Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Permanent Structured Co-operation

Ceisteanna (12)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the progress made on the next annual PESCO national implementation plan for Ireland; his views on putting the plan to a vote in Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16959/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Ireland joined Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in December 2017 following Government and Dáil approval. The establishment of PESCO represents a further development in EU Cooperation in support of international peace and security under CSDP. Under PESCO, Member States will come together in different groups to develop and make available additional capabilities and enablers for peacekeeping and crisis management operations. 

Within the EU, it is accepted that defence and security is a national competence and that any decisions, including any deepening of EU cooperation, require unanimity. Ireland continues to have a strong and equal voice on defence issues within the EU institutions.

As part of PESCO, participating Member States have agreed to fulfil commitments which include; regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms, increased cooperation on cyber defence, and participating in at least one project under PESCO, among others. Member States also agree to produce a rolling National Implementation Plan  to assist in the assessment of  Member States' fulfilment of the PESCO commitments both collectively and on an individual basis.

I am pleased that progress under PESCO has been positive although progress on projects has been somewhat slower than expected.  The commitments made under PESCO, and which are assessed in the National Implementation Plan, support the overall development of Defence Forces capabilities in support of peacekeeping and crisis management operations through cooperation and participation in joint projects, with like-minded partners.  The projects in which we are involved, Maritime Surveillance and EU Training Mission Competence centre are directly relevant to current and recent crisis management operations under UN mandates (Operation Sophia and EUTM Mali).   

As Dáil Éireann has already voted on Ireland's participation in PESCO which included fulfilling the commitments as outlined in the National Implementation Plan, a further vote in Dáil Éireann is not required.  Ireland’s 2019 National Implementation Plan was finalised in January. It is anticipated that work on the next iteration of Ireland's National Implementation Plan will begin in Q3 later this year.

Defence Forces Personnel

Ceisteanna (13)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

13. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps he is taking to address retention of personnel within the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16649/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

In 2018, the overarching turnover of personnel in the Permanent Defence Force was just below 8.1%.  The average turnover rate since 2002 is 6.3% with a peak of 8.58% in 2012.  This level of turnover, or higher, is often seen in other military organisations.

This overarching turnover rate can be further broken down. At its most basic level, this can be categorised as trained or untrained personnel. Untrained personnel are those that do not complete their initial training for example General Service recruits or 2 Star Privates or Cadets. On average 22% of General Service Recruits do not complete their training.

The number of trained personnel departing can vary year-on-year with significant differences not being unusual. The long run departure average for trained personnel is approximately 500 per annum. Departures of trained personnel in 2011 and 2012 exceeded 600 each year reaching a high of 677 in 2012. Departures in 2013 and 2014 were below 400 each year, reaching a low of 356 in 2014. In 2018. some 592 trained personnel departed.

The overarching turnover level does not illustrate important underlying trends. As the rate of turnover within a military organisation can differ across functional areas, the impact of turnover can vary accordingly. As I have previously outlined, particular challenges exist in certain specialist areas, for example pilots. I understand that this has proved challenging for many military forces internationally and it is not unique to Ireland.

There are a range of factors that influence a person's decision to remain in the Defence Forces.   These include career progression opportunities, pay, personal development opportunities, work–life balance, job stimulation and work environment.

There are significant opportunities for career progression and development within the Defence Forces and there were over 800 promotions in the PDF in 2018. The Defence Forces actively encourage and support personnel to undertake education and training as well as participate in physical development and sport.  Members of the Defence Forces have opportunities for diverse service, including opportunities to serve overseas. I am also aware that the military authorities have introduced further initiatives to enhance work-life balance and I very much welcome this.

 Members of the Permanent Defence Force have received the pay increases due under the Lansdowne Road Agreement. In addition in 2017, following negotiations with PDFORRA, improved pay scales for general service recruits and privates, who joined the Permanent Defence Force post 1 January 2013, were implemented.  The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the Agreement. The increases due under the agreement from 1 January 2018, 1 October 2018 and 1 January 2019, have been paid to Permanent Defence Force personnel. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2019 and 2020.

The Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention challenges in the Defence Sector. The Commission's work is on-going.  The Government will give due consideration to the findings and any recommendations that arise from the work of the Commission.  

The current challenges being faced by the Defence Forces are not unique and are also being experienced by other military organisations internationally.  I will continue to work closely with the Secretary General and the Chief of Staff in furthering management responses to address current challenges.

Brexit Preparations

Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 11.

Ceisteanna (14)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

14. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to reintroduce a new Army barracks in counties Cavan and Monaghan or the greater Border region in view of Brexit and the possible reintroduction of a hard border; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16651/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

As part of a whole of Government approach, my Department continues to engage in forward planning with the other Departments involved in addressing all issues relevant to the UK's decision to leave the European Union. This engagement involves the identification of key strategic, operational and policy issues arising from Brexit.

As I have outlined previously, the UK's decision to leave the EU does not of itself give rise to additional border control requirements. Furthermore, the avoidance of a hard border on the island is fundamental to the Withdrawal Agreement reached last November between the EU and the UK Government, and there can be no change to the commitments made in that Agreement. While the UK Government has so far been unable to secure parliamentary approval for the Agreement, the EU has been very clear that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, will not be reopened. The Government is not preparing for a hard border and Ireland and the EU are at one on this. As such, there are no plans for a new Army barracks in counties Cavan and Monaghan or the greater Border region.  

Furthermore, it is important to note that primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security aspect of border control rests with An Garda Síochána, while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities relating to their particular mandate.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support to the Revenue Commissioners, again, when requested to do so.

There is ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters and regular coordination and liaison meetings take place. My Department continues to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that both it and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address any potential issues that might arise in the defence area as a consequence of Brexit.

Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 11.

Naval Service

Ceisteanna (16)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

16. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he was consulted in advance of the NATO conference on medical care of sailors in County Cork recently; if he approved the conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16967/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I gave approval for the Defence Forces to host the NATO Maritime Medical Conference in Cork.   

This conference is held annually and is hosted in a different country each year.  The conference is open to participation by Partnership for Peace countries.  The objective of the conference is to provide medical staff with pragmatic updates and information exchanges on developments in the area of maritime medicine. 

The primary aim of Ireland's membership in Partnership for Peace is to enhance the Defence Force's interoperability with other professional military forces for the purpose of engaging in UN authorised peacekeeping and peace support operations.  This conference gives Medical Officers an opportunity to remain current with latest developments and experiences in the context of the various Naval Service operational commitments.  It provides a forum within which to engage and ensure that the Defence Force's policies and governance are in line with best international practice. 

Defence Forces Recruitment

Ceisteanna (17, 20)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

17. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the outcome in relation to the proposal to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the employment of a full-time military psychiatrist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16969/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Browne

Ceist:

20. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a psychiatrist has been appointed to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16652/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 20 together.

Deputies will already be aware of the ongoing efforts made by my Department to fill the vacancy left by the previous in-house military psychiatrist, who retired in May 2018. In this regard, a direct entrant competition for the position of military psychiatrist, which closed on 30th September 2018, yielded no applications. To continue to provide an interim in-house service until such time as the military psychiatrist position could be filled, attempts were made to secure a locum psychiatrist but these also proved unsuccessful.

To explore every option to facilitate an in-house appointment, I gave approval in late-2018 for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant psychiatrist at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. This approval was subject to sanction by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Sanction has recently been received, and my Department is currently in the process of making the necessary arrangements for a competition to be advertised.

As I have outlined on numerous occasions in the past, there is a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists, with recruitment issues in a number of sectors of the health service. The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces.

I also wish to stress yet again that there is no delay in referring Defence Forces personnel requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment. Patients presenting to Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with a requirement for urgent psychiatric assessment are referred to HSE Accident & Emergency Departments. Those requiring hospitalisation are admitted immediately. Furthermore, in order to provide Defence Forces Primary Carers with the broadest range of options possible in dealing with the spectrum of cases that present to them, they have also been authorised to refer cases to local external private psychiatrists for outpatient treatment where deemed appropriate.

Defence Forces Veterans

Question No. 19 answered with Question No. 11.

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 17

Ceisteanna (18)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

18. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the frustration and disappointment of veterans and their families over the issues surrounding the awarding of certain medals to those who fought in the Jadotville battle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16963/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland's peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961. "A" Company, 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on 3rd September 1961. On the 9th September, a large force of Katangese Gendarmerie surrounded them and early on the morning of the 13th September "A" Company came under attack. From the 13th to the 17th September they endured almost continuous attack. They were taken into captivity on the 17th September and remained in captivity until finally released on the 25th October 1961.

In accordance with Defence Forces Regulations the award of medals for bravery is time bound. These may not be awarded in any case unless a recommendation is made through the usual channels to the Chief of Staff, not later than two years in the case of the Military Medal for Gallantry, and not later than four years in the case of the Distinguished Service Medal, after the performance of the act in respect of which the recommendation is made. Such awards are made on the recommendation of a Military Board appointed by the Chief of Staff for the purpose of examining and reporting on every recommendation for an award.  

The issue of the award of medals to the men of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion was comprehensively addressed in 1965. A properly constituted Medals Board considered the various cases presented and made a decision that no medals would be awarded. The Chief of Staff of the day considered the decision of the Board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently at that time, the question was raised again in a letter to a newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original Medals Board and asked that they reconvene and review their decision. The Board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and that they were not prepared to alter their findings.  

A review was conducted in 2004 by military officers for the purpose of a broader examination of the Jadotville case. This Board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of “A” Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN Peace Support Mission in the Congo.

Recognition of their contribution over the years include:

A. A presentation of scrolls to "A" Company in 2006.

B. Portraits of Lt Col McNamee (35th Battalion Commander) and Comdt Quinlan (Company Commander “A” Company) were commissioned in 2006.

C. In July of 2010 the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

D. A nominal roll of “A” Company, printed in copper, was affixed to the monument in Costume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011.

E. On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the Siege of Jadotville, I decided to issue a Unit Citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of “A” Company. This was the first time a Unit Citation was awarded within the Defence Forces and I was delighted to be able to formally recognise the brave actions of these men.  

Furthermore, on 13th June 2017, the Government decided, as an exceptional step, to award a medal known as “An Bonn Jadotville” or “The Jadotville Medal” to each member of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the family representatives of deceased members to give full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions at the Siege of Jadotville.  This medal presentation ceremony took place on 2nd December 2017 in Custume Barracks, Athlone.  This location is considered the spiritual home of “A” Company and it is from here that “A” company assembled in advance of their fateful deployment to the Congo.   

I am satisfied that the events and happenings to date properly honour the collective bravery of the men of “A” Company and full and due recognition has been afforded to them in their honour.

Question No. 19 answered with Question No. 11.
Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 17.

Overseas Missions

Ceisteanna (21)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

21. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has had consultation with a person (details supplied) following recognition by the President of the United States of America of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; if so, the details of the interactions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16896/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The issues arising from the recognition by the President of the United States of America of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade made clear in a statement of 25th March, 2019, that Ireland, along with the rest of the international community, continues to regard the Golan Heights as Syrian territory occupied by Israel.  There is no reason to expect that this decision by the United States should affect the position of Irish troops in the UNDOF mission on the Golan Heights.  

The General Staff of the Defence Forces, including the Chief of Staff, provide regular assessments and advice to me and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence on a range of ongoing strategic and operational issues as they pertain to the Defence Forces, not least in relation to our overseas deployments.  For security and operational reasons, it would not be appropriate for me to comment in relation to the nature of such discussions, advice or assessments.

Army Barracks

Ceisteanna (22)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

22. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on reports that the artillery regiment based at Custume Barracks, Athlone is to be relocated to Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16648/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I can confirm for the Deputy that there are no plans to relocate 2 Brigade Artillery Regiment from its current location at Custume Barracks, Athlone.  

I am satisfied that the current Army structures optimise the capacity of the Defence Forces to continue to fulfil all of the roles assigned by Government.

Defence Forces Operations

Ceisteanna (23)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

23. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the extent to which the Defence Forces have ongoing opportunities to avail of training techniques and facilities available to other forces throughout Europe with a view to ensuring capability to deal with emergencies that may arise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16923/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

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 retains a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed in such circumstances, including for a natural disaster or terrorist incidents.

With regard to security threats, 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.

The full spectrum of Defence Forces personnel and equipment are available for deployment in response to any security and other emergencies that may arise.

In addition to training provided in Ireland, the Defence Forces have ongoing opportunities to avail of training techniques and facilities available to other forces throughout Europe.  They attend training courses run by the following organisations:-

- NATO School Oberammergau

- Associated Centres of Excellence (COEs)

- Partner Training and Education Centres (PTECs); and,

- Other foreign militaries which offer courses of interest to the Defence Forces

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 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.

White Paper on Defence

Ceisteanna (24)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

24. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether a commission should be established to examine defence matters in the same way as policing was reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16841/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Commission on the Future of Policing was established by the Government in May 2017 in order to carry out a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing in this State and to bring forward proposals to the Government for the  future of policing. The Commission reported in September 2018 and implementation is now being overseen by an Implementation Group on Policing Reform.

In terms of defence, the White Paper on Defence, which was approved by the Government in 2015, comprehensively deals with all aspects of defence policy and was informed by a lengthy and wide-ranging consultation process facilitated by my Department. This commenced in July 2013 when a Green Paper on Defence was published as part of a process that ultimately led to publication of the White Paper in August 2015.

The purpose of the Green Paper was to stimulate an open debate about future defence requirements and submissions were sought. In total, 122 written submissions were received from a wide variety of interested parties. Civil and military personnel of the Defence Organisation subsequently held follow-on meetings with selected groups and individuals and also met with other government departments and agencies, and international organisations as part of the consultation process. The then Minister for Defence also established an External Advisory Group to support him in his deliberations on the White Paper.

Furthermore, a symposium on the White Paper was held at Farmleigh House in May 2015 which provided a wide stakeholder group with the opportunity to hear alternative views, to learn from the experience of others and to debate the merits of differing courses of action.  The audience comprised cross-party political representation, Irish and international think tanks and academic institutions, international organisations including the EU, UN and NATO, along with top level civil and military staff of the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, representatives from other government departments and agencies, Civil Defence, the Representative and official Veterans Associations of the Defence Forces, and other interested parties. 

There are no plans to establish a commission on defence but, significantly, the policy framework that is set out in the White Paper is designed to be flexible and responsive.  It is within this context that the Government made a commitment to establish a process of fixed cycle of reviews to give assurance that defence policy remains up to date and relevant to changing circumstances.  The White Paper specifically provides that these defence reviews are to have a three yearly cycle and that the first of these would be a White Paper Update, which is well underway in my Department and close to completion, while a more comprehensive Strategic Defence Review will commence in early 2021.

As part of the process of establishing these reviews as a permanent feature of our approach to defence policy, and to seek to do so on a consensual basis, I wrote to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, in August 2018 to obtain their views and I met with the Committee last month in this regard.

Overseas Missions

Ceisteanna (25)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

25. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Defence Forces are struggling to fill command positions for an imminent rotation of troops attached to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16840/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Ireland has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations and UN Peacekeeping and has participated in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission since its establishment in 1978.  The UNIFIL mission in Lebanon continues to represent Ireland's largest overseas deployment with 460 personnel. 

Ireland's participation in UN and UN-mandated peacekeeping missions is a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the pursuit of international peace and security. At present there are some 670 members of the Defence Forces serving in overseas missions worldwide.

Permanent Defence Force personnel rotate to UNIFIL in May and November each year, following a six month tour of duty, on average.  The 114th Infantry Battalion is due to replace the 113th Infantry Battalion in the area of operations shortly.

In respect of this upcoming deployment, I am advised by the Defence Forces that all officer command positions have been filled with the exception of one junior officer appointment which recently became vacant due to unforeseen circumstances.   The military authorities are confident that this position will be filled shortly.

It should be remembered that the required increase in Ireland’s contribution to UNIFIL was unexpected as we had been in discussions with the Czech Republic to backfill the exiting Finnish contingent.  Unfortunately this did not materialise.  At short notice, the Defence Forces were tasked to undertake a temporary backfill of our UNIFIL contingent.  As a result, we now have a Battalion in UNIFIL and also a Company in UNDOF, along with other significant postings in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans.  This is a major success on the part of the Defence Forces to man two significant missions.  The recently agreed deployment of a Polish Armed Forces contingent together with a contribution from the Hungarian Forces, will alleviate pressure on the Defence Forces when they join our UNIFIL contingent in November 2019.  

Overseas Missions

Ceisteanna (26)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

26. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the security advice for UN soldiers and associated personnel attached to the UN mission in the Golan Heights not to use UN vehicles with the UN's livery when travelling in the region; if so, if his group flouted that advice during his visit to the region in March 2019; and the person or body that made the decision to ignore the security advice. [16971/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I would like to clarify that in March 2019, as part of the Governments planned St. Patrick's day schedule of events, I visited Cyprus, Lebanon and Jordan.  I did not visit the Golan Heights in March and I have not visited the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights this year to date. 

I am further advised by the Defence Forces that they have not been given any security advice to indicate that they should not use UN vehicles with the livery of the UN when travelling in the region. 

Defence Forces Properties

Ceisteanna (27, 30)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

27. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the progress made in appointing a multidisciplinary team in conjunction with Kildare County Council to examine current and future challenges arising on the Curragh plains; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16974/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

30. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of discussions with Kildare County Council regarding collaboration in addressing issues and identifying opportunities for the improved management and presentation of the Curragh plains; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16975/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 30 together.

The Curragh plains are an important working facility for the Defence Forces, the horse racing industry and sheep owners who avail of long established rights of pasture.  As both a working environment and a high value amenity of ecological importance, I am keenly aware of the multiple challenges facing my Department in ensuring the ongoing management of the plains.

My Department recently met with Kildare County Council to explore issues centred around the development of a collaborative consultancy study with Kildare County Council to examine the current land management arrangements for the Curragh plains and provide recommendations for their protection and future development.  It is envisaged that the study would be carried out over a two year period. This matter is under active consideration in my Department.  

 Naturally, any such examination concerning the future of the Curragh plains must ensure that account is taken of the prime importance placed on the use of the area by the Irish Defence Forces and of the needs of the centrally located Defence Forces Training Centre.

Naval Service Operations

Ceisteanna (28)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

28. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 70 of 2 April 2019, if a coherent plan will be ensured for migrants after rescue which has not been the case with Operation Sophia for future missions by the Defence Forces in view of his concerns over the treatment of migrants when returned to Libya. [16962/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

As outlined in my response to the Parliamentary Question earlier this month to which you refer, Operation Sophia has played a decisive role in improving the overall maritime security in the Central Mediterranean. Operation Sophia is primarily a security operation, designed to disrupt the traffickers business model and counter oil and weapons smuggling, rather than a humanitarian operation.  The Operation has so far contributed to the apprehension of 151 suspected smugglers and traffickers and removed approximately 550 boats from criminal organisations availability.  Because of its presence in the area, it has also contributed to over 300 Safety of Life at Sea events and rescued almost 45,000 migrants. 

Where migrants have been rescued by Operation Sophia, they have been transferred to Italian ports of embarkation under agreements with the Italian authorities in relation to Operation Triton and provided for in the Operation Sophia mission operations documentation.  No migrants rescued by Operation Sophia were returned to Libya. 

I have stated on a number of occasions in this House that the reports of ill treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya is a cause of concern to me and to my colleague, An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D..  The conditions in Libyan detention centres has informed the approach taken by Ireland and the EU in response to the migrant crisis across a number of EU and UN initiatives, including Operation Sophia.  On joining this operation, Ireland imposed a caveat with the Operation Commander that Ireland would only disembark rescued migrants into Italy.

On Operation Sophia, a decision was adopted by the European Council on 29th March to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia for 6 months with a temporary suspension of its naval assets while Member States continue working on a solution related to disembarkation.

The Operation mandate will continue to be implemented through strengthening surveillance by air assets as well as reinforcing training support to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy. 

Ireland will therefore not be committing Naval assets to the mission at this time, while 5 Defence Forces personnel continue to participate on the mission at across both the Operational and Force Headquarter. 

 It should be noted that although the deployment of Naval assets to Operation Sophia has been suspended, Member States have highlighted the importance of continuing to work closely with the Libyan authorities and international organisations to improve the protection of refugees and migrants in Libya.

Defence Forces Strength

Question No. 30 answered with Question No. 27.

Ceisteanna (29)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

29. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the 8.1% turnover or churn in the Defence Forces is crippling the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16837/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

In 2018, the overarching turnover of personnel in the Permanent Defence Force was just below 8.1%.  The average turnover rate since 2002 was 6.3% with a peak of 8.58% in 2012.  This level of turnover, or higher, is often seen in other military organisations.

This overarching turnover level does not illustrate important underlying trends. As the rate of turnover within a military organisation can differ across functional areas, the impact of turnover can vary accordingly. As I have previously outlined, particular challenges exist in certain specialist areas, for example pilots. I understand that this has proved challenging for many military forces internationally and it is not unique to Ireland.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Service Pay Commission has been tasked with examining recruitment and retention issues in the Defence sector. Detailed statistics have been provided to assist them in this regard.  I look forward to reviewing their findings in due course.

The Government remains committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government both at home and overseas.

Question No. 30 answered with Question No. 27.

Permanent Structured Co-operation

Ceisteanna (31)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

31. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for Ireland to participate in further PESCO projects; if so, the details of those projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16958/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Ireland's participation in PESCO was agreed by Government and approved by Dáil Éireann prior to the Council Decision establishing PESCO on 11 December 2017. As a participant in PESCO, Ireland is required to participate in one PESCO project.

There are currently 34 PESCO Projects that are being developed covering areas such as training, land, maritime, air, cyber, and joint enabling. The initial list of 17 projects to be developed under PESCO was established in the Council Decision on 6 March 2018 and the second list of 17 additional projects was established in the Council Decision on 19 November 2018.

Ireland is currently a participant in two PESCO projects - (1) The European Union Training Mission Competence Centre and (2) Upgrade of Maritime Surveillance from the initial list of PESCO Projects, and have observer status on a further eight PESCO projects  - six from the initial list and two from the second list.

The third round of PESCO project proposals is expected to be launched in May 2019. Following an assessment and selection process by the PESCO secretariat in collaboration with the participating Member States, it is anticipated that the selection of the third phase of PESCO projects will take place in September 2019.  It is during this period that Ireland will make the determination as to whether to participate in further PESCO projects. 

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (32)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

32. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans for the reinstatement of troops in the Border counties in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16650/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

As part of a whole of Government approach, my Department continues to engage in forward planning with the other Departments involved in addressing all issues relevant to the UK's decision to leave the European Union. This engagement involves the identification of key strategic, operational and policy issues arising from Brexit.

As I have outlined previously, the UK's decision to leave the EU does not of itself give rise to additional border control requirements. Furthermore, the avoidance of a hard border on the island is fundamental to the Withdrawal Agreement reached last November between the EU and the UK Government, and there can be no change to the commitments made in that Agreement. While the UK Government has so far been unable to secure parliamentary approval for the Agreement, the EU has been very clear that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, will not be reopened. The Government is not preparing for a hard border and Ireland and the EU are at one on this. As such, there are no plans for further troop deployments to border counties.  

Furthermore, it is important to note that primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Accordingly, responsibility for the security aspect of border control rests with An Garda Síochána, while the Revenue Commissioners also have responsibilities relating to their particular mandate.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of Aid to the Civil Power which, in practice, means to provide assistance and support to An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. The Defence Forces also provide support to the Revenue Commissioners, again, when requested to do so.

There is ongoing close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding security matters and regular coordination and liaison meetings take place. My Department continues to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that both it and the Defence Forces are fully prepared to address any potential issues that might arise in the defence area as a consequence of Brexit.

Defence Forces Operations

Ceisteanna (33)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

33. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if members of the Defence Forces performed aid-to-civil-power duties for an aircraft (details supplied); and if they participated in the arrest or detention of two peace activists who attempted to inspect the aircraft. [16807/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. 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 assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

Since 5th February 2003, the Gardaí have requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The decision to seek support from the Defence Forces is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána.

I can confirm that An Garda Síochána did not request assistance from the Defence Forces to perform Aid to the Civil Power duties for an aircraft (details supplied) at Shannon Airport on the 17th March.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Ceisteanna (34)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

34. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the fact that members of the Defence Forces deployed in Mali are prescribed mefloquine as a routine anti-malaria drug; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16968/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

EU Training Mission (EUTM) Mali is part of a wider EU effort in support of international peace and security in the wider Sahel region. The mission is being undertaken at the request of the Malian Government and has the support of a UN Security Council Resolution.

I am advised that there are three anti-malarial drugs, namely Lariam (Mefloquine), Malarone and Doxycycline which continue to be used in the Defence Forces. I have indicated on many occasions that the use of anti-malarial drugs is a medical matter that should be decided by qualified medical professionals.  In the Defence Forces these are decisions for highly qualified Medical Officers, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member of the Defence Forces.   

Given that there is litigation pending in relation to these matters which is being managed by the State Claims Agency, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment. However, I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a key priority for me and for the Military Authorities.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (35)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

35. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights by the President of the United States of America may affect the UN mission in the Golan Heights and involvement by the Defence Forces in same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16895/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The issues arising from the recognition by the President of the United States of America of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

 The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade made clear in a statement of 25th March, 2019, that Ireland, along with the rest of the international community, continues to regard the Golan Heights as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. 

There is no reason to expect that this decision by the United States should affect the position of Irish troops in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission on the Golan Heights.