I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 39 together.
At its meeting on 29 September, 2003, the Government set up a group comprising the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance and myself to deal with the evolving industrial relations situation in the prison service, including the putting in place of contingency arrangements in the event of industrial action. Prior to that there had been direct contacts at official level between the Irish Prison Service and my Department and the Defence Forces and I understand also with the Garda authorities. It continues to be the hope of the Government that this matter can be settled without recourse to industrial action.
However, I can confirm that a considerable amount of contingency planning has been undertaken regarding the possible use of Garda and Defence Force personnel in the event of industrial action in the prisons. I can also confirm that, in such a situation, the Defence Forces will play a significant role. Pursuant to that role, Army personnel have been engaged in a familiarisation process which has included a series of visits to the prisons.
As the Deputy will appreciate it would be inappropriate to provide details of the contingency plans being put in place. Suffice it to say that the Government has a duty to ensure that the prison system continues to operate in all circumstances.
Since the deployment of military personnel is specifically excluded from the scope of staff representation, the question of discussion or consultation with the Defence Forces representative associations does not arise.