That the Minister for Defence report on the progress of his modernisation programme for the Defence Forces and that he outline his proposals for the future development of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. It is opportune to review what has taken place in the last few years under the stewardship of this Minister and Government. It is important to note the vast improvements made not alone in the equipping of the Defence Forces but in the lifestyle expectations of anyone embarking on a career in the military service. In that context it is appropriate to refer to the White Paper which sets out the policy for defence for the next decade with a view to ensuring an appropriate level of defence capability, having regard to the changing defence and security environment both at home and abroad.
Chapter 1 sets out the overall context in which the White Paper was prepared. It provides for the restructuring and reorganisation of defence within the existing broad level of resources to ensure the State has the Defence Forces it needs. This builds on the progress already achieved since 1996 with the existing reform programme to develop sustainable and affordable Defence Forces in the long term. The key goals of the White Paper development programme are to provide a light infantry based force with an appropriate level of all arms capability, to provide sufficient forces and capability to meet needs at home and to make a significant contribution abroad, to put in place a more cohesive and better equipped force than exists at present and to provide significant additional resources regarding equipment and infrastructure broadly within the existing level of financial allocation.
These goals require the creation of a balanced and flexible military organisation which has sufficient depth in terms of personnel, doctrine, training, organisation and equipment to meet expected future needs. The current organisation provides a strong starting point but a broad process of continuous change will be needed to ensure the State has an effective and efficient defence capability relevant to its needs. This poses a demanding management challenge. However, the Defence Forces have shown in the past that they have never been slow to meet a challenge and have always had the "can-do" approach necessary to meet this challenge.
Chapter 2 describes the defence and security environment which is regarded as generally benign. At the international level, significant changes have taken place since the end of the Cold War, giving rise to new challenges. These changes are accompanied by developments at the institutional and political levels. The EU response to the new environment includes provision for Petersberg Tasks in the Treaty of Amsterdam. In the home context, the progress under the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent political developments continue to offer firm hope for a lasting peace, I hope that continues to be the case.
Chapter 3 describes defence policy. There will be a continuing need to ensure that Ireland has conventionally organised Defence Forces capable of operating alongside military forces from other countries in a peace support role and of responding to the uncertainties and challenges of the changing environment. Chapter 4 sets out major new plans for the development of sustainable and affordable Defence Forces to ensure that they are capable of meeting the challenges of the emerging defence and security environment and to fulfil the roles laid down by the Government. This will involve the provision of a Permanent Defence Force of 10,500 personnel, a reduction of 1,000, and the conversion of over £20 million in resources from the pay to non-pay areas. In addition to these pay savings, extra resources will also be generated from the sale of properties outside of barracks which are surplus to requirements. Together this represents an investment fund of £250 million for new equipment and infrastructure, a far cry from what we were used to in the past when we were the poor relations among our EU counterparts when it came to defence, and defence equipment in particular.
The Air Corps and the Naval Service will be developed and new equipment provided. The policy of continuous recruitment will be maintained and a new personnel management development programme will be put in place to ensure that a career in the Defence Forces is attractive.
Chapter 5 describes the development of the Defence Forces Reserve. An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, or FCA, will become the Army Reserve, as the FCA wished, and together with An Slua Muirí, the Naval Reserve, it will be developed and improved.
Implementation of the White Paper is well under way. The Chief of Staff is currently preparing a plan to restructure the PDF in accordance with the Government's decision on overall numbers. The Minister's intention is to have the plan finalised and implemented by end 2001 in accordance with established Government policy.
The White Paper recognises the importance of the career dimension and provides for the preparation of an updated and very comprehensive Defence Forces integrated personnel management plan to address this and related issues. The Chief of Staff is currently drafting that plan and the process is well advanced. A key feature of the plan will be a continuation of the policy of regular recruitment which is now in place in order to achieve an improved age profile in the Permanent Defence Forces.
Implementation plans are being put in place for the Air Corps and Naval Service, including new organisation structures and investment in new ships and new aircraft. Proposals for the development of the Reserve, including the FCA, are being advanced through a countrywide consultation process including that Reserve.
We hope to have the implementation plan early next year providing for new organisational structures, better training, better equipment and the possibility of overseas service. It is expected that the plan will have a six year timeframe due to the complexities involved, In the latter context, £400,000 has been spent recently or is committed to Columb Barracks, Mullingar.
As implementation of the White Paper proceeds, its critics are seeing that they got it wrong and that the process has real value. I understand that the Minister will explain the White Paper and modernisation process in more detail and I look forward to that. The Minister will also address the area of the evolving European Security and Defence Policy, or ESDP, and the Partnership for Peace. Our involvement in these is often misrepresented, sometimes through a genuine lack of understanding and sometimes by those with a particular political agenda who take a perverse view of the European Union and our place in it. It is important as we face into the ref erendum on the Treaty of Nice that we get our message across so that people can make up their minds on the facts and not because of some misrepresentation of those facts.
The fact is that the Treaty of Nice poses no threat either to our long-standing commitment to the UN in the cause of international peace nor does it, or our involvement in the ESDP or PfP, pose any threat to our policy of strict military neutrality. The Minister for Defence and the Government will advocate a strong "Yes" vote in the referendum on the Nice treaty.
This debate gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women of our Defence Forces for the excellent work they have done and continue to do at home and abroad. The foot and mouth crisis is a good example of the contribution the Defence Forces make at home. The Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, has used a pro-active and hands-on approach to set the headlines. It makes me proud to stand here today to say that this Minister serves in a Government which has done well to keep this abhorrent curse from our shores. We commend all who have helped to achieve this.
The Defence Forces, together with Department of Agriculture officials, the Garda Síochána, Civil Defence, responsible farmers and the people of Ireland in general have made enormous efforts to ensure the disease does not spread. Members of the Defence Forces have been rendering assistance to the civil authorities by operating additional checkpoints along the Border area with members of the Garda Síochána; they are also assisting in the port of Dublin. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the important contribution of the Defence Forces to the national effort in trying to curb the spread of foot and mouth disease.
It is also important to note that we need to sustain the improvement in our Naval Service to protect our fish stocks. The Air Corps must be financed to ensure it is able to supply a much needed service when called upon. It is always there to step into the breach when required.
The overseas picture is one of considerable achievement when we consider Ireland's record of United Nations service. A high price has been paid by the men and women of the Defence Forces while on active service for the UN. I regret that 82 members of the Defence Forces lost their lives on peacekeeping duties, including 44 in Lebanon. This is the highest price a country can be called on to pay in defence of peace and justice and a price that has been paid courageously and with great honour by the Defence Forces.
For a small country, our Defence Forces have earned an unrivalled reputation as peacekeepers in south Lebanon, Congo, Cyprus, East Timor, Kosovo and other places of conflict around the world. In each of these areas it has been proved that our Defence Forces make a real difference. I know the modernisation programme will ensure we can continue to make that difference. It is important to note there were 867 members of the Irish Defence Forces serving overseas on 3 May 2001.
It would be remiss of me not to compliment the Defence Forces and especially Deputy Michael Smith who, in four years as Minister for Defence has brought about great changes and given the Army a new lease of life, not that it needed one. Morale in the Army has always been high, despite its critics. I exhort the young boys and girls of this country to consider a worthwhile and fulfilling career in the Army.