move to an increased level of ambition but it is still relatively modest. The report looked at seven or eight peer group countries that are similar to Ireland in population, wealth, defence concerns and so on, and it is proposing we move from where we are at the moment, which is spending about a third of what they spend on defence, to spending about half of what they spend. That was even before Ukraine. It recommends we have a longer and more considered discussion as to whether to move beyond that to the third level of ambition, which some people are advocating for now given the new security concerns coming from the east.

No part of the report is suggesting Ireland become a militarised country by international standards. The recommendation is we move to half of the resourcing norm across Europe, have basic military capacity and plug gaps that are itemised quite clearly. That includes, as Deputy Dillon noted, looking seriously at significantly strengthening the military intelligence and cybersecurity capacities of the Defence Forces, such as through the creation of a joint cyber defence command. That is a very strong recommendation we need to deliver on in quite a comprehensive way and as a priority.

On the process for how we will move on this, my Department, in consultation with the Defence Forces and other stakeholders, needs a number of months to get its head around how to implement change on this scale. It is not just about financial resourcing. It is also about a very fundamental restructuring of the Army, completely changing how the Naval Service operates in terms of double-crewing, which effectively means adding significant numbers to the Naval Service, and looking at a series of changes in the fundamental capacity of the Air Corps. All of that takes time to plan for. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Taoiseach's office have to be involved in those discussions as well because this is a Government decision about the country fundamentally changing the way we approach defence from a resourcing point of view. It is a question of how we plan for that over a decade, not just over a year. I hope to be able to bring that forward in June for consideration. I look forward to bringing the matter back to this House and not only getting Government support but support from other parties in this House as well.

Departmental Expenditure

Gino Kenny


9. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Defence if he will provide details in tabular form of Ireland’s procurement of military equipment from Israel between 2019 and 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13468/22]

Deputy Paul Murphy is taking this question in place of Deputy Gino Kenny.

I ask the Minister for the up-to-date figures on the arms trade between Ireland and Israel, which is shameful. It goes from Ireland to Israel in the form of dual-use goods and it goes from Israel to Ireland in the form of weapons that have been battle-tested on Palestinian civilians.

The principle of competitive tendering for Government contracts is used by the Department of Defence for the acquisition of defensive equipment for the Defence Forces. This is an EU law requirement in accordance with the defence and security directive. Central to those procedures is the requirement to allow fair competition between suppliers through the submission of tenders following advertising of the tender competition on the eTenders site and on the Official Journal of the European Union, where appropriate. Such tender competitions are open to any company or country, subject to the terms of all UN, OSCE and EU arms embargoes or restrictions. There are no such restrictions or embargoes in place on Israel or Israeli companies at the moment.

I am advised the Department of Defence has purchased defensive equipment from Israeli companies as set out in value terms in the following table. The expenditure primarily relates to ground surveillance radars, engineering equipment, fire control systems and the upgrade of the unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the Defence Forces. During this period no equipment has been purchased directly from the State of Israel. However, in 2021, engineering, or non-lethal, equipment was purchased from Israeli Military Industries, which is understood to be wholly owned by the State of Israel.

The expenditure on equipment that came from Israeli companies is as follows:











In expenditure terms, these are relatively small amounts of money for non-lethal equipment, mainly in the protective and information space from an engineering perspective, such as fire control systems, surveillance radar systems and so on.

That is €1.7 million or so in the past three years to Israeli armaments companies.

They are not armaments companies.

They are Israeli companies that are providing military equipment to the Irish State.

It is not arms though, to be clear.

I have a couple of questions. The Minister says there is no arms embargo. Does he agree there should be an arms embargo on a state that has been defined as an apartheid one by Amnesty International? It has been defined by it as operating a racist and cruel system of apartheid within the State of Israel, within the occupied Palestinian territories in Gaza, and against the millions of Palestinians exiled in the Palestinian diaspora. Just a minute ago, the Minister made the point that Ireland is a neutral state, which means we get to choose whose side we are on and are not bound by any alliances and so on. In that case, let us have an arms embargo on Israel and let us say clearly we are on the side of the Palestinian people who are being oppressed by the Israeli state.

As the Deputy knows, Ireland does not decide on arms embargoes. The trade policy of the European Union is decided collectively. It is proposed by the Commission and debated by member states. We had a very good debate on the Amnesty International report in this House last week. There was also a debate on it in the Seanad. It highlights many very important issues that Ireland continues to bring to light and focus on. Ireland is the most vocal country in the European Union with regard to the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, focusing on the expansion of settlements, settler violence, forced evictions, illegal activity and so on. We are constant and consistent in our criticism of such illegal activity. We do not decide unilaterally on arms embargoes. The Deputy knows that, or at least he should.

It is a clear question. Is the Minister in favour of an arms embargo on Israel? That is what Amnesty International recommends. Is the Minister in favour of it or not? He made a clear statement earlier that the Government is on the side of Ukraine against Russia. That is okay. I am also for the defeat of the Russian invasion in Ukraine and for its repulsion by the Ukrainian people. Will the Minister make a similar statement about Palestine and say the Irish Government is on the side of the Palestinian people against the Israeli state?

I ask the Minister to make a similar statement. He is saying there is nothing stopping us and that is not what neutrality is about and so on. Let us make such a statement and as part of that let us say that it is horrendous to have an arms trade with a racist and apartheid state that is guilty of killing 9,000 Palestinian civilians in the past two decades, including 1,000 children. Let us speak out against that and take the side of the oppressed as opposed to the oppressor. Is the Minister in favour of an arms embargo? Will he clearly say that the Irish State is on the side of the Palestinians against Israeli oppression?

Ireland has not made any proposal to place an arms embargo on Israel. What we are doing and will continue to do is speak to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to try to advance a peace process that is desperately needed. We have continued to do that and we have called out illegality when it has taken place. I have been clear, and at times, quite forceful, in my criticism of the Israeli Government’s policy towards Palestinians and I have invested a lot of time, on behalf of this House and the Irish people, into ensuring that Ireland is a relevant contributor to that debate. This is about trying to find a way forward for a peace process that can allow for a two-state solution that can ensure the Palestinians can realise their right to a state of their own. That is our focus and it will continue to be our focus.

Defence Forces

Paul McAuliffe


10. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Defence the use that the Defence Forces are currently making of the Glen of Imaal. [13295/22]

Part of the Glen of Imaal is in my constituency and I ask the Minister for an update on how the Defence Forces use it.

The Glen of Imaal is the primary field firing and tactical training asset for the Defence Forces. These lands are the main training and largest live firing range areas at their disposal. This training areas has been in continuous use for over a century and remains so to this day. The facility consists of lands in the Glen of Imaal, including the air firing range and the Coolmoney Camp. The training area is in constant use for troop exercises such as overseas readiness, casualty evacuation and air firing involving both the Army and the Air Corps. I am advised by the military authorities that in the coming weeks the planned occupancy rate will range from 70% to 100%, with a slight dip in usage during the summer and then returning to 100% usage from September onwards. To reiterate and for the avoidance of any doubt, the Glen of Imaal is the primary field and firing and tactical training area and is the only range capable of accommodating many Defence Forces weapons systems. It is not intended to change its status as the primary training land bank for the Defence Forces but I can go into more detail on that if the Deputy wants.

I have no further questions. If the Minister wants to elaborate on it he can take my time.

It might be helpful to give the House a sense of the scale there. The entire training lands contain some 6,700 acres and it is the biggest land holding in the defence portfolio. The Glen of Imaal is the primary training land bank in the country. We have other significant land banks and training centres but nothing as big as the Glen of Imaal. There may have been some suggestions that we could use part of that land bank and facility for housing accommodation.

It is very remote.

That is probably not appropriate, it is remote and the dormitory-style facilities at the camp are not appropriate for families as they have collective shower facilities and so on. That is not an option but it is an important part of our defence land bank infrastructure.

Just in case the Department’s officials were trying to figure out what motivated the question, it really was as innocent as it stated and I wanted an update on its use. The answer is comprehensive and useful from an information point of view.

We will go back to Question No. 5.

Defence Forces

Ruairí Ó Murchú


5. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Defence the time frame for consideration of the development of an Irish radar surveillance capability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13539/22]

I thank the Acting Chairman for facilitating me. The timeframe for the consideration of the development of the radar surveillance capability that we are lacking became evident when we had the threat of manoeuvres by the Russian military. There has been much conversation on the criminal invasion of Ukraine by the Russians and the particular circumstances we are in. I mention the capacity that we will require into the future. We know there is a fear of hybrid cyberattacks and whatever else that we will be facing in the future.

I know people link the radar capacity with Russian naval military manoeuvres but we knew all about those manoeuvres. The Russians informed us and looked for permission. They informed the Irish Aviation Authority, which is what happens when a military wants to engage in manoeuvres in international waters that we are responsible for. That is not to say there is not an issue with primary radar; there is.

The equipment development plan for the Defence Forces was published in June 2020 and was completed following extensive military work. It provides a comprehensive list of planned equipment projects which will be progressed over five years. This plan builds on the intentions set out in the White Paper on equipment acquisition, modernisation and upgrade. It was developed to ensure that our Defence Forces have the major equipment platforms, ancillary equipment and force protection equipment which are necessary to carry out their important roles both at home and overseas. I am advised by the military authorities that the Defence Forces operate many different types of radar systems. Existing capabilities available to the Army include radar systems such as the Giraffe Mk4 short-range air defence system and the Foxtrack X-Band ground surveillance radar. The Air Corps uses surface search radar on the CASA 235 maritime patrol aircraft and all aircraft are fitted with a transponder and an automatic identification system for identification and tracking. The Naval Service uses maritime surface search radar and the recognised maritime picture systems for surveillance and tracking.

There is a range of further detail on equipment that I could outline to the Deputy but his core question is on the primary radar capacity for monitoring and understanding what is in Irish or Irish-controlled airspace off our west coast. This has been a question that continues to be asked. The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces recommends that we should deal with that by providing increased resources and that we should put that capacity in place. I do not disagree with that and this issue was also raised during the White Paper process. However, it was subject to the availability of resources because if one is going to spend money on that one has to reduce one's spend in other areas. I hope we will be able to progress with increasing that capacity but it involves more resources.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire and I welcome the answer. There will be general agreement on the necessity involved in this. When I spoke of the Russian manoeuvres I did so from the point of view that it highlighted the issue in the public domain; I get that they told us about them beforehand. Following that we had the Irish Aviation Authority before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and there is the scenario whereby it is given certain information by its equivalent in Britain, which is informed by the British military and the Royal Air Force. There is a capacity failing in that and that goes to the wider question of what neutrality means and the fact that we need to have capacity in order to be neutral.

I will digress slightly to the wider question of the threat we are under, which has been mentioned earlier, that is, cyber and hybrid attack. I know the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC, gave out particular guidance to companies because it felt there is a higher threat. What is the situation with the Defence Forces and what is the action plan for the near future?

The issue of primary radar has been under discussion since 2015. When I was last in this portfolio and when Deputy Kehoe was Minister for Defence we were both involved in that discussion. Plans have been put in place but it is primarily a resourcing issue. We have a lot of capacity gaps such as long-range strategic lift capacity and the need to invest more in cyber protection and primary radar. There are a range of other capacity resource issues.

That is what the commission was put in place to address. We have recommendations now so it is up to the Government and me to respond to that.

On the primary role of the Defence Forces on cybersecurity, the NCSC is primarily the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and not the Department of Defence. Our primary responsibility is to make sure that our defensive and military systems are protected from cyberattack and we review that regularly.

I will allow the Minister to expand on that. The only question I have is on the wider issue of cyber-meets-hybrid and the new world in which we are living and the new threat we are facing. I accept that he cannot go into absolute detail on it, but will he give whatever information he can about the preparations being carried out? Deputies Brady and O'Rourke and I went to a conference about hybrid and cyber attacks, which I was delighted to attend. It was at the time of the invasion and the head of the NCSC decided not to go because he obviously had far more important issues to deal with that day. Will the Minister provide information about where the Defence Forces are on cyber-meets-hybrid?

The Government has been doing a lot in this space in recent years and a number of Departments are contributing to that. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, under the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is the primary Department involved, but the Defence Forces contribute to that. We have Defence Forces personnel at the NCSC. On a European level, there is also an awful lot of sharing of information. There is a centre of excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, for cybersecurity. We have seconded a person from the Defence Forces to that facility in terms of gaining knowledge. For a number of years, the Defence Forces and the State more generally have been increasing the resourcing of our cybersecurity defence capacity, and we continue to do that. The Defence Forces has a dual role here. We have to make sure that our systems are protected within the defence networks and, of course, we have to contribute to tackling the broader challenges the country faces. There is a lot of focus on that within the Government at present.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 8.

Defence Forces

John Lahart


12. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Defence his views on and response to the finding of the Commission on the Defence Forces that it is clear, in relation to the Defence Forces, that there are recurring themes and specific HR-related issues that are a source of considerable frustration and, in some cases, exasperation; and that among the issues raised are those concerning aspects of career progression, career planning, the lack of a modern organisational perspective on worklife balance, the criteria surrounding pensions and extensions of contractual service, and the lack of flexibility within the current establishment. [13220/22]

Some of the findings and recurring themes in the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces relate to human resources issues that are a source of considerable frustration in terms of career planning and progression, as well as the lack of a modern organisational perspective on work-life balance. Will the Minister accept that this is corrosive to the morale of the Defence Forces, as is the lack of investment? What steps are being taken in the context of the commission? What can he tell the House about how these issues will be addressed in a positive way?

The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces contains many detailed recommendations. As I outlined earlier, a process is under way to consider these recommendations in consultation with Government colleagues. However, I take this opportunity to assure the Deputy that the Permanent Defence Force continues to offer excellent career opportunities for both serving personnel and new entrants. Of course, we have seen examples of what should not be happening, but there are many good things happening as well.

The military authorities have advised that leadership and career training is provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are prepared for exercising command authority across the full range of military functions, both at home and overseas in international operations, and that the organisation has the necessary pool of leaders and commanders at all levels. I understand there were a total of 376 promotions in the Permanent Defence Force across all ranks in 2021, and there have been a further 64 promotions, again across all ranks, in the Permanent Defence Force to date in 2022, that is up to the middle of February.

The Defence Forces recognises the value of the individual to the organisation and has already undertaken a number of measures to enhance the work-life balance of service personnel. A number of family-friendly overseas appointments for personnel have been introduced where the normal six-month tour of duty can be shared with another member of the Defence Forces resulting in a three-month deployment. The Defence Forces have also placed a renewed focus on members whose spouse or partner is also in the organisation, with a view to ascertaining how they can be assisted when their spouse or partner is deployed away from home.

In addition, a range of harmony measures are being explored and implemented, including hot-desking for certain enlisted and commissioned personnel who have been posted away from their home addresses. In certain non-command appointments, such personnel can work several days a month in a military location closer to home. I will come back on the issues that are not yet resolved, but it is important to say there are positive changes.

I want to give the Minister the opportunity to demonstrate that. I was fortunate enough in a previous career to see at first hand some of the work our Defence Forces do, much of which goes unsung. The piece I witnessed was in their UN capacity, redrawing and actually plotting out the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. One of the issues I have found is that the public has no comprehension of the range of duties and functions the Defence Forces carry out. I have never encountered a finer body of men and women.

The commission suggested there were issues of frustration around career progression, pensions and extension of contractual service. The Minister might speak about the extension of contractual service and the lack of flexibility within the establishment. I will not come back in a second time so he may use all the time for this. Many of us know, as public representatives, that when people retire from the Defence Forces, the roles they take up in the private sector or other services are vital. Clearly, they still have much to give.

The commission report did not pull any punches in regard to HR management in the Defence Forces. Even though some of the examples that I outlined are very welcome and necessary, in regard to trying to change the culture and approach towards staffing in the Defence Forces, a more fundamental change is needed in terms of culture, particularly towards women and other minorities, in the Defence Forces. Only 7% of our Defence Forces personnel are women. That is not where we need to be. The commission report stated that a target should be set of 35%, or more than one third, of our Defence Forces as women, as well as setting a whole series of recommendations for us in how to achieve that.

Cases of bullying and sexual harassment in the Defence Forces have been exposed very publicly. We need to have zero tolerance of such behaviour, which is totally unacceptable. There is an independent piece of work under way, led by a High Court judge, which will put practical recommendations to me in terms of how we respond to that. Change is happening, which is welcome, but there are problems that need to be addressed in terms of a fundamental cultural change in the Defence Forces. That is also a big part of the commission report. Let us not forget that three chapters of the commission report deal with people and HR. Therefore, it is a significant part of the report and we need to deliver on it.

Questions Nos. 13 and 14 replied to with Written Answers.

Defence Forces

Catherine Connolly


15. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary question No. 122 of 27 January 2022, the status of the independent review to examine the effectiveness of the policies, systems and procedures currently in place for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Defence Forces; the progress reports received to date by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13308/22]

Emer Higgins


23. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the work that has been carried out to address gender-based issues and concerns within the Defence Forces. [13478/22]

Matt Carthy


24. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Defence the engagements he has had in the past month with regard to the proposed establishment of a commission or statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment within the Defence Forces. [12557/22]

Matt Carthy


47. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Defence if he will establish a statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12556/22]

May I have a minute and I will forsake any further contribution as I suspect we will not have time for it? I have the advantage of having read the written reply. My question is about the status of the independent review to examine the effectiveness of the policies and procedures for dealing with bullying etc. in the Defence Forces. The review was announced on 25 January, when the three-person membership was also set out. The terms of reference state that a work plan is to be produced within 30 days of the appointment of the group. Has that plan been produced? How many times has the group met? Has there been a monthly report? The Minister's reply states that he received an initial report confirming that work within the agreed terms of reference is under way. That is too vague given the seriousness of this and the fact that the Women of Honour are not participating.

We need to restore trust. A work plan was to be produced within a month. Has it been produced? Have there been any monthly reports to date or anything else specifically under the terms of reference?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 23, 24 and 47 together.

My understanding is that the work plan has been completed. I am very careful to ensure that this report remains distant from the Minister so that it is seen genuinely as an independent report, which it needs to be. Even though this process and the people who are leading it have much support in terms of existing Defence Forces personnel and also some former Defence Forces personnel, it is regrettable that the Women of Honour group has not supported this approach. I hope it will interact with the judge and her team because this is a very genuine and serious effort to produce recommendations that can fundamentally change culture within the Defence Forces. I am available at any time to talk about that with any group, including the Women of Honour group if it wants to do so. This report is progressing, however. We have asked, as part of the terms of reference, that they would provide an interim report to me within six months and finalise their work within 12 months. I certainly hope that we will be on schedule for those commitments.