I propose to take Questions Nos. 843 to 845, inclusive, together.
In accordance with the framework for major emergency management, primary responsibility for responding to emergencies caused by severe weather events, such as storms and flooding, rests with the three designated principal response agencies, namely, the relevant Local Authority, An Garda Síochána, and the Health Service Executive. The Defence Forces 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 role.
At National level, representation on the Government task force on emergency planning, by both the Department of Defence 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.
Major emergency plans have been developed by local and regional authorities and these plans identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces.
The Defence Forces retain a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed in such circumstances, including for a natural disaster or terrorist incidents. The operations directorate in Defence Forces Headquarters manages the necessary cross-service coordination in responding to both emergency and security issues. These arrangements have proved effective in all emergencies encountered to date.
Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.
There is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters, including ATCP deployments and a wide variety of military training activities are specifically designed to counter or respond to possible security emergencies. Regular coordination and liaison meetings also take place between the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána in relation to ATCP issues.
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 an 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.
The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any security and other emergencies that may arise. Within the Defence Forces, both the Ordnance Corps and the Army Ranger Wing specialise in providing an immediate response to emergency incidents that might require their highly specialised capabilities. The role of the Defence Forces in these situations is dependent on the nature of the incident and the type of assistance requested.
I can confirm that the Defence Forces keep their operational plans and response capabilities for dealing with a wide range of threats under constant review. It is my priority as Minister of State with responsibility for Defence to ensure that the operational capacity of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles both at home and overseas.