On 15 January 2003 I approved, in principle, the report of the reserve Defence Forces review implementation board for the implementation of the recommendations of the special steering group on the reserve, which had reported to me in September 1999. The Permanent Defence Force is now organised in a three brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged that the implementation of these changes in the reserve Defence Force will take place over a period of approximately six years.
The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is its countrywide, geographical spread. This particular aspect will, in general terms, be retained in the future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new reserve will be determined in the course of the ongoing detailed implementation process. Plans are being prepared within each brigade for the amalgamation of FCA units in line with the proposals outlined in the steering group report. The objective of this process is to ensure that better training and other facilities will be provided to members of the reserve Defence Force. No decisions have yet been taken on the location of proposed newly amalgamated units but the military authorities have advised me that all proposed amalgamations will provide an optimal environment for personnel in the relevant areas to partake in the new enhanced reserve Defence Force.
Members of the FCA are already seeing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of better clothing and improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops we will see additional benefits in terms of a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure, and opportunities for suitably qualified reserve personnel to serve overseas. We will also see benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.
I must emphasise I am mindful of the need to preserve and to retain the many traditional and well established strengths of the current reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nationwide geographical spread. Planning is ongoing by the military authorities but no final decision on the amalgamation of FCA units will be taken until I have had the opportunity to examine and approve the final amalgamation proposals.