Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (53, 54, 55, 56, 57)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

51 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if it is intended to increase the strength of the Naval Service having particular regard to possible requirements in the context of European defence and security, air, sea rescue and the fight against drugs and trafficking in human beings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3526/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

52 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Air Corps; his plans to increase the numbers having particular regard to possible requirements in the context of European defence and security, air sea rescue and the fight against drugs and trafficking in human beings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3527/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

53 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number of personnel currently trained and available for air sea rescue or other emergency operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3528/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

55 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if adequate trained personnel are available to meet the requirements in respect of air sea rescue or other emergency operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3530/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

56 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he intends to increase the strength of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3531/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 52, 53, 55 and 56 together.

The White Paper on Defence, which was published in February 2000, sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for all ranks of the Permanent Defence Force. The White Paper states that the Air Corps should have 930 personnel, the Naval Service should have 1,144 personnel and the Army should have 8,426 personnel. There are no proposals to increase the strength of the Permanent Defence Force above the White Paper figure of 10,500. I intend to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at a level required to meet military needs, as set out in the White Paper. This means that a personnel level of 10,500, across all ranks, will be maintained in the Permanent Defence Force. The strength of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service by rank is set out in the following table. The figures provided are the latest available from the military authorities and are correct as at 31 December 2003.

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Totl Ofrs

Sm

Bqms

Cs

Cqms

Sgts

Cpls

Totl NCOs

Ptes

Cadets

Total

Army

1

3

6

37

118

351

279

232

1,027

33

41

142

249

1,066

1,555

3,086

4,305

99

8,517

Air Corps

0

0

1

2

13

33

23

65

137

7

4

53

15

129

206

414

340

11

902

Naval Serv

0

0

1

2

14

39

22

61

139

7

7

76

14

200

163

467

445

28

1,079

While individual members of the Naval Service and the Air Corps have served overseas in varying roles, it is not proposed at this time to deploy the Naval Service or the Air Corps in peacekeeping operations in the future. The question of deploying the Air Corps was considered in the White Paper on Defence. Given the domestic demands on Air Corps resources, it was decided that it would not be feasible for it to operate beyond the domestic context.

The primary day-to-day activity of the Naval Service is fishery protection. This commitment represents a considerable challenge for the service, which is working hard to optimise operational performance in this regard. Against this background, it is not proposed to deploy Naval Service elements on overseas peacekeeping operations, which would serve to divert effort from the important issue of improving performance and vessel utilisation. There is no commitment of Naval Service or Air Corps resources in Ireland's declaration under the EU Helsinki headline goal or the UN standby arrangements system. The Naval Service provides a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the EU. Fishery protection patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps in the form of aerial surveillance by the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft. Fishery protection activity accounts for over 90% of Naval Service patrol time. As the need arises, the Naval Service and the Air Corps co-operate with the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise in respect of drugs, arms and human trafficking operations.

The Irish coastguard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. The Air Corps provides the search and rescue service off the north-west coast while CHCI, a private operator, provides the service from Dublin, Shannon and Waterford. A decision has recently been taken to withdraw the Air Corps from search and rescue in the north-west, as the Air Corps is not in a position to provide a full 24-hour search and rescue service until March 2005. In the interim, the Air Corps will continue to provide its current limited service while the coastguard makes alternative arrangements for the return of a full search and rescue service in the north-west. It is expected that the arrangements will be in place within a matter of weeks.

The military authorities advise that the number of personnel trained for search and rescue operations is as follows:

Qualified Pilot Officers — Sikorsky

8

Qualified Pilot Officers — Dauphin

5

Winch Operators

1

Winch Men

1

Winching crew undergoing training

4

General purpose crewmen

25

Regarding other emergency operations, there are sufficient trained crewmen to operate the air ambulance service provided by the Air Corps.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 1.
Questions Nos. 55 and 56 answered with Question No. 51.