Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ceisteanna (30)

Lisa Chambers


30. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he is taking following the recent conviction of an employee of his Department in the Special Criminal Court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10529/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (12 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

What action is the Minister of State taking following the recent conviction of an employee of the Department of Defence in the Special Criminal Court? Will he make a statement on the matter?

It would be inappropriate for me to discuss the detail of any individual employee. My Department has civilian staff employed at various military installations throughout the country to support the Defence Forces in tasks such as the upkeep and maintenance of military infrastructure and equipment. The grades are spread across a wide spectrum and include craft workers such as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and welders; specialists, including health care professionals; and technicians and general operatives.

All new entrants as civilian employees are subject to vetting and security clearance processes similar to those for Defence Forces' recruits.  Security is kept under review and my officials work closely with the Defence Forces in relation to such matters.

Many of us were shocked to hear that a man employed as a security officer - not as a craft worker, a plumber or an electrician to which the Minister of State just referred - at Haulbowline by the Department of Defence has been linked to the New IRA and has just been sentenced to serve five years in jail for possession of firearms and ammunition.

Will the Minister of State indicate if the contract of employment has been terminated? This is not a discussion about an individual as such but about the particular contract and if it has been terminated. If it has not been terminated, why not? Is it the case that the Department of Defence has written to the convicted man in Portlaoise Prison, telling him that he has 15 days in which to make a submission on or objection to his contract being terminated? Will the Minister of State explain how it is even possible that this was considered? How has the person responded and what is the Department's view on his response? Let us be very clear: he was not a craft worker but someone employed in security at the naval base who checked people as they came on and off site. This is very serious. Will the Minister of State tell the House if the contract has been terminated and, if not, why not?

As I have stated, it would be totally inappropriate for me to discuss the details of any employee, be they a member of the Defence Forces or a civilian staff member of the Department of Defence. The case is widely known and I will not get into the details of the employee. As the Deputy comes from a legal professional background, she knows well and understands the reasons I cannot, either inside or outside the House, get into the details of any civilian employee.

The Minister of State is well able to throw across the assertion that because I am a legal professional I should understand the reasons I am unable to ask questions in the Chamber, but I am here in my capacity as a Deputy and spokesperson on defence. In this House I am entitled to ask the Minister of State questions to be answered by his Department. Perhaps he might answer this question. When did the individual last carry out a security duty? The Minister of State can answer that question as it has nothing to do with the case in hand. The man pleaded guilty in the Special Criminal Court to possession of a handgun, a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition. He also pleaded guilty to possessing firearms, including a magazine suitable for a 9 mm parabellum pistol, and a double-barrelled sawn-off shotgun. He further admitted to possessing 14 rounds of 9 mm ammunition and eight shotgun cartridges. The Minister of State has acknowledged that the case is well known. He might also be able to answer if he is satisfied with the vetting processes in place for hiring people to fill these positions? As this question is not directly related to the individual concerned, the Minister of State can answer it. Does he believe it might be wiser to have only Defence Forces personnel acting as security at military installations?

The Deputy took me up wrong. I did not say that because she was a legal professional she should not be asking questions. I have no issue whatsoever with her asking me such questions. It is absolutely her right, as a Member of the House and spokesperson on the area for her political party, to ask me such questions and I have no issue whatsoever in that regard.

Will the Minister of State answer the questions I have asked?

The Deputy can ask me whatever question she likes, but she should be well aware of the reasons I cannot comment on an individual employee and his or her personal details. She should understand the reasons-----

Will the Minister of State answer my last two questions?

I wanted to correct the record in respect of the Deputy's last statement.

Will the Minister of State, please, answer my questions about the vetting process?

We have some very loyal employees of long-standing who provide excellent services for the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. I suspect that many years ago the vetting processes may not have been as strict and robust as they are now and have been for the past decade. I am confident, however, that the vetting processes we have in place are robust enough to withstand any issue.