Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Ceisteanna (4)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether there are sufficient opportunities for promotion at all levels of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54930/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I announced details of the reorganisation of the PDF on 17 July last, which resulted from the Government decision to maintain the strength of the PDF at 9,500. As the reorganisation entailed a reduction in numbers across all levels of the organisation, it will have some impact on the career prospects of some members of the PDF. The approach being taken in the reorganisation is designed to maximise the operational outputs of the PDF.

The table provided outlines the total number of vacancies by rank, based on the PDF rank establishment of 9,500 as at 31 October 2012, the latest date for which figures are available. Competitions for promotions for enlisted personnel have been completed and promotions of successful candidates are ongoing. Officer promotion competitions commenced last month, from which there will be promotions in due course. All promotions will be carried out within the resource envelope allocated to the Department of Defence.

In respect of the Reserve Defence Force, the central recommendation from the value for money steering committee was for the retention of the reserve with 4,000 personnel spread countrywide, with these personnel to be based in barracks and in 16 other locations. This will involve the consolidation of existing reserve units throughout the country into a smaller number of full-strength units.

The Deputy will appreciate that until there is significant further progress on the implementation of recommendations made in the value for money report, it will not be possible to determine where recruitment vacancies and promotion opportunities may arise. As such, it is not proposed to undertake recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force or promote existing personnel at this time.

PDF strength by rank as at 31 October 2012 versus PDF rank establishment of 9,500

9,500 Rank Establishment

Strength at 31 October 2012

Vacancies by Rank

Lieutenant General

1

1

0

Major General

2

2

0

Brigadier General

8

8

0

Colonel

41

34

7

Lieutenant Colonel

137

131

6

Commandant

336

337

-1

Captain

452

436

16

Lieutenant

256

319

-63

Sergeant Major

43

35

9

Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant

44

42

1

Company Sergeant

245

166

79

Company Quartermaster Sergeant

199

171

28

Sergeant

1,330

1,057

273

Corporal

1,800

1,757

43

Private (including Cadet)

4,606

4,656

-50

Total

9,500

9,153

347

Note:

Equivalent Naval Service Ranks

Brigadier general/commodore

Colonel/captain

Lieutenant colonel/commander

Commandant/lieutenant commander

Captain/lieutenant (NS)

Lieutenant/sub-lieutenantsergeant mayor/warrant officer

Battalion quartermaster sergeant/senior chief petty officer

Company quartermaster sergeant/senior petty officer

Company sergeant/chief petty officer

Sergeant/petty officer

Corporal/leading seaman

Private/able seaman

In written responses in recent weeks the Minister indicated that the total number of promotions at NCO level since the announcement of the review in July was 129 and that the total pertaining to commissioned officer rank was 90. There could be disproportionality in this regard. Will the Minister comment on this? Does he share the concern I expressed previously that there is considerable unease and pessimism among members of the Defence Forces owing to the peremptory manner in which he opted to change the three brigade system to a two brigade system without engaging in the deliberations proposed as part of the White Paper process? I suspect he does not.

I do not accept that there is such a difficulty. We had a three brigade structure posited on a Permanent Defence Force strength of 11,500. When I entered office, the Defence Forces were heading towards a position where, based on the funding provided by the previous Government, there would have been a strength of fewer than 8,000. We consolidated the number at 9,500. I received a commitment from my Government colleagues that the Defence Forces would be funded to ensure this strength. It made no sense to retain a three brigade structure in circumstances where the actual and real strength would be 9,500. It is correct and appropriate that we have a two brigade structure. That was the recommendation made to me by the Chief of Staff, the Secretary General of my Department and those working under them. They addressed the reorganisational steps to be taken.

With regard to promotions, the military authorities have advised me that up to 10 November, there were the following promotions: one major general, four brigadiers general, 233 officers and 309 enlisted personnel. Obviously, with the reduction in the number of barracks and personnel and the move from a three brigade structure to a two brigade structure, it is clear that there would be reductions in the officer and NCO ranks. The reorganisation entails reducing the number of management and administrative posts in the Defence Forces. This will obviously mean reductions in promotional opportunities within the Defence Forces similar to those experienced across the public service as a whole. However, targeted promotions within the strength ceiling of 9,500 will continue to be made in the Permanent Defence Force. In addition, very significant opportunities for training and career progression will continue to be available within the reorganised structure for the Permanent Defence Force. From my contacts with members of the Defence Forces, there is now a sense of optimism. The members know where they stand with regard to numbers. The Defence Forces will continue to commit themselves to assisting the civil power domestically and continue to perform extraordinarily capably in carrying out the various international duties in which they are engaged through the United Nations.

I understand there are complex procedures in place within the Defence Forces for promotions. Is the Minister satisfied that procedures were applied consistently in all promotions? Will he explain why those going for promotion, in the Air Corps, for example, did not have their overseas service considered in some instances? If he cannot explain it now, I will be happy to receive correspondence from him.

I cannot comment and I am sure the Deputy would not want me to comment on a specific instance he has raised. If he wants to set out the difficulties he says occurred, I will ensure he receives a reply.

There are very specific procedures to be complied with in promotions in the Defence Forces. Should the procedures not be complied with, or should a difficulty issue arise, a complaint can properly be made both within the Defence Forces and to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. Since I was appointed Minister, there have been occasions on which issues surrounding promotions have given rise to cause for complaint to the ombudsman. These issues have been addressed and new procedures put in place to ensure that where there have been procedural failings, they will not be repeated.

Question No. 5 lapsed.

The format for other questions is that there are six minutes per question. The Minister is allowed two minutes for his initial reply. Thereafter, there are to be one minute contributions and the total should be no more than six minutes. Since the first response is to involve a grouping of three questions, I understand the Minister is allowed six minutes in which to make his initial reply, adhering to Standing Orders.