Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (8)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

7 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if the Naval Service will be used again for business promotional trips abroad; when this may happen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3383/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

My Department is considering proposals submitted by the military authorities for the 2004 programme of courtesy visits abroad to be undertaken by Naval Service vessels. As the proposals are under examination in the context of the service's operational commitments for 2004, I do not intend to give details at this stage. It is hoped, however, that a substantial promotional element will be included. In considering the 2004 proposals, I need to consider the possible increased commitment which may be required from the Naval Service to assist the Defence Forces contingent serving in Liberia, as well as its core operational functions such as fishery protection duties. Over 90% of the Naval Service's effort is devoted to fisheries protection. It is committed to undertaking a minimum number of patrol days on such duties under the terms of the memorandum of understanding agreed between my Department and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The target number of days in 2003 was 1,353, an increase of 10% on the 2002 figures. Discussions on the target number of fishery protection patrol days for 2004 are due to commence shortly. The Naval Service commitment to fishery protection, together with other operational and training demands, may curtail somewhat the scope for courtesy visits in 2004.

The Minister mentioned Liberia. Does he agree that Liberia must take precedence over promotional visits? I hope that goes without saying. While the navy personnel are certainly excellent ambassadors — I saw their public relations skills when I was Lord Mayor — would he agree that this is not a good use of resources? TheLE Róisín recently visited Savannah, in the USA. Did Enterprise Ireland pay the Department for the use of this vessel? What sort of business arrangement was in place?

There have been a number of visits recently. The last major visit was to Savannah, but the previous year it was Hong Kong, China and the Far East. I am not able to provide the exact details, but reciprocal arrangements are made for certain aspects of the cost. We must bear in mind that the bill would be the same whether the vessel was used for fishery protection or an expedition for promoting Ireland. I agree with Deputy Gormley that supporting Liberia is a strong reason for the Naval Service to work outside fishery protection. It should still be possible to make an arrangement with Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, primarily because of the success of these trips and the numbers of business people who have participated from all the countries visited. They were regarded as exceptionally successful as a business opportunity for promoting Ireland and attracting investment.

We also undertake these trips in order to provide experience for members of our Naval Service. Many of them do not have an opportunity for overseas duties, unlike the general Defence Forces, and they welcome these opportunities. Members of the navy are always anxious to be facilitated in this regard. However, I can only do this in the context of other demands. Fishery protection comes first and Liberia comes second, followed by these visits.

Will the Minister provide information about the actual cost of these trips?

I am quite sure that to hire a ship of that sort for three months is quite costly. Will Enterprise Ireland refund the Department?

The additional cost of the trip to Savannah last year — the costs which would not have arisen if there had been no visit to Savannah — was €12,000. I will provide the rest of the information to the Deputy.