Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 May 2001

Vol. 166 No. 11

Defence Forces Modernisation: Motion.

I move:

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.

I second the motion and welcome the Minister to the House. Since the White Paper was published, the Government and the Minister for Defence have recognised the need for substantial changes within the Defence Forces. It is also recognised that we need a modern and well equipped Permanent Defence Force suited to the needs of a modern and young country and able to participate within the UN, work within a European framework and play its part in a greater and expanded European Union with an enlarged membership. It is important that the force satisfies the needs of a developing country like Ireland.

The Government's methods and investment show that it has strongly supported the need for change. It is working towards a modern force that works alongside other European countries in areas like peacekeeping and policing and underpins the development of democratically processed institutional changes in other countries. I compliment the Minister on his investment of £250 million in the Permanent Defence Force and on his courage in rationalising human resources and property portfolios. I recognise that commitment, wisdom and management were needed to bring about and oversee change, particularly in an Army participating within the context of world peace.

The Minister outlined the Government's idea of how the Army should be developed for the future. Ireland has changing priorities and needs, such as the need to develop fishing in a way that demonstrates a responsibility for fish stocks. Investment in the Naval Service and recognition of our role as a country on the western periphery of Europe are central to the Government's commitment to the Defence Forces.

The White Paper recognises the important need for a career structure in the Defence Forces, focusing on the Army in particular, so that there is fulfilment within the forces. Low morale can sometimes develop as a result of a lack of new recruits and initiatives. There is a need for a long-term strategic plan to create an incentive for people to participate in a greater way and which will cause them to feel rewarded for their work.

One must recognise the role the forces have played in peace initiatives, the underpinning of democracy in other states and the protection of human rights. Governments have committed to those specific areas, as is realised worldwide. We have played an important and significant role in foreign affairs development and contributed at European and international level. Our participation in the United Nations and the recent recognition of our right to be there demonstrate the expansion of our important role at European and world level.

The Nice treaty looks to an expanded and enlarged Europe. It is a challenge for Ireland to aid institutional change in countries where democracy has never existed. The peripheral nature of our location on the western seaboard means that Europe is important to us as an economic entity and for the expansion of trade. We are duty bound to share our experience with other countries who are about to go through similar change. The Nice treaty provides an opportunity for us to show a genuine recognition of the obligation to share, participate and lead the way in working with other countries. We must meet the opportunities that exist for us as we are dependent on world markets and we need to trade. Ireland is a peripheral western European country on the Atlantic Ocean, so we need Europe. There are opportunities for us as well as for the applicant countries. Some of the scaremongering of other political parties regarding our defence and peacekeeping roles as part of the United Nations does a disservice to the nation and to the case for Ireland to share in the prosperity of the European Union and in its enlargement.

As an ex-member of the national reserve of the FCA, I am aware there is a need to expand the role of the FCA to ensure it has a wider function. There is a need for civic pride here. Civics is very much on the backburner of our educational system. The FCA could play a greater role, as it has developed leadership skills among many young people. I refer to the expansion of the FCA not in investment terms but in terms of its function and the important opportunity it gives young people to develop self-discipline, gain knowledge of civic law and recognition of the State, institutions, Government and politics. Its function could be enhanced and expanded. From speaking to the Minister, I am aware he recognises the role it could play and that it would provide a great opportunity for many young people.

We are a modern nation that has achieved tremendous change and prosperity in the past 25 years as a member state of the EU. Membership of the EU has given us a great opportunity. We have mastered our future, held on to our culture in terms of our language and music and used the opportunities presented to develop our agriculture and tourism sectors.

An expanded Europe under the Nice treaty is the future for Ireland. We have shown in the past we can play our part in the European Union. We have given the lead, taken on responsibility and created opportunities for ourselves. Our experience of investment here as a result of our participation in an enlarged European Union has enhanced our prospects for the future. I take this opportunity to ask the Irish people to support the Nice treaty in the referendum on 7 June.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment Senator Glynn on his speech, which was very much a departmental speech. I was wondering was I in the real world or in cloud cuckooland because what he said is different from the reality. He talked about the modernisation of the Defence Forces and the wonderful work that is taking place – the Minister is looking at me rather awesomely – but the reality is very different. There are many orders for equipment on paper, much documentation and many files, but if one visits a battalion in any brigade in any barracks across the country one would learn the story is very different. There are many demoralised soldiers within the infantry and demoralised personnel within the Naval Service and the Air Corps. The modernisation that has taken place in the Defence Forces is nil. There is a great deal of demoralisation among its members.

The White Paper has been repeatedly mentioned in terms of its contents. That so-called wonderful White Paper is the greatest hogwash, as the people who should have been consulted on it were not. The military were not consulted on it. It is a Department of Defence document that justifies a reduction in Army numbers so as to buy equipment. The submissions made by the Army, whether by officers, soldiers, or other personnel at whatever level, were not considered or incorporated in the White Paper. It does not reflect the views of the military. It is a document drawn up by a number of civil servants who do not have an ounce of military blood in their veins or any sense of what it is like to serve within a military establishment. The submissions by the Army were not deemed suitable to be incorporated into the White Paper.

To quote the White Paper is a nonsense. It is not a document that promotes reform or modernisation, it is a justification document to reduce the size of the military, and to suggest otherwise is hypocrisy in the extreme. I am disappointed it has been referred to in the manner in which it has on the floor of this House this evening.

Let us be honest. The officer corps is represented by RACO. The Minister attended the AGM of RACO some time ago. As a result of the strong speech made by the president of RACO at that meeting, the Minister got up on his high horse and since then has refused to meet the representative force of the officers of the Army. Let us call a spade a spade. The morale within the Defence Forces is poor. They were not consulted on the White Paper. When they got an opportunity to address it, the Minister got up on his high horse and the first thing he and his wonderful officials did was threaten to evict RACO personnel from their offices in Park House.

The relations between the Minister and the Department of Defence and the military are at an all-time low. There is no point trying to put putty over it and pretend it is otherwise. The Minister and the Department and the military are two separate entities. The level of communication between them is minimal. The arbitration group has its offices in Park House. The Department of the Defence is on one floor and the military is on another floor, and at no time is there interaction between the two bodies. The Department of Defence does not relate to the chief of staff or to the military what is happening. Let us make no mistake about it, that is the reality.

Approximately 40 armoured personnel carriers are on order and one or two of them may be about to come into the country. There is a need for about 80 to 100 armoured personnel carriers, but only 40 are on order. Does the military know where those carriers will be located, how many of them will remain here or whether some of them will be used by battalions who go on overseas duties? Where will personnel train in the use of those armoured personnel carriers? They cannot have manoeuvres on the Curragh as it has been deemed an SAC. Does the Minister propose to purchase property where personnel can conduct manoeuvres in these carriers or does he intend to send soldiers overseas to get training in the use of them? The military does not have an idea what is proposed. One would love to be inspired as to what is going on in the Minister's head or in the head of the Secretary General of the Department of Defence.

The military does not know what battalion will be drawn for the rapid reaction force, which is a commendable force and one I fully support. It is vital and essential that our personnel are trained to the appropriate level and have effective skills to enable them to operate at any level in any part of the world, particularly within the European Union. It is vital they are well equipped and well trained, but is it intended to draw a battalion for the rapid reaction force from within one brigade or from all three brigades? Will the battalion be drawn from the eastern brigade one year, the western brigade the next year and the southern brigade the following year? Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on how he proposes to draw a battalion for that force or how he expects the chief of staff or the military to do it as they have no idea as to his thinking on this matter.

We have a wonderful Air Corps, but the planes are about to fall apart, although new planes are on order. PricewaterhouseCoopers was asked to report back on the needs of the Air Corps in 1996, but it did not report until 1998 as its initial report did not suit the Department of Defence. The initial report submitted was honest and recommended significant additional investment. When what the Department wanted was not contained in the initial report, it asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to rejig the report to suit its agenda. PricewaterhouseCoopers eventually submitted its report in 1998.

Orders have been placed for a variety of new aircraft for the Air Corps, which now has many newly trained pilots who cannot clock up sufficient air time hours. Does the Minister intend to send them overseas to do so? If he were in Baldonnel last night, he would have seen aircraft flying until nine o'clock and young pilots having to queue for their turn to fly.

To talk of modernisation and the high morale of the Army is senseless and dishonest because the Minister is not addressing the fundamental issues. His comments on the Army are bureaucratic hogwash. Military life is about action, manoeuvres, equipment, drill and getting things done. The Department of Defence is piling up paper, but from the points of view of the various barracks, there is no evidence of modernisation whatsoever. Rather than participating in PR exercises, will the Minister take the matter more seriously, account for the fundamental issues and discuss them with RACO?

I welcome the Minister to the House. Coming from County Kildare and the environs of the Curragh, I am particularly pleased to take part in this debate and acknowledge the work done by the Government since coming to office in 1997. The White Paper on Defence set out the Government's modernisation plans for the Defence Forces and identified the key areas of priority. These are to develop a light infantry force with all-arms capability, to ensure sufficient strength of numbers to meet domestic and international responsibilities, to significantly improve the availability of equipment and to provide, from within the Department's allocation, the necessary financial resources to achieve the aforementioned goals. The implementation of the White Paper proposals is already well under way.

May I have a copy of the script?

Senator Ó Fearghail is speaking from notes, not from a script.

I will speak particularly about capital investment and recruitment. My colleagues have given the broad picture, but I will refer to some specific issues, particularly the Curragh Camp. I compliment the Minister and his Department on the action they have taken in this regard. For many years, the Curragh Camp existed as a testimony to the State's lack of investment in the Defence Forces. The camp declined over many decades into what might be regarded as a derelict site because of lack of maintenance and funding. I recall a local authority debate on the introduction of the Derelict Sites Act, during which I rather facetiously suggested that the Curragh Camp was the location in the county that might best be included in a list of derelict sites.

That has now changed dramatically because of the intervention of this Government and the actions of the Minister. Construction and refurbishment projects, valued at more than £33 mill ion, are well under way. These include, among other things, better student accommodation, improved mess facilities and the provision of a new swimming pool and gymnasium costing over £6 million, which is due for completion later this year.

The armoured carriers that have been ordered could be run for that.

Order, please.

These are positive actions by the Government. By any standard, this is a remarkable level of investment. It is proof that past neglect is being rectified by this Administration. The Curragh Camp is being regenerated and transformed. Additionally, further developments for the Curragh and Coolmoney camps have been proposed and are due to be undertaken later this year. They require an expenditure of nearly £20 million in addition to the £33 million already mentioned.

I commend the Department for entering into a partnership arrangement with the Department of the Environment and Local Government regarding the provision of a new and improved sewage treatment system for the Curragh Camp, a system that would service many of the neighbouring villages. It is urgently required and I urge the Minister to proceed with it as quickly as possible.

Chapter 4 of the White Paper addressed the issue of barrack closure. As a local representative, I was less than enthusiastic, to put it mildly, about the closure of Magee Barracks in Kildare and Devoy Barracks in Naas. The disposal of these and other valuable properties has provided the opportunity to create a significant investment fund for new equipment and infrastructure. Given the successful disposal of Devoy Barracks in Naas, will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, propose a plan for the early disposal of available lands at Magee Barracks, where the local community is very supportive of the prospect of the 60-acre site being developed? Since the closure of the barracks, the local community has experienced much of the pain and none of the gain that had been anticipated. The sale and development of this strategically important property would be important, not just in the context of the development of that part of County Kildare. It would also boost the Minister's investment fund by the order of £15 million.

When the White Paper was first published, there was much controversy about the proposal to reduce the overall strength of the Permanent Defence Force by 1,000 to 10,500 personnel. Given today's labour market, the challenge that we face is the task of maintaining the existing strength and being able to sustain a successful ongoing recruitment campaign. On 14 March, the Minister launched a major recruitment drive aimed at bringing 800 young people into the Defence Forces this year.

They should have brought in 1,100.

Undoubtedly, such an intake would be a huge boost to the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. It must be demonstrated that the Defence Forces can, and do, offer a clear and attractive career path if such a recruitment campaign is to be a success. The five-year contracts currently on offer are unhelpful in terms of recruitment. I ask the Minister to examine this.

The Chief of Staff, who now has full responsibility for recruitment, is now preparing a plan to restructure the Defence Forces in accordance with the Government's decision on overall numbers. I wish him well in his endeavours. It is of paramount importance that an integrated personnel management plan capable of early implementation is brought forward. Such a plan must be in place to ensure adequate intake and to retain existing expertise and experience among the ranks of those now approaching the end of their 21 years of service. I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. We are old friends and partial enemies, but after this debate, I am sure we will be enemies only. However, it is all in the interest of good politics. On the other side of the House, the Minister's lieutenants are very able. If they were in the Army, they would be promoted for their speeches.

Fact is stranger than fiction.

I will discuss the issue of the role of women. I think it is 20 years since women entered the Defence Forces and I remember the early struggles regarding facilities and sleeping requirements in barracks. I watched very carefully a programme on the subject last week and we can be very proud of the women depicted in it. That is not to say that I would ever be sexist in any way. The Minister must realise I would never be so. Obviously, one must praise the males as well. It was considered to be too daunting an area for the frailer sex at that time. The women in our Army, Naval Service and Air Corps have done us proud. Senator Ó Fearghail referred earlier to recruitment and I believe that the role of women in the Army could be emphasised in a more positive manner.

With regard to the new equality laws I note that the Garda have dropped the height requirement. It is generally agreed that being tall and large does not necessarily mean that one has a greater ability to defend oneself or attack another. One can probably use more brute force, but brain and brawn do not always go together and small wiry people, such as Senator Ó Fearghail and others, would be as well able to defend anybody as larger and more strongly built people. I wonder why the height requirement is part of a modernisation process. Worse again is the one inch height differential between men and women. It is a simple, practical thing but it does keep some people out of a service they want to join and would be proud to serve in.

Can the Minister enlighten me on the Army deafness problem which has dogged the Defence Forces in recent years? Nobody would deny it exists despite all of the jokes at the time. If I remember correctly the Minister promised an inquiry, or was it a tribunal? Tribunal is a word I dislike as we have a plethora of them. I think an inquiry, perhaps an internal one, was promised but I do not think that problem has been finally resolved.

I refer to the sale of Clancy Barracks, a most valuable asset to our Defence Forces. I am giving my age away by saying I can remember when the former Griffith Barracks was used as an interim accommodation base for people who could not get houses. Regrettably, Dublin is again in a similarly appalling state with regard to homelessness. I listened carefully to the Minister when he spoke on the radio today about his hopes for Clancy Barracks. I would not see anything wrong with many of the aspirations expressed, but I would be concerned about accountability as to where the profits from this sale go, with regard to the Defence Forces and their benevolent societies. Would there not be room in a barracks of such an age for a refurbishment programme to provide a centre for homeless people, such as exists in Finland, purely on a night-only basis? I referred recently in this House to the awful experience of 15 people who could not find night lodgings. It would be the right thing to do as a lot of money will be made from the sale of this prestigious site.

When I was in the Curragh Camp recently I thought I was back in the early 19th century in view of the accommodation. I went into it by mistake when I was looking for the Cottage Hospital and ended up in the Curragh Hospital. It did not do me any harm to have that small tour.

I want to ask about the sale of Gormanston in view of the fact that the Air Corps base happens to be in my constituency. A large number of constituents from Clondalkin have a proud tradition of working and serving in the Air Corps. Does the Minister have any good news for us with regard to improving Baldonnel, with regard to equipment in particular? I know that is close to the heart of the Minister.

I am not here to be critical but to point out, as I have done to other Ministers, in the manner of a school report that the Minister has done very well but must do better. It is the role of every Minister to do the best they can for the honour of holding their position and the people they serve. I remember when the Defence ministry was not considered to be the plum one, but the Minister has served excellently in the role. We should laud Defence Forces personnel who have represented our country abroad with such dignity and are highly thought of by the other countries that they serve with when they are abroad on foreign missions.

For that reason I am going to end on a realistic note. I appreciate that we always have to work to a budget, but I find it strange that the chief of staff is in charge of everything but the budget. Is it not the case that it is the Secretary General of the Department who is the main holder of the purse strings? If I am wrong then there is no better man than the Minister to correct me.

I wish the Minister and the Defence Forces well in any modernisation programme and I hope my points with regard to women, funding and Baldonnel in particular will be taken on board.

Cúis mhór áthais dom teacht go dtí an Teach seo agus caoi a bheith agam éisteacht leis an díospóireacht agus na cuspóirí atá agam a chur os comhair an tSeanaid. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak about the progress of the modernisation programme for the Defence Forces and the future development of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

The modernisation programme is set out in a very comprehensive way in the first-ever White Paper on Defence which I had the privilege and honour to publish on behalf of the Government in February last year. Our decision to publish a White Paper met fully the commitment we made in the action programme for the millennium. This commitment reflected our belief that there was a growing public awareness of the importance of defence issues and of the need for Ireland to take a more considered view of our defence and security environment, particularly in the context of developments in the European Union.

The main White Paper objectives in relation to the Defence Forces were to provide a medium-term policy framework within which defence policy could evolve, to set out a clear strategy for the next ten years, and to provide for the continuation of the reform programme of the Defence Forces consistent with the national and international security environment and the state of the public finances. I believe the White Paper addresses these objectives in full. It sets out the strategy for defence for the next decade and builds on the modernisation process begun in the 1990s. It also maps out a development process which will ensure that the Defence Forces are geared for the evolving defence and security environment.

I am sorry to say that Senator Taylor-Quinn in part of what she said brought home to me why Clare missed so many opportunities in the league final in the first quarter of an hour. I inherited the Department of Defence from a previous Administration that was partly paralysed due to—

The Minister's predecessor was the former Deputy for Limerick West, Michael J. Noonan. Does the Minister recall that time?

Senator Taylor-Quinn must allow the Minister to make his contribution without interruption.

—the fear of tackling the problems associated with the hearing claims. We said at that time if they were not tackled it would be likely to cost the country in the region of £1.25 billion, which would have done enormous harm to the image and potential of the Defence Forces. I am happy to tell the House that, with strong support from the Opposition throughout my administration, it now looks like it will be about one-fifth of that figure. We are not setting up a tribunal but, instead, negotiating settlements at a fairly speedy rate. If that were to go wrong, we would return to my original proposal. Fortunately, we have had a great deal of co-operation and while it is not over, thankfully it has moved off the main agenda, allowing us to concentrate on other areas.

Previous Administrations operated a stop-go recruitment policy which was very detrimental to the Defence Forces which did not have a constant inflow of young people. We decided to reverse that policy and have constant recruitment.

In terms of the female contribution to the Defence Forces, which I acknowledge has been significant and continues to grow, there were 36 female staff when I took over. That has risen to 440, which is still a small number in relative terms. I intend to look again at height requirements, which I have already reduced somewhat for female entrants. I am bound, however, by the Medical Corps, which believes that real health dangers, notably back complaints, arise below a certain height level due to the type of equipment which must be carried in training, specifically in the Glen of Imaal, and on United Nations missions. I accept that minimum height requirements prevent otherwise eligible people from entering the forces. We need to get this matter right.

Senator Taylor-Quinn might be interested to know that her Government did not have a defence policy going into the last general election.

We had a very specific defence commitment, unlike Fianna Fáil.

They presented no policy whatsoever to the people.

The Minister is out of order.

To compound that, the present Fine Gael front bench includes no shadow spokesperson on Defence.

Wrong again. This is misinformation.

Not only did the last Government fail to buy aircraft for the Air Corps, ships for the Naval Service, or recruit—

On a point of order, the Minister should stand corrected in relation to the Fine Gael Party. There is an Opposition spokesperson on Defence and I want to place on the record that the Army Chief of Staff and all his senior colleagues are extremely happy with the Fine Gael cabinet on defence. In fact, they have commended it highly.

The Senator had ample opportunity to raise this during her contribution.

We did not know the Minister would make these kinds of statements.

We must have an orderly debate.

The Minister is being disorderly.

It is a sad occasion when—

The Minister should get on with placing his contribution on the record. Let us hear what he is doing to modernise the Defence Forces.

There is such a thing as courtesy. The White Paper builds on the Price Waterhouse studies of the Air Corps and the Naval Services and addresses the policy dimension and development needs of both services. I am pleased to say that the implementation of the White Paper is moving ahead quickly and positively and that the relationship between the Defence Forces, my officials and myself was never better.

More misinformation.

The Chief of Staff is preparing a plan to restructure the Army in accordance with the Government's decision on overall numbers. My intention is to have that plan finalised and implemented by the end of 2001 in accordance with the Government decision. It is important that we put the new organisation in place and move ahead with the modernisation of the Defence Forces. It is equally important that the new organisation offers rewarding and challenging careers to Defence Forces personnel.

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.

Getting the organisation and personnel policies right is critical. It is equally critical that the Defence Forces are adequately equipped to undertake the roles assigned to them. The objective is to acquire, maintain and manage equipment and weapons at the appropriate level of operational readiness in a cost effective manner. The strategic focus of the investment programme for the period 2000 to 2010 is the acquisition of a broad range of equipment in order to achieve a balanced increase in operational capacity throughout the Defence Forces. In this context, it will be necessary to prioritise and reconcile the equipment and infrastructure requirements for the Army, the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Reserve Defence Force within the total resources available. Basic to the plan is a multi-annual budgetary strategy which is vital to achieving value for money.

Defensive equipment and infrastructure are expensive and I am anxious that their provision will impose no more of a burden on taxpayers than is absolutely necessary. With the support of my Government colleagues, and in line with the White Paper, I have been able to earmark an unprecedented £250 million for investment in new defence equipment and improved infrastructure. That investment programme is being funded from payroll savings consequent on the reduction of Defence Forces numbers and from the sale of the six barracks whose closure was announced in 1998. It is expected that well in excess of £50 million will be raised from the sale of these barracks.

There are in addition a number of other lands within the Defence portfolio, including Gormanston about which I made a recent announcement, which are located outside of the permanently occupied military barracks and posts. The Government has decided, again in line with the White Paper, that the necessity for these properties be examined and that only those required for essential defence purposes will be retained. Those identified as surplus to requirements will be disposed of by sale or otherwise and the proceeds will be invested in Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure.

The investment programme provides over £100 million for the development of buildings and other infrastructure at military installations. It also provides for new ships and aircraft and for about £25 million over three years for investment in light infantry tactical vehicles, modern effective anti-armour weapons, night vision equipment, engineer equipment and medical field equipment. There will also be a pistol replacement programme.

This investment is additional to £40 million for a new fleet of 40 armoured personnel carriers for the Army, the first batch of which has been handed over while the remainder will have been delivered by January 2002 almost two years ahead of previous expectations, over £10.5 million for new tactical VHF radios and over £6.5 million on specialist transport cargo vehicles deployed to KFOR and new troop carrying vehicles such as four by fours and three quarter tonne trucks.

I mentioned the development of the Air Corps and the Naval Service. I am very pleased to say that we have been able to make substantial progress on both fronts. An implementation plan for the future of the Air Corps has been agreed in line with the policy parameters set down in the White Paper. The plan also reflects the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations made by Price Waterhouse and provides for a new organisational structure based on a division between operational and support elements with a total manpower of around 930, service level agreements with principal clients such as the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources and measures to address personnel training and retention.

The consultants also recommended relocation of Air Corps headquarters to Baldonnel and this was implemented in January 2000. As implementation of the plan proceeds, I have been able to allocate about £55 million over three years for the purchase of new aircraft for the Air Corps from the £250 million investment programme already mentioned. Special priority is being given to the procurement of new medium lift helicopters. The tender competition for the provision of the helicopters is well advanced and it is expected that the Department will be in a position to place a contract later this year.

An implementation plan for the Naval Service provides for development of the service based on the provision of a modern eight ship flotilla. There will be a process of continuous investment and vessel replacement to ensure that the flotilla is capable of meeting the tasks assigned by Government.

On a day to day basis, the primary activity of the Naval Service is providing fishery protection services based on outputs agreed with the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources which has policy responsibility for fisheries protection. The plan is framed within that context and also addresses the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations made by Price Waterhouse. A recommendation for the relocation of Naval Service headquarters to Haulbowline was implemented in December 1999.

In keeping with our commitment to the Naval Service and the provision of an eight ship flotilla, we commissioned a state of the art offshore patrol vessel, the le Roisin, in December 1999 at a cost of £22 million. In addition, we hope to take delivery next month of a second new fishery protection vessel of the same type. This will be named the le Niamh and will be a replacement for the le Deirdre which has reached the end of its economic service life. This will mean that two ships will have been purchased for the Naval Service during the lifetime of this Government. The last purchase was made in 1984.

The White Paper provides that the overall strategy for the development of the Reserve Defence Forces will be based on the report of the special steering group which reported in 1999. The recommendations in the report give us a general basis on which to proceed.

Last year I published the report of the steering group and launched a consultative process to seek the views of members of the Reserve in advance of drawing up an implementation plan. It is estimated that the implementation of any necessary structural and organisational change will take approximately six years. I mentioned earlier that a key objective of the modernisation programme is to provide sufficient forces and capabilities to meet needs at home and to make a significant contribution abroad. I do not have to remind anyone of the enormous contribution the Defence Forces have made to peacekeeping over several decades, often in very difficult missions. Indeed, 82 of our personnel have paid the ultimate price for peace in these circumstances.

Traditionally, Ireland's commitment to collective security has been pursued through the United Nations. The contribution of the Defence Forces to UN missions since 1958 has been a great source of pride to successive Governments and to the people. Earlier this month, the Taoiseach and I reviewed the last Irish battalion to leave for service with UNIFIL in south Lebanon and he spoke of the pride of the Irish people in the Defence Forces. They have earned an unrivalled reputation as peacekeepers in diverse locations. We are determined to play our part in seeing that reputation maintained and developed.

The Government, contrary to misguided speculation, remains determined to continue to contribute actively to UN peacekeeping. Our future contribution will take into account the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping, which involves additional tasks such as humanitarian assistance, the protection of human rights and civilian police work.

Since the end of the Cold War the UN has been responding to an increasing number of conflicts. Where appropriate, it has encouraged regional organisations to use their own potential, under a UN authorisation, to carry out peace support missions. Ireland's participation in SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in KFOR in Kosovo is a clear example of this development and of European Governments co-operating to prevent conflict and maintain peace.

It is a lesson of the appalling events in the Balkans that we need to be able to move quickly and effectively in response to humanitarian crises. In its emphasis on co-operation, and not on confrontation, the new patterns of security co-operation reflect values which have always been at the heart of Irish foreign policy.

It was the Amsterdam treaty, as approved by the Irish electorate in May 1998, that defined the operational focus of the EU on tasks of peacekeeping and crisis management, the so-called Petersberg Tasks. Based on the provisions of the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, the Union's practical approach in this area was guided first by the Cologne European Council in June 1999. Through decisions taken at successive European Councils in Helsinki, Feira and Nice, the Union has gradually set up decision-making structures so that it can undertake humanitarian and crisis management tasks.

Ireland, in common with our partners in the EU, is participating in these structures and can bring a great deal of expertise to bear. In particular, we can offer the wide experience we have acquired in the humanitarian and crisis management area through our participation in UN missions. In this way, we can play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in Europe.

As part of the response to potential future crisis management challenges, the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 set the EU headline goal, a voluntary goal to deploy within 60 days and to sustain for at least one year military forces of up to 50,000 to 60,000 persons capable of the full range of humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. The objective is to achieve this goal in 2003.

At the capabilities commitment conference last November, EU member states formally committed forces to the headline goal. Member states were invited to identify the ways in which they would contribute to this voluntary goal. In our case, the commitment of up to 850 members of the Defence Forces was authorised. Participation by members of the Defence Forces will only arise in clearly defined circumstances, namely, when UN authorisation is in place and when the terms of the relevant Irish legislation have been met. Our commitment to the headline goal is, therefore, fully consistent with Ireland's approach to overseas peacekeeping and consistent with our foreign policy traditions.

Any offer which we have made will not prejudice in any way the fact that participation in any Petersberg mission remains a sovereign decision to be taken by the Government. The Government will decide on a case by case basis whether, when and how to commit troops and other resources to any mission. This will apply whether the mission is of the traditional UN type or is led by a regional organisation with UN authorisation.

In this context, I have said and I repeat that none of this impacts adversely on our policy of military neutrality. The Government remains firmly committed to Irish military neutrality and sees our involvement in the European security and defence policy as fully consistent with our policy in this area. The Government has consistently made clear that the consent of the people in a referendum would be required if the issue of joining a mutual defence guarantee were to arise at any stage in the future. Let me also repeat that the EU headline goal is emphatically not a standing army. The EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr. Javier Solana, emphasised this in a speech to the Institute for European Affairs in Dublin last year when he said:

All member States are agreed that the Union is not in the business of creating a European Army. That is quite clear. The European Security and Defence Policy is not about collective defence. The Union has no ambition to take over or duplicate the work of NATO.

What is more, these facts have been repeatedly recognised by the conclusions of successive European Councils, including most recently in Nice.

Perhaps it is the description of the EU headline goal as a rapid reaction force that has created doubts or the scope for mischief-making. What the EU is doing is putting together a pool of capabilities which provides the Union with the means to carry out the Petersberg Tasks. The national elements can only be deployed on foot of decisions by each potential contributor. The question of a UN mandate for identifying, developing and organising these capabilities does not arise. However, when it comes to participating in a particular operation, let me repeat and underline that Irish troops will only take part in an operation with a UN mandate. I reiterate that this participation would require Government decision and Dáil approval.

Another question often asked is whether Partnership for Peace has any role in preparation for the EU headline goal. Ireland's decision to join PfP was taken independently and with the approval of Dáil Éireann. There is no institutional link between PfP and the EU but PfP is, nevertheless, relevant to the Petersberg Tasks. Essentially, our participation in PfP is designed to enhance interoperability with other states, thereby facilitating our capacity to undertake the Petersberg Tasks.

Will our personnel be properly trained? Will the drivers come from the driving corps or will they come from other sections?

Like other neutral EU states which participate in PfP, Ireland will use the mechanism of PfP's planning and review process to assist in planning for the Petersberg Tasks. The development of the EU's capability to carry out the Petersberg Tasks should be seen in the context of the range of instruments available to the EU, including diplomatic and economic measures. European security and defence policy is not only about developing military capabilities, it involves developing a spectrum of tools which the EU can have at its disposal with the objective of making the Common Foreign and Security Policy more effective and more visible. In this connection, the development of the EU's conflict prevention and civilian crisis management capabilities have a central role to play.

A key challenge will be to enhance the Union's ability to prevent conflict. The European Commission recently published a communication on conflict prevention paper which outlines the variety of political and diplomatic options available where the situation in a particular country or region looks like deteriorating sharply. The Swedish Presidency of the EU fully recognises the central importance of conflict prevention and the subject will be a prominent theme for the Gothenburg European Council in June.

I spoke earlier about Ireland's proud record in UN peacekeeping. With the development of European security and defence policy, as I have outlined, one might ask how the UN and the EU link together. Are there contradictions between the two approaches? The answer is that one complements the other or, to put it another way, they are mutually reinforcing. The UN has encouraged regional approaches to peacekeeping and recently there have been discussions between representatives of the UN and the EU on peacekeeping and crisis management issues. Close co-operation between the EU and the UN is developing on these matters.

I do not accept the arguments put forward by those who seek to exclude us from the forms of regional peacekeeping which the UN Secretary General is seeking to develop. There is no contradiction between Ireland's participation in UN missions in, for example, Lebanon, and our involvement in UN mandated operations in the Balkans.

From Ireland's perspective, what the EU is doing in identifying capabilities is in many respects similar to what has been happening at another level at the UN with the UN standby arrangements system in which Ireland participates. This is the mechanism for co-ordinating the peacekeeping contributions of 88 countries and almost 150,000 personnel.

The developments I have outlined are based on the provisions of the Amsterdam treaty. I would, nevertheless, like to mention the relevance of the Treaty of Nice in the security and defence area. The Treaty of Nice, on which we will have a referendum on 7 June, has made only limited changes to the existing provisions for the Common Foreign and Security Policy which are intended to make it more coherent, more effective and more visible. These limited changes are the deletion of references to the Western European Union and the provision of a basis for the Political and Security Committee in Brussels.

At the time of the Amsterdam treaty, it was envisaged that the Western European Union would play a key role, acting on behalf of the EU, in the area of crisis management and conflict prevention. However, given the development of the Union's capabilities in this area, the role of the Western European Union has diminished. The deletion of the clauses concerning the Western European Union reflects the latest developments and the desire to update the treaty.

As the European Union will now implement any decisions it takes in this area, the Treaty of Nice also provides for the replacement of the existing political committee based in Brussels. The new committee will assume functions relating to the conduct of the common foreign and security policy. As part of its responsibilities, the Political and Security Committee may exercise, under the authority of EU Foreign Ministers, the political control and strategic direction of crisis management operations.

Let me be absolutely clear on this issue, the Treaty of Nice contains no other security and defence provisions beyond the very limited changes which I have just outlined. It in no way expands or alters the scope of the Petersberg Tasks provisions as contained in the Amsterdam treaty and as already approved by the Irish people. In setting the position out in some detail, I hope that I have clarified matters. There is nothing in our participation in the European security and defence policy or PfP, or in the Treaty of Nice, which should alarm anyone with concerns about our commitment to the UN and our policy of military neutrality. There are no dangers there. In looking at the treaty, therefore, I would strongly urge people to focus on the real issue which is about enlarging the Union in the interests of Europe and Ireland.

No one could argue the fact that EU membership has been overwhelmingly and directly to our benefit. As the Taoiseach pointed out recently, our net receipts from the CAP have amounted to close to £20 billion while the good use to which we have put EU Structural Funds has been a significant element in our recent social and economic transformation. Membership of the European Single Market has been crucial in positioning Ireland as a key player in transatlantic trade and investment. Our commitment to the disciplines of EMU has brought interest rates down to what are, in terms of recent history, remarkably low levels.

The EU has been good for Ireland in direct material ways but it has been important in other ways also. When we joined in 1973 we were consciously opening ourselves up as a society as well as an economy and the balance sheet has been overwhelmingly positive in this area too. EU membership has allowed us to play a role in the wider world which would have been impossible otherwise. It has modernised our approaches to issues across the socio-economic spectrum and helped us to widen our horizons.

I am sure that on 7 June when the people go to the polls on the Nice treaty, they will vote solidly in favour of enlargement. I believe they will appreciate that, while the enlargement of the Union which the Nice treaty makes possible may, at first glance, seem to be of little direct concern to Ireland, it is in reality very important indeed. First, Ireland, as a trading nation, has done well out of the existing Union. An enlarged Union, a greater Single Market, will be very much in our interests. Second, it is in Ireland's interests, both political and economic, for the whole continent of Europe to be prosperous, stable and democratic. Third, as a country which for many years had to pursue freedom as the highest national goal, we should have an instinctive sympathy for countries which were denied their freedom for so long.

Ireland was fortunate to have been able to escape the worst effects of World War II and the Cold War. This should not prevent us from wanting to do all we can to support those who were less fortunate than we were and to give them the same chance we got. We, too, will benefit from the distinctive contribution they will make to a wider and more diverse Europe.

The basic thrust of the "No to Europe" argument is always the same – that we will be swept aside and overwhelmed within Europe. This betrays a fundamental lack of confidence in Ireland and the Irish people as well as a remarkable blindness to the realities of our experience to date in the EU. In essence, the issue revolves around what one considers to be the purpose and limits of sovereignty. We see the true sovereignty of the Irish people as being not a theoretical concept but a measure of how successfully we can protect and promote our basic national interests and our social and economic well being as a people. We believe that our consistent and bipartisan policy towards the EU over the past 30 years has done far more to achieve both purposes than any narrow policy of isolationism would have done.

In the real world, all countries, especially small ones, operate within very considerable constraints. As the Taoiseach said recently, nobody can pull the curtains and tell the world to go away. Now more than ever, the need for the effects of globalisation to be managed and balanced is strongly apparent. We face challenges which respect no frontiers.

Those who argue that the Treaty of Nice will decisively shift the balance within the Union towards the bigger states and will create a two tier Europe with Ireland in the second group have got it wrong. Likewise, in regard to what is called enhanced co-operation or flexibility, those who foresee a two tier Europe have got it wrong, just as they did with the Amsterdam treaty which initially introduced provisions of this kind. Where the Union as a whole does not wish or is not able to move ahead on a given issue – with 27 members, it is easy to see how this might happen – it will be slightly simpler for a group of members to do so subject to a range of safeguards. The Nice treaty will be good for Europe and good for Ireland as an integral part of a prosperous, peaceful and diverse Europe, and I urge a strong "Yes" vote.

I thank the Seanad for the opportunity of setting out the progress we have made with the Defence Forces modernisation programme and our plans for the future. As Minister for Defence, my overall objective has been to ensure that the country has Defence Forces and that the organisation continues to be one in which the people are proud to serve. We have had to take hard decisions to guarantee future success but those decisions are paying off and we can face the future with confidence. I wish to pay special tribute to my Department, to the Defence Forces and to the Civil Defence organisation for the contribution they have been making to dealing with the containment of the foot and mouth crisis. The Defence Forces, in particular, have played a key role in support of the civil authorities in helping to avert what could easily have become a disaster.

I thank the Senators who tabled the motion and who addressed it here. Sometimes in the course of a debate like this there is a little banter but I want to say, seriously, that I appreciate the cross-party support which I have received for many of the changes which we have tried to implement in recent years. It has made my task easier. At the end of the day we are all contributing to making the Defences Forces stronger and better equipped, to providing them with better accommodation and to making them better able to face the challenges which arise in the future.

It is always a pleasure to come back to this House. It was an important place for me at one time.

Mr. Ryan

It might be again.

Although there may have been occasions when I may not have behaved as well as I should, nonetheless it has always been somebody from my own province who has taken me down those roads at times by tempting me a little too much.

I am from Dublin.

Mr. Ryan

A Leas-Chathaoirligh, I have a suspicion that if one of the Members of the House launched into a two page speech on the referendum on the Nice treaty in the middle of a debate on the Defence Forces, we would have been reminded by you to return to the topic under discussion. However, we will continue the hospitality of this House and forgive the Minister.

I always describe myself as a critical europhile and I have no desire to be in the ranks of the lunatics of the British Tory Party, but there are huge issues to be asked about the democratic basis of some things which are happening in Europe. There is also a wonderful sin of omission which is practised by most people in Ireland, which is, that the cash benefit to this country from membership – leaving out the alleged benefits, some of which are real and some of which are imagined – is always stated as £20 billion.

I asked somebody about six years ago to ask a question of the then Minister for the Marine about the estimated market value of fish caught in the Irish zone by non-Irish registered trawlers. According to the figure he gave me, which, as he said himself, was based on ball park figures, at current prices one could say that about £750 million worth of fish are caught per annum by trawlers fishing in our waters by permission of the Common Fisheries Policy. The ball park figure – I would happily put it plus or minus one-third – for the amount of fish which we gave away is actually about £20 billion. I do not say that that is an argument against anything we did.

There was huge debate in 1972 and the point was vigorously made that we had hopelessly negotiated fisheries. We did that in order to gain the benefits of the CAP, which, as anybody who had read even the first chapter of a first year economics textbook would know, could not last without major reform. There is another side to all of these arguments and popular engagement would be greater if people were not always sold a one-dimensional perspective.

I do not want to launch into a debate on the Nice treaty, but the Minister glides over strange assumptions. Let me put one, which is worthy of debate, before the House. One of the reasons for the institutional changes of the Treaty of Nice is that it has been asserted, and assumed, that a Commission of perhaps 35 members would be unwieldy and unworkable. This is a Commission which would be based in one building, share a secretariat and all common resources but would be too big. However, we are to have a Council of Ministers which will not share the same secretariat, which will not have offices in the same building, or share the back-up the Commission could call on, and we are told it will work fine. Someone, from somewhere or other, should explain to ordinary, simple people like me why a Commission which has a single focus, purpose and common allegiance could not work with 35 members while a Council of Ministers with perhaps 35 different allegiances, 35 different views and perhaps 30 different languages will work well. I have never figured it out but, that said, let us return to the topic.

I gather from the exchanges after I arrived that, yet again, Fianna Fáil promised something in an election manifesto and then discovered the realities of life upon taking office. Fianna Fáil promised there would be no closures of barracks, but my good friend, Deputy Wall, Labour's chief spokesman on defence, assures me that it did.

We did not.

Mr. Ryan

I would not dispute the Minister's veracity but, if I have to choose between Deputy Jack Wall and him, I am bound to accept the former.

I ask the Senator to produce even a shred of evidence.

Mr. Ryan

I will return to that matter.

The Minister may not have made the promise personally but his party did.

Mr. Ryan

I never said he did. I said Fianna Fáil made a promise.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator without interruption from Clare or Tipperary.

Mr. Ryan

I can tell my good friend Deputy Wall that Fianna Fáil did not promise there would be no closures.

He is wrong again.

Mr. Ryan

He will no doubt pursue it with the Minister on another occasion.

He will not.

Mr. Ryan

He will.

I return to a matter on which I know the Minister has made some vague promises and nothing has been done. It is the extremely serious issue of the disappointing and distressingly high incidence of homelessness among former members of the Defence Forces, particularly among single men who do not have a family network to fall back on. This is recognised and reported on. I gather the Minister has acknowledged the problem, at least informally on some occasions, and has undertaken to assist voluntary organisations. It is the Minister's job to take the initiative on this real tragedy. If they are anything, the Defence Forces are institutions and when people spend 20 years in them, identify with them, they can become institutionalised. Retired personnel never truly leave the Defence Forces and they carry that with them. In particular, single people who retire can become quite lost and a significant number of them – I do not want to make it any worse than that – end up in circumstances we should not allow former members to end up in. It is up to Government to take the initiative while accepting any voluntary assistance. The least the Minister can do, with so much surplus property available, is offer a site to any group that would provide long-term shelter to former members of the Defence Forces who would otherwise end up in accommodation we should not be proud was lived in by people who may have taken considerable risks on our behalf.

Another issue I am interested in is the housing problem. It seems strange in Dublin city to have 20 acres owned by the Department of Defence at Clancy Barracks while the local authority is crying out for land on which to build social and low cost housing.

I offered it to them first.

Mr. Ryan

My information is that the local authority has not been able to get a commitment from the Minister's Department to make the land available to them.

They got first choice over a year ago.

Mr. Ryan

They decided not to take it at the £20 million bargain-basement price the Minister was offering?

That is the position.

Mr. Ryan

That is interesting because those who tell me these things, in one case a member of the local authority, did not know any of this. Perhaps there is a case for pushing—

The Senator is talking to the wrong Member.

Mr. Ryan

I have known the Minister a long time and I am not talking to the wrong Member.

Indeed, he is a member of the local authority.

Mr. Ryan

There is a case for advancing the Local Government Bill and getting around its problems because there is obviously a problem of accountability, from what the Minister is saying.

We should be particularly careful about what our defence policy is. The former leader of Fine Gael, Deputy John Bruton, was characteristically honest when he said that it is difficult to distinguish peacemaking from war making, as it involves the deliberate use of force, by an external body, to separate warring factions. If anyone wants, I will produce the quote so we need not argue about it. That may or may not be a necessary thing to do, but the people are entitled to that level of honesty about what the Petersberg Tasks entail. Nobody has been prepared to elaborate on what those tasks mean. We know what they do not mean courtesy of the former Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Javier Solana, who, unhappily, has been made EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. I liked his quotation. Many of the hierarchy in the European project are often more blunt than people here. He said that the European security and defence policy is not about collective defence and I accept that. At this stage it is not. Then he says the Union has no ambition to take over or duplicate the work of NATO, the clear implication being that Europe's defence is obviously undertaken by it. It is astonishing that Europe, while it talks about having a defence presence of some form, would associate a project driven by democracy and human rights with a military alliance which does not have either as a precondition of membership. That military alliance tolerated the membership of a Greek dictatorship, of a fascist Portuguese dictatorship and of Turkey, which intermittently pretends to be a democracy though it has never really been a functioning one.

There is a challenge for the EU to present to NATO. If it is to maintain this increasingly close relationship with NATO, the EU should demand of it the same as it demands of every country wishing to be a member, which is that only democracies need apply. The idea that you need to subvert democracy to defend it is a nonsense. If that nonsense were disposed of then many of the reservations a lot of us have about the direction of the rapid reaction force could well be allayed.

I welcome the Minster to the House.

We have been well served by the Army, both at home and abroad, but that proud record has not always been rewarded. It is not so long since the image of the Army was of a body of men who were poorly housed in ramshackle, old buildings which were the legacy of the garrison towns of another administration. They were poorly equipped, poorly paid and very poorly looked after. That situation was tolerated for years. Indeed, some of the very best folklore to come out of the Irish Army are the tales told of the group which was sent to the Congo in the early 1960s. It was sent with clothing which was the equivalent of Aran jumpers to a country with an equatorial climate. I hope the stories they tell will not be lost and will be written down. We tolerated such a situation in respect of making decent provision for people who were doing a decent job for their country.

I am very glad the position has been radically and dramatically turned around and that visible improvements have been made, not in a haphazard or offhand manner, but on foot of a well thought out strategic plan, worked out by an independent body, PricewaterhouseCoopers. This has been incorporated into the Army culture by means of the White Paper. Visible improvements have taken place and I will not shed any bitter tears if a few barracks are closed down.

I can cite an example from my locality. Money that accrued from the closure of Fermoy barracks was used for the improvement of Collins barracks in Cork. The conditions of work for the personnel there were absolutely appalling. The barracks has been significantly and substantially upgraded in recent years. The mess, living quarters and operational areas are a credit to the Army. The personnel there now have premises that suitably reflect their effort and their endeavour.

I agree with Senator Ryan about former Army people who become homeless. It could be that the structured Army regime means that some people cannot cope without it. It is a sad testimony that there is a small cohort of such people for whom proper after-care provision is not made. This is the main point I wish to make to the Minister. He should make it his objective to consider this problem. It is a poor reflection on us if we do not make better provision for people in that position. They were servants of the State who served the State well.

I am aware of what former Army people can do in the community. I am a local authority member for the Mayfield area of Cork and Collins barracks is just a stone's throw from my home on Wellington Road. I acknowledge the enormous contribution both serving and retired Army people make to community effort and endeavour. Twenty-five years ago, an Army person started the Mayfield Boys' Brass Band. Long before it became a fashionable theory, young people were taken off the streets, they were given musical instruments and were taught to read music. That band has grown and developed over the past 25 years. It is now the Mayfield Brass Band, comprised of boys and girls, and it has brought a great deal of musical honour to Cork city and to its own locality. That was the brainchild of a former Army band member.

I have seen enormous good work done in athletic clubs and community associations, by Army people who bring their own ethic of order into areas where chaos, vandalism and hooliganism exist. They endeavour to exert a good influence on young people growing up in a very troubled time, even though this is above and beyond their call of duty.

I have no difficulty with Irish participation in the rapid reaction force. To deny that there is a need for Irish participation in that kind of activity is to close our eyes to the atrocities that were committed in the Balkans in recent years. We remember the appalling slaughter and savagery that took place in Kosovo and in all that region, the destruction of that wondrous city of Sarajevo, which was razed to dirt and dust. As a member of the EU, Ireland could not stand by and refuse to make some contribution to peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Senator Ryan referred to a quotation from Deputy John Bruton which I found extremely puzzling, this notion that if one is making peace, one is also making war. I was a teacher of history and in my experience of history, the war always seemed to come first and peacekeeping forces moved in afterwards in an effort to make peace on foot of the war. It would be a good subject for a good debate on a long winter night. I regret that rhetoric is used to denigrate Ireland's peacekeeping efforts abroad, efforts which are well-intentioned, well-directed and carried out with extreme professionalism. I am proud of those efforts.

This year sees the end of Ireland's association with the UNIFIL force in Lebanon, after long and distinguished service. I salute and thank our forces in Lebanon. They brought credit to Ireland and have done us proud. My key point to the Minister is the need to make proper provision for former soldiers where the need arises. The number who are homeless and derelict is not great. We should ensure that proper provision is made for them. The Minister should investigate the provision of accommodation and proper care for them. Service in the Irish Army should be properly acknowledged, properly recognised and decently rewarded. I applaud the Minister's efforts and I am aware that it was not always easy. The introduction of change is never easy, but not to bring about change is to do an injustice to people who would benefit from that change at the end of the day.

I welcome the Minister to the House and this debate in Private Members' time. I pay tribute to the many people who have given tremendous service in the Defence Forces. Lip service was often paid to the Defence Forces and they were taken for granted and at times some of their contributions may not have been recognised for what they were. It is interesting to note that in times of bus strikes, foot and mouth disease and various other problems the first solution is to send for the Army. At all times it has been able to respond even in areas where it did not have specific training. It provided a back-up service recently following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The Minister's comments are welcome. I hope his proposals for restructuring will come to fruition. He mentioned the key goals of providing a light infantry-based force with an appropriate level of all arms capability and sufficient forces to meet needs at home and to make a significant contribution abroad and to put in place a more cohesive and better equipped force than exists at present. Our forces abroad have given tremendous service, in Lebanon, Kosovo and the Congo, going back to the late 1950s when we first provided support in peacekeeping duties. That is something for which the Irish have been recognised in the areas in which they participated.

I heard the Minister speak on the radio yesterday about Clancy Barracks. I recognise that some barracks may be surplus to requirements. I hope that whatever is erected there will be of benefit to the city. I also hope there will be a certain amount of social housing and that it will not be all office blocks. I ask that the money generated be used to assist in the provision of better equipment and in upgrading staff quarters and, in particular, that the accommodation for Army privates and those in the lower ranks be brought up to standard. While improvements have been made more needs to be done.

There is one matter on which I could possibly take issue with the Minister. It concerns the omission of the Army Equitation School. Knowing the Minister's background he would be four square behind it. Given that it is in its 75th year I understand there will be a celebration. Even before we hit the news in our peacekeeping efforts, there were the famous Army teams—

—which won the Aga Khan trophy and the cup winning teams in White City and many other places. I hope that in its 75th year there will be a certain degree of Government commitment. This school needs funding. It has had some great successes and I pay tribute to the various riders, some of whom have been household names. The Minister did not mention the equitation school and I hope this was not a deliberate omission.

It was a fear of meddling.

Senator Taylor-Quinn will have an opportunity on 3 June to rectify matters. I ask the Minister to ensure a certain amount is put into the Army Equitation School, particularly for stock replacement. While there is quite a commitment involved in buying horses I hope the Minister will accept this suggestion.

This side of House welcomes the debate. If there have been criticisms I hope they have been constructive and that they will be taken on board. I pay tribute to all those people who have paid the ultimate price, at home and abroad. Mention of the Naval Service, the Air Corps and helicopters bring to mind the recent tragedy in Tramore. If the Minister is getting some of these high powered helicopters we shall need well trained personnel to operate them. It is important that the best equipment be obtained and that the best training be provided.

We welcome the debate and support the basic terms of the motion.

This debate gives us an opportunity to discuss what is happening in the Defence Forces and to compliment them on what they have done for this country over many years. The Minister has been involved in much of the angst and the political toing and froing which took place during the drawing up of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. No matter where in Ireland there was a barracks or military installation, there was concern about the future of the Defence Forces. I compliment the Minister on what he has done. The implementation of the plan in terms of the numbers that have been set will ensure a modern, up to date, well trained and well disciplined Defence Force.

There is no doubt there was a need to upgrade the equipment the Defence Forces need in the pursuance of their duties. They have had a broad range of duties. Their military duties are of paramount important but their back-up service to civil society has also been of major importance. Whenever there was an emergency the Army reacted in an organised manner and played a major part down through the years in helping the Garda, the fire brigade and so on. As Senator Cosgrave said, in times of strikes or floods they assisted the civil power and must be complimented.

The investment programme for the Army, the Navy and the Air Corp is a major investment by any standard and fulfils the needs of what is a small defence capability. Much has been said in recent weeks and much will be said in the next few weeks about the rapid response force. We had the argument on PfP in recent months. The rapid response force is a necessary element in the Treaty of Nice. When people look at the military capacities around Europe they set on a figure. That figure takes in all the armies within the European Union. There are armies which are not standing armies; there are armies which are part standing. There were countries where there almost had to be a referendum to get people to enlist in the Army so that something could be done. The situation in the Balkans brought home to us in Europe the need for a rapid response force. It would not be feasible for our whole Army to get involved in any specific operation. We can use our expertise to join our allies and go into areas where peacekeeping and management are needed.

When we signed up for Partnership for Peace, some people said we were being forced into a European army which was associated with NATO, but nothing could be further from the truth. We were given a period of two years during which we could decide what strategy we would adopt within PfP.

In the post Cold War era there is a need for a rapid response force. I hope the people will endorse the setting up of this force. It is merely a continuum of what happened for many years when we responded to United Nations requests to go to places like the Congo, the Iran-Iraq border or the Lebanon. We have been all over the world and have performed extremely well.

Those overseas missions have been of tremendous importance to our Defence Forces and allowed them to gain expertise. They allowed us to get away from the insular attitude that prevailed years ago when I can remember judges saying: "Join the Army or go abroad". That has changed dramatically and there is now pride in our Defence Forces.

If a crisis arises, we will be able to commit 850 members of our Defence Forces, not all of whom need to go at once. We cannot get involved without the operation having a United Nations mandate and the Government would need to seek Dáil approval. That is a protection that we all hope will continue.

There must be more focus on conflict prevention in Europe and throughout the world. This has been given a high profile under the Swedish Presidency. Too often we have to send in a fire brigade but the fire may have been smouldering for many months before the conflict arose.

I again thank the Minister for coming into the House.

I thank the Fianna Fáil group and the Leader for putting down this motion. In the course of the enactment of any policy it is important to have a review of progress and this House is the appropriate place for it. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred to a Department statement. Those of us who have a finite memory find it important to use the prop of pen and paper and I tend to be rather human in that regard.

It is important to highlight what has been achieved. However, there is more to be achieved. When Senator Taylor-Quinn spoke about training in the Air Corps, she was in full flight without wings. Whatever aspect of the Defence Forces we are talking about, whether the Naval Service, the Air Corps or the Army, it is important that we enact policies that will bring that aspect into the 20th century.

We are now in the 21st century.

Senator Taylor-Quinn is a member of a party that was three years in Government with a Minister for Defence that treated the port folio like a hot potato, did nothing and took three years to do it. If I were her, I would be very ciúin indeed.

Senator Glynn is totally misrepresenting the facts. It is pathetic. Let us hear about modernisation. We still do not have the details.

The policy of continuous recruitment ensures a regular intake of new recruits, and a voluntary early retirement scheme is in place to address the very unsatisfactory age profile of the Defence Forces.

Following a judgment of the Supreme Court the level of awards for Army hearing loss claims has reduced from an average high of about £35,000 to about £7,500. The vast majority of those cases were genuine.

Reference has been made to former members of the Defence Forces who have fallen on hard times. I appreciate the role played by the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association which are endeavouring to address this problem. I spoke to the Minister before about this and I know that he has an interest in it. I hope it will be possible to do something to help those people. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred to the institutionalisation of some of those people. That is consistent with what happens to people who have served for a number of years in an organisation like the Army where there is strict discipline. It also happens in the health services and many other professions.

I thank the Minister for his forthright address to the House in response to this motion and the comments of all the Members.

Question put and agreed to.