I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 821 together.
My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible.
Primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order including the protection of the internal security of the State rests with An Garda Síochána. However, one of the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence (2000) is to provide Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.
A wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies and the Defence Forces hold regular coordination and liaison meetings with An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.
In relation to non-security related emergencies, whilst the Defence Forces are not a Principal Response Agency as defined in the Framework for Major Emergency Management, they provide the fullest possible assistance to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of a natural disaster or emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority (ATCA) role.
At National level, representation on the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, by both my Department and the Defence Forces, ensures the fullest coordination and cooperation in the event of an emergency and that the command structure within the Defence Forces is compatible with the requirements in this area.
The Defence Forces are also represented on the eight Regional Working Groups that have been established under the Framework and, on an ongoing basis, designated members of the Defence Forces, based around the country, act as Liaison Officers to Local Authorities.
The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment, commensurate with operational requirements, is available for deployments in response to emergencies and natural disasters.
In this regard, the Defence Forces hold a wide range of engineering and transport plant and equipment for military purposes. All such plant and equipment suitable for use in emergency situations is made available as the need arises.
In relation to the Naval Service, all vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that, in addition to their fishery protection role, they also undertake general surveillance, security, pollution monitoring, and Search and Rescue in support to the Irish Coast Guard, amongst other duties while on patrol. These activities assist in detecting and preventing emergency situations throughout Ireland’s maritime jurisdiction.
The role of the Air Corps includes the provision of an emergency inter-hospital Air Ambulance service in support of the HSE. It is also supporting the HSE in a pilot emergency aeromedical support service operating primarily in the West of Ireland. The Air Corps also has a maritime surveillance function undertaken by its maritime patrol aircraft and both it and the Naval Service provide support to the Irish Coast Guard in maritime Search and Rescue operations.
I am satisfied that Defence Forces personnel have a modern and effective range of equipment, including telecommunications and logistical equipment, needed to fulfill all roles that are assigned to them by Government in any emergency situations that may arise.