It is being done. There are a number of other locations where I would consider the accommodation as most unsuitable and I have stated on a number of occasions that it is my intention to seek to replace all unsuitable married accommodation in all barracks throughout the country, and a very extensive building programme has been undertaken. The planning of the replacement is well under way. Construction of a lot of new houses has already commenced and plans for others are in the pipeline. I see over a period of five years possibly the fulfilment of that commitment on my part to the replacement of all unsuitable married accommodation. It is probably a question of Members of the Oireachtas not being fully aware of what is being done, and I would be happy at any time to supply Deputies or Senators with information if they seek it.
Senator Robinson raised this question in the context of my commitment that adequate and suitable accommodation will be available for the women's service corps when women are being enlisted. This is a matter which needs very full and careful consideration. One of the few problems that face a Minister seeking to include women in the Defence Forces is the question of accommodation. They are entering into an environment which has been male orientated over the past 40 or 50 years, and all of a sudden we have to seek to provide accommodation for women. Without going into very great detail, which I doubt the House wants, I give an assurance that this aspect of the work is being attended to and a lot of preparatory work has been done on it. Locations where accommodation will be required have been identified throughout each command and they have all been listed and all of the OCs either have already taken steps or are about to take steps to make provision for the enlistment of women and the accommodation for them in their barrack areas.
The main recruiting will take place at the Curragh Camp, and there will be new billet and ancillary accommodation provided there for the training of women recruits. Work on that new building is expected to commence next year. Some Senators have queried why provision was not made in the Defence Estimates for this. I am sure Senators will realise that it is not possible to make provision in the Estimates in advance of legislation. I have tried to anticipate legislation and, as far as I can, to advance the matter prior to the legislation being passed, but it would not have been possible to have made substantial provision in last year's Estimates. I have sought and have obtained the authority from the Minister for Finance to proceed with the planning, and the planning in all cases is at a very advanced stage.
A number of Senators queried what type of employment would be available. Again, there is not a final commitment about any decisions that have been made or any indications as to where the members of the women's corps might be employed. The matter has to remain flexible and I have a very open mind on it. I did mention in the other House that there is a very large number of appointments in the Defence Forces and that 80 per cent of them would be suitable for women. Without going down through the long list, one could say that maybe all of them are suitable, provided that they are non-combatant type appointments. I certainly have no hang-ups, ideological, chauvinistic or otherwise, as to what is suitable or unsuitable for a woman. The only criteria that I am applying is that at the moment the policy is not to employ them in a combat role. I have mentioned some posts which have been identified, and these could be changed later on. Examples are military police, driver, printer, radio operator, cine-projectionist, groom, the equitation school—there is absolutely no reason why some of the women's corps should not be employed in that school, photographer, air traffic controller, telegraphists; the list goes on. I want to convince the Senator that it is not the intention that these women will be brought in to do the cooking which unfortunately a lot of males seem to think is the ideal type of employment for these women. Initially I will be overseeing this to ensure that nothing of that kind happens in the early stages. I will assure that there will be a fairly good spread of different types of appointments.
Even though the women will be attached to a corps, it is the intention to assign the members of that corps to different appointments in different commands throughout the country. Appointments will be available at Army Headquarters in Dublin, at Collins Barracks, Griffith Barracks, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Clancy Barracks, McKee Barracks, Baldonnel and Gormanston, all in the Eastern Command. In the Southern Command women will be appointed to posts at Collins Barracks, Cork and in the Western Command at Custume Barracks, Athlone and Dun Ui Mhaoiliosa, Galway. At the Curragh women will be appointed to positions in Ceannt Barracks, Clarke Barracks, McDonagh Barracks, the Military College, Plunkett Barracks, Devoy Barracks, Naas, Kildare Barracks, all in the Curragh Command area.
Senator Dowling referred to the educational opportunities, and I assure him and the House that the educational opportunities available to cadets and to the non-commissioned ranks will be without distinction as to women members, as also will be the opportunities for technical training which are associated with military service. Therefore, women having been recruited, passed out and appointed, will be in a position to avail of a variety of courses, some for a few weeks, some of which last for several months, in the same way as other recruits or young non-commissioned soldiers are availing of them up to now. In the case of cadets the entry educational requirements will be as laid down for male cadets, that is five subjects in the leaving certificate including two honours and two of the five subjects must be mathematics or maths/physics on the one hand or English or Irish on the other. It is the intention that the lady cadets will be able to go on and avail of third level education. Up to recent years it had been the practice that the cadets would do their third level education courses at University College, Galway. I have changed that in the sense that I wish to open up the educational opportunities to a much wider sphere of activity than the courses that are available in Galway.
It would be a retrograde step to continue to have a large number of BAs and B Comms as against the odd one doing engineering, science or other courses. There are courses in the Limerick College of Physical Education and in the regional technical colleges and I do not see any reason why cadets, if deemed suitable and they are agreeable, should not go on and do courses in those colleges. Already we have some cadets attending the college in Limerick and that may expand. People might be surprised that I am taking people away from the Galway college but it is for the benefit of the Army and it will, in the long run, prove very valuable.
Senator Dowling made reference to welfare duties. It is the intention to provide initally four additional officer appointments, one to each command, and the main task of these officers will be to cater for the personal welfare needs of military personnel, both male and female, and their families. The initial intake of officers mentioned in the Dail debate was two. I would like to change that now to possibly four, certainly the two that I mentioned, one to be the director of the women's corps who will hold the rank of commandant and one to hold the rank of captain and to be a training officer, plus two other training officers. Therefore, the initial intake of mature experienced officers on a short-term commission would be four. There may be difficulty in obtaining these people, but certainly it will be very beneficial to the proposal if we are able to enlist four such persons at an early date. Naturally if they are to have had military experience it will be necessary that they come from abroad, unless there is some lady living in Ireland at the moment who has had military experience and is of the rank or capabilities required to help initiate the women's corps. In the main, we expect that we will have to seek these people from abroad and so special conditions of employment will have to be drawn up initially just for them. Once that early stage is overcome there will be an intake of cadets who will integrate into the male cadet class.
Consideration is being given at the moment to putting four young cadets on a 12-months training course abroad so that we will have four experienced people appointed on a short-term basis. We will have four cadets with a certain educational standard who will be able to go abroad, do a 12-months course, come back, be commissioned and take up their role in the women's service corps of training and otherwise. As well as that there will be the introduction of female cadets into the ordinary cadet class.
The House will understand that if lady members of the cadet class were to come in next September they would not be available to the force for possibly four to five years. They would have to complete their commissioning course, their cadet course at the Curragh, and if they opted for third level education they could be away for a further three years. The implementation of all will obviously be slow. Once we have the initial training officers there will be no difficulty in starting off with the first recruiting class of around 20 recruits to be followed at the end of that training period by a further 20 recruits, so, within the first year, we should have possibly 50 members of the corps already enlisted.
Senator Hussey does an injustice in a number of the comments she made. She was not very generous in her comments. She said she owed no allegiance to any army, she has no attachment to any army. I am not too sure what she means, but I hope that all Members of the Oireachtas, and indeed all citizens, would appreciate the valuable role of the Army in modern society. I hope that Members of the Oireachtas, in particular, appreciate the absolute necessity for an efficient and loyal Army at this time. I would have hoped that Members of the Oireachtas would have some understanding of the onerous duties that members of the Army are asked to undertake, not just now and again, not just on a monthly basis but on a weekly basis and on a daily basis, so that the rest of the community can proceed about their business and that peace may reign in this land.
I am sure that all Members of the Seanad are aware of the dangers there are to democracy in this country, of the existence of subversive groups whose one ambition is to destroy the State that has been so carefully constructed since the State was founded. To ensure the continuance of the peaceful democracy we have come to know and love it is necessary for members of the security forces to do very onerous duties. In other words, when the community is in its bed there are men in the Army out on patrol who would be just as pleased to be at home with their families like the rest of the community. This is the reason why I have had to embark upon a recruiting campaign in recent months.
With the general improvement in the economic and employment position and the attraction for members of the Defence Forces to take up positions outside the Army on completion of their fixed period—the minimum period is three years—there has been a substantial increase in the numbers opting out. The overall strength of the Army was dropping. The further it dropped the more onerous the tasks were on those who were serving. That could lead to an absolutely intolerable situation. I appeal to those Senators who have an attachment to the Army, and to those who do not have an attachment to the Army, to recognise the importance of having men in the Defence Forces who are prepared to undertake the vigorous and rigorous duties they are called upon to do in order to ensure the community can carry on its ordinary day-to-day business in peace and without fear. It is a sad reflection on society that this is necessary.
Ours is a defence force. We have no imperialistic, aggressive intentions, and it is a force that is there to protect the community against external aggression. It is important that we maintain an efficient force as a deterrent against possible aggression from outside. It can be seen in the society in which we live today, small though it may be, and it must be contained. Our Army have succeeded successively, with the Garda force and the security forces in general, in containing a situation which could have been explosive, which could have led to disastrous results for this country. I would, therefore, make a personal appeal to all Senators to support the recruiting campaign, whether it is for males or females and that in any contacts they have with groups of people, whether they are young or old, they will at all times speak favourably about the Army, the conditions, display pride in it and encourage young people to join. Some are very anxious to make the Army their life-long career, and there are great opportunities for young men and now for young women to have a military career in the force. There are others who can give very valuable service on a short term, either for three years or for some other length of time. They can decide at the end of three years if they want to stay on.
Happily, the pay situation has been improved very substantially over the past two years and the allowances, which are also available, particularly for security duties and other special duties, now ensure that those who serve in the Defence Forces are paid a remuneration which compares very satisfactorily with anything that is available outside of the Defence Forces. I am happy that that is so. If there are any Members of the House who are in some doubt about the conditions in the barracks I would be happy if they would come forward and I would certainly arrange for them to have a look. There are places where there are bad conditions, but they will be shown that there are plans for improvement. In the main, the conditions are excellent, and that goes across the board, food, accommodation, clothes and the general facilities available. If there are any suggestions as to how they can be improved I would only be too pleased to know of them and to seek to implement them.
Senator Cranitch mentioned the Army School of Music. He will take it from the general tone of what I am saying that it is not intended to debar women from any of the various appointments available in the Army which are of a non-combatant role. The Bill, as it is being presented to the House, will permit of the enlistment of women into all sectors of the Defence Forces including the Army School of Music. When that will be done will depend on developments and how the corps develops. There is no question that they will be debarred from joining.
I am quite disturbed with Senator Hussey's contribution where she said she hoped that no women would join, but then, maybe I should not put too much weight on the words of one Senator, although I would have hoped for unanimity in this matter. If it is any discouragement to her, I would like to inform the House that I announced in the Dáil last week that there was a great interest among women. We had about 850 inquiries from women who wanted to know more about it and who expressed an interest in joining when recruiting started. Since I made that comment another 150 have made inquiries, so the figure is now 1,000. That would fill the establishment figure more than three times over. I am satisfied that we will be able to meet the establishment figure I have mentioned in the initial stages. Obviously there is plenty of room for growth.
Something new was mentioned, paternity leave. I am sure this is something we would all be very interested in. It must be accepted that in fixing the conditions of service of military personnel it is standard practice to take cognisance of the conditions that exist in other public service employments. Paternity leave, unfortunately, is not available elsewhere in the public service. Until such time as it is available, it would be inappropriate for Senators to suggest that it would be introduced in the Army.
An interesting point was raised by Senator Hussey in regard to attendance at annual training. It is a requirement of those who are members of the Reserve Defence Forces, that they come up for annual training. They are paid the going rate for whichever rank they hold during their period of training. This facility will, of course, be available to members of the women's service corps because, as provided for in the Bill they may be enlisted in the reserve Defence Forces and would also have that facility.
I want to deal with one point that Senator Robinson made. She implied that I had surveyed the Defence Forces and identified a number of vacancies that already existed, which might be suitable for members of the women's service corps, that I then earmarked these and decided that we will have a women's corps so that we can fill these vacancies. I fail to understand how anybody could make that point knowing that this commitment to establish the corps was in fact contained in an election manifesto and whatever vacancies existed back in 1975-76-77 would not necessarily be the same vacancies that would obtain now. A feature of Army life, with the availability of short-term enlistment, is that people who are serving today may have completed that service in three to four years' time and others may be occupying the positions that they held. There is a very big turnover of personnel. The vacancies which exist today do not necessarily exist tomorrow. I made the point in the Dáil to illustrate the fact that I was sincere or genuine about my proposal to bring the women in on an equal basis and to integrate them as far as possible. I would not go along with the suggestion made here that the women's service corps should be set up as a completely separate structure with a whole series of new appointments identified and allotted to it different from anything that already exists. That would be creating a kind of freak group within the Army who happen to be women and who could never succeed in gaining the confidence and the admiration of their colleagues in the force because they would be recognised as people who were being treated separately and differently. My plan and intention are that all will be treated equally as far as is practicable and there are positions, which are occupied now by men, which will in the future be occupied by women, that there will be an inter-action between these vacancies and that there will not be positions identified as women's jobs and others identified as men's jobs. I would rather see the situation, as far as is practicable, where the women and the men would inter-change between these positions, that they would be recognised as appointments in the Defence Forces, not male appointments or female appointments, that that distinction and designation would not be made.
I have covered many of the points that were raised. I would like to thank the Senators for the general tone of the debate. I had only one or two criticisms. These may be helpful and there may be some things that need attention in the future. I will certainly have a look at the other points that I may not have dealt with and deal with them in the best way possible. Again, I would like to thank the House for the reception given to the Bill.