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Defence Forces Strength

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 7 July 2010

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ceisteanna (16, 17, 18, 19, 20)

Noel Coonan

Ceist:

28 Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29927/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Upton

Ceist:

51 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30150/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (21 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 51 together.

I am advised by the military authorities that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 31 May 2010, the latest date for which figures are currently available, was 9,809. I provided the breakdown of numbers in a previous reply, so I will not repeat it.

Targeted recruitment will be carried out in 2010 to maintain the operational capability of the Defence Forces. In this regard, I recently approved the recruitment of 40 recruits to the Naval Service. In addition, as I have already stated, the military authorities will shortly advertise for some limited recruitment to the Army. I intend, with the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation to operate effectively across all roles while contributing to the necessary public service economies.

I have not given the figures for the Reserve Defence Force, but Deputy O'Shea has more or less provided them. On 31 May 2010 there were 6,200 members, comprising 5,934 Army Reserve and 266 Naval Service Reserve personnel. The Department has secured approval for limited recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force subject to the overall strength not exceeding the figure at 1 January last year, which was 7,671. This recruitment is continuing and is being monitored in light of the uptake of paid training with the reserve and future budgetary provisions.

What is the actual establishment of the Defence Forces at present? Where are vacancies occurring in the various cadres?

In theory, the establishment ought to be 10,500. Arising from the agreement following on the McCarthy report, that was reduced to 10,000. Currently, there are just over 9,800 personnel, and when the new recruitment process is completed, this will rise by 40 in the Naval Service Reserve and a certain number more in other areas, as well as the figure to be decided with regard to cadet intake. As the number leaving has diminished considerably compared to previous years, it seems the final number will comfortably outstrip the expected strength. The total of 10,000 ought to be achieved.

As I have said previously to Deputy O'Shea, I have reservations about sticking to the round figure of 10,000 because it looks contrived. I would be far more comfortable if, for example, the figure were 10,200 or 9,700, established on the basis of a certain calculation. We all have a certain suspicion of round figures, particularly of that nature.

The Minister says there will be some recruitment to the Army. In the Defence Forces generally, will there be any cadet intake this year? I ask this because the number of people retiring may result in an imbalance; we may lose a disproportionate number of officers compared to NCOs and privates. This raises the need for an effective organisation. In addition, it takes longer to train cadets. What is the effect of retirements on officer strength?

In fact, relatively few people are leaving — fewer than might have been expected and fewer than was the case in the past. There are concerns about the age profile and we are trying to address this, but it can only be dealt with by a new intake. Colleagues will remember that ten or 15 years ago the age profile had become very high. This has improved dramatically with recruitment over the years. As I said previously, if many people were leaving the issue of the age profile could easily be addressed, but when small numbers are leaving one is confined to small recruitments. I hope to have a cadet class at some point.

When the Minister advertised for 40 new recruits for the Naval Service — I take it the process has been carried out, or at least the advertisements have appeared — how many applications were received?

The closing date was a number of weeks ago. The number was fairly large, although not as large as I had expected. I will obtain it for the Deputy. The Naval Service is somewhat specialised, so the number might not be as large as it would be for the Army.

There have been reports in the past that young people from this part of the country were crossing the Border and joining the British Armed Forces. Is there any information available to the Minister to indicate that this is happening currently and, if so, to what extent?

There is a long history in some areas of recruitment to armed forces in other countries. Unfortunately, countries across Europe are facing similar economic situations, so there are not many opportunities in other jurisdictions. I do not have figures in that regard. They are not readily available to us and are only likely to become available at a later stage, if at all.

Am I correct that following a recent recruiting programme for the Defence Forces, people who applied at that time had their forms returned to them because a decision was taken not to go ahead with recruitment? Will preference be given to any of those people in a future recruitment campaign?

That issue was raised previously. If I remember correctly, Deputy O'Shea raised the issue in the context of the age limit for the intake. I understand that the new recruitment programme will be a green-field operation. To be frank, that is the only way it can work.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

29 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Defence if the strength of the Permanent Defence Force will be maintained at the agreed overall level of 10,000 for lifetime of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, the Croke Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29905/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

32 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if the terms of the Croke Park proposals will apply to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30144/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

36 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Defence if the associations representing members of the Permanent Defence Forces have accepted the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, the Croke Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29896/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 32 and 36 together.

Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force. Government approval was secured in the context of budget 2010 for a level of 10,000. I have put most of this information on the record already, except for a part of my reply relating to the Croke Park agreement.

I intend, with the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation. With regard to the terms of the Croke Park proposals the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, accepted the terms of the Croke Park agreement at a special delegate conference on 29 June 2010. The Permanent Defence Force Representative Association, PDFORRA, has rejected the proposals. The implications of the rejection by PDFORRA of the Croke Park proposals are currently being considered.

The Minister said the implications are currently being considered. Who is doing the considering and when might the Minister come to a decision on the situation?

I am not directly involved in the considerations. It is a matter between the military authorities, the association and the Department. There is nothing sinister about the situation. It just happens that some of the organisations, in this case PDFORRA and other trade unions, did not vote in favour of the Croke Park agreement. If there are implications, I will bring them to the attention of the House at the appropriate time.

Against a background in which RACO accepted the proposals and PDFORRA rejected them, is it possible the proposals could apply to the RACO members of the Defence Forces and not to the PDFORRA members and, thereby, be a recipe for division within the Defence Forces? That is a position that should be avoided at all costs.

The Croke Park agreement provides significant safeguards for all public servants. The issue is, obviously, a matter for representative associations and trade unions. As it happens, the four of us here currently are members of a trade union of a particular profession, two of which voted against and one in favour of the proposals. I am sure the details around the agreement will be worked out. I assure Deputy O'Shea that no precipitative action that might cause difficulties or undermine the integrity of the Defence Forces relationship with the Department will be taken.

Can the Minister give us any indication as to what was included in the modernisation agenda that formed part of the pay negotiations and discussions in respect of the Defence Forces?

That broadens the scope of the question somewhat.

One of the criticisms of the agreement was that matters were not spelled out in the kind of detail they could have been. That was the complaint across the entire public sector. Clarifications were sought and given to the general public sector which did not automatically seem to apply, for example, to sectors teaching nursing. That, to some extent, would be the case with the military and this may have given rise to people taking particular positions, more in fear of possible outcomes than with regard to concrete proposals. That is something that must be worked out. I am confident there will not be any major difficulties in that regard.

With regard to these proposals, is there a prospect of structural changes in terms of the formation of the Defence Forces, the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, particularly with regard to how they relate to one another? Is it likely there will be a more integrated approach between them? Furthermore, how will the Croke Park proposals affect the Department in terms of how it interfaces with the Defence Forces?

I did not answer that part of Deputy Stanton's question. A number of aspects of the Croke Park agreement affect the Defence Forces. These include ongoing co-operation with the overall review and restructuring of the Defence Forces, which I do not think will create any difficulty; flexible and efficient deployment and redeployment, on which, perhaps, I should not comment; a review of the current technical grading systems, a matter that might be of concern to some Members; co-operation with the implementation of the restructuring of the medical services; a review of the tasks attracting security duty allowances and eligibility for those allowances; the review of the non-commissioned officers promotion scheme; and a merit-based competitive promotion policy as the norm in the service. These are the main general points.

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